Hall of Heroes Superhero Museum aims to fly higher
Allen Stewart hopes the first decade of the Hall of Heroes Superhero Museum will turn out to be an origin story for a greater and grander sequel that’s yet to come.
The Hall of Heroes is a 3,000-square-foot building in Elkhart, Indiana, located on the same property as Stewart’s home, and custom built to resemble the Hall of Justice from the “Super Friends” cartoon. While the Hall of Heroes is a nonprofit organization, complete with a board of directors, it’s based on Stewart’s vast collection of superhero memorabilia that spans the entire 80-year history of the genre.
“I’ve been collecting for 40 years and I’ve been in the industry for 25 as kind of a writer and historian,” said Stewart, who is a realtor. “About 12 or 13 years ago, the collection just kept getting bigger and bigger and myself and a couple of other friends were talking about starting a museum and we started putting the funding together to build this.”
Stewart had a steel barn on his property torn down in 2006 to make way for the Hall of Heroes, which opened the following year. It even includes a fireman’s pole à la the Bat Cave from the 1960s television show starring Adam West.
With approximately 65,000 pieces, the Hall of Heroes has the largest collection of superhero-related memorabilia around. It draws about 10,000 visitors a year, Stewart said.
In fact, the collection has expanded to the point where it’s outgrown the available space, which has Stewart and the board of directors fundraising to finance a larger location. A large portion of the collection, which now includes vehicles used in movies, isn’t even on display because there isn’t enough space.
“We got Marvel movie vehicles we have no room for,” Stewart said. “There are two other Hollywood costumes not even on display. Half of our original art collection is not on display, and large sections of our comic book section are not on display.”
Stewart figures a building three times the size of the current one to comfortably house the collection. Finding a location — the goal is to remain in Elkhart — has been slow going, however. Even more importantly, so has fundraising, including a recent Kickstarter campaign that fell short of its goal.
“We’re trying to move to the north end of town up by the (I-80 and I-90) toll road,” Stewart said. “We looked at a couple of things up there, but then other people have gotten to them because we’ve been slow on raising the money.”
As the collection grew and Hall of Heroes began to accumulate doubles and triples of certain items, Stewart set up a small gift shop area near the entrance two years ago to sell extras and raise money. Because most items are donated, whatever they can be sold for is all profit.
“It’s almost like Goodwill, in that regard,” said Stewart, who sells comic books, for example, at approximately half of what they go for on Ebay. “Our goal is to move them, obviously,” he said.
Stewart also added name-dropped T-shirts, mugs and shot glasses made to supplement the gift shop. “We’re working on expanding that and get more things. People are always asking me, ‘Do you have magnets or patches or pins?’” he added.
Moving to a larger location is mostly about providing a larger and better museum experience for superhero and comic book enthusiasts, but Stewart also is looking forward to creating a larger gift shop with more Hall of Heroes inclusiveness and hard-to-find collectibles. “We’ll probably start carrying a lot action figures and prop figures and things like that,” he said, “things that I know will sell.”
Whether profits from sold items, monetary donations or admission fees — it’s $6 for adults and $4 for children — everything goes into the museum, Stewart said.
“We have a couple of really good graphic artists associated with members of the board who have volunteered their time,” he said. “They all volunteer their time. Of everyone who has ever been associated with the museum, no one has ever been paid.”
All in the name of truth, justice and the American way.