When I was a child, back in the late 50’s and early 60’s, whenever my Dad would take the family on rides north on U. S. Route 1 toward Salisbury or New Hampshire, I was always looking for landmarks such as the Leaning Tower (on the Prince Spaghetti House, now Prince Pizzeria) or Ship’s Haven (later The Ship Restaurant). In fact Route 1 was loaded with roadside visuals, not so much now but back then it was always an interesting ride. The one roadside gem I recall looking for the most was the large Mr. Peanut sign that was situated in front of the Planters Peanut House located on Rte. 1 north in Peabody. The sign was approximately 30 ft. high, you could not miss him.
Well, by the late 60’s, Planters had closed the store and it subsequently became the Half Dollar Bar, a roadside watering hole. The sign remained in place. It was painted to look like a guy wearing a black tuxedo but was still recognizable as Mr. Peanut by the unique shape. The bar closed and was demolished by the mid-to-late 80’s. At that point the sign remained on the site which was fenced-off. As I recall, it was Pete Phillips, a colleague of mine from the Society for Commercial Archeology who found out the sign was threatened with demolition and I believe he may have been the person who contacted Planters Peanuts and told them of the sign’s impending doom.
Well unlike Dunkin Donuts who will not restore their one remaining 1957 vintage roadside neon sign in Brighton, Mass., Planters came and rescued the sign in 1988 and eventually restored it to its former glory. It is currently located at their large processing plant in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Here is a shot courtesy of Debra Jane Seltzer, taken recently which coincidentally is from a similar angle to my shot (above) from the 1980’s (although slightly closer)
When I mentioned the sign’s origins to Debra after viewing her photo on Flickr, she questioned me on that fact and I said sure there were many signs similar to this but I remember when it all happened. I did some digging through my SCA NewsJournals and found the mention from Pete Phillips in the Spring 1989 issue (the very same issue that Diner Hotline first appeared). Pete’s report mentioned the sign went to Alabama. I sent an email to Planters Peanuts asking them if it was the same sign and unfortunately, the email went to parent company Kraft Foods who could not answer the quetsion. I then got the bright idea to call Planters in Fort Smith and was put through to someone who works in the Plant Managers office. They told me that the sign in front of their plant was in fact the one from Massachusetts.
You can see Debra’s website by clicking on the link in my blogroll and you can get to her photos on flickr and see where she’s been recently by clicking this link … http://www.flickr.com/photos/agilitynut/