Ever Been to Puddleburg?

Ever Been to Puddleburg?


Joe Ganger


As a resident of Colon, I am used to hearing wisecracks about our town name. I suppose our neighbors in Climax get the same ribbing. Ironically, there are three towns in the United States named Colon. Besides ours, there is one in North Carolina and one in Nebraska. The one in Nebraska came about because Mr. Leander Taylor moved to this new railroad town from Colon, Michigan, and the name “Colon” was adopted. There are a lot of unusual names we could investigate, but how about a town name of Puddleburg? Supposedly that was the hometown of Popeye, the cartoon character. Popeye the Sailor is a fictional hero notable for appearing in comic strips and animated films as well as numerous television shows. He was created by Elzie Crisler Segar, and first appeared in the daily King Features comic strip Thimble Theatre on January 17, 1929. Popeye has now become the strip’s title as well. Cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar (1894 – 1938) tells the story of how Popeye got started: “I began drawing Thimble Theatre the day I arrived in the big town. The characters were: Olive Oyl, Castor Oyl, and Ham Gravy. They were the leads for about ten years. Then one day, Castor Oyl needed a sailor to navigate his ship to Dice Island. The result was Castor picked up a funny-looking old salt down by the docks, and his name was Popeye. Popeye immediately stole the show.” One historian believes Popeye was inspired from Frank “Rocky” Fiegel, a man who was handy with his fists during Segar’s youth in Chester, Illinois. Fiegel was born on January 27, 1868. He lived as a bachelor his entire life. It was said that later Segar sent checks to Fiegel in the 1930s. Fiegel died on March 24, 1947 at the age of 79. The popularity of Popeye helped boost sales of the leafy vegetable. Spinach consumption increased 33 percent in the United States between 1931 and 1936 as Popeye gained popularity, saving the spinach industry in the 1930s. What has all this to do with us? Well, I bet you have been to Puddleburg in the last few months. Well, that was its name at one time. During the time when they were trying to decide where to locate Notre Dame College, this town was in consideration. The town fathers decided there chances would be better with a dignified name. They therefore changed the town’s name to Mendon.




Popeye, about to eat his spinach in Fleischer’s Little Swee Pea (1938).


If you happen to run across a book entitled “Popeye in Puddleburg” it is worth some pretty good money. Just for the heck of it, I ran the name on the web and found a few for sale in the $75 to $80 range. Now I am sure you were actually in the town of Puddleburg just awhile back. Strangely enough, Puddleburg was located right here in our own Saint Joseph County, Michigan. Well, that is before they changed the name. Somewhere along the line the town fathers (why aren’t there ever any town mothers?) decided the name “Puddleburg” was not very dignified and changed the name to Mendon. That was long before Popeye was even thought about. A Moses Taft moved there in 1835 from Mendon, Massachusetts. In 1837, a Benjamin House moved there from Mendon, New York. House named the city Mendon in 1844, and it was officially platted a year later. Perhaps the name change came about when the village was not successful in being considered as a site for the University Of Notre Dame. That great university was founded in 1842 in South Bend, Indiana, but Mendon (or Puddleburg) was considered as a site at one time.  The Mendon Country Inn named their dining room “Puddleburg Room”. There are towns named Mendon in Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Vermont, Illinois, Utah, and New York. However, I could not find any towns currently named Puddleburg. Probably wouldn’t be a very dignified name for a town. Don’t tell Popeye I said that!