The Springfields of the world try to hit a Homer

Chicago Tribune

Forget Lincoln. Illinois’ state capital, renowned for its ties to Honest Abe and other less-honest politicians, now wants to be known as the home of Homer Simpson.

Like many things these days, this has to do with dough -- or, in this case, perhaps, D’oh!

“The Simpsons,” the television cartoon satire that inspired cult-like loyalty among millions of viewers worldwide over its 18 years, is set in a never clearly defined but incredibly dysfunctional place called Springfield. That has led to a raging debate about which of the more than 30 U.S. towns named Springfield is the model.


Twentieth Century Fox is now exploiting that dispute to gin up publicity for its new full-length “The Simpsons Movie,” due out in July. Fox has challenged Springfields coast to coast to prove why they’re the most fitting template for the show. The winning Springfield gets to host the premiere.

Several have taken the bait, including Springfield, Ill., where Mayor Tim Davlin vowed in a recent State of the City address to prove “we are indeed the city that best represents the community on television.”

All of that might seem a great honor if the mythical town in question were the idyllic one portrayed in “Father Knows Best,” the sappy ‘50s sitcom set in another Springfield. But “The Simpsons’ ” Springfield is filled with pollution, deceit and residents who are utter doofuses.

And that, argues Jason Danenberger, a lifelong resident of the Illinois version, is precisely why his town must be “The Simpsons’ ” inspiration.

“Lincoln slept here and there, he worked here and there,” said Danenberger, 27, a cook. “But let’s be honest. There are a lot more people here who you’d think are related to Homer Simpson than Honest Abe.”

The criteria for the contest and the judging are still a little vague, but Fox says it will ship each contender a replica of the lumpy family couch that figures in the opening of every show. The towns are then supposed to include it in a short video that boasts of their Simpson-like credentials, and perhaps trashes the bona fides of the others.

Davlin, who keeps a 5-foot-tall cutout of Bart Simpson in his office, has issued an online plea for help.

The city’s website, www, recently added a pop-up image of Bart’s father, Homer, next to the mayor’s own picture. There’s also a link to an online form that allows fanatics to suggest clues gleaned from the show’s 400 episodes that point to Illinois as the locale.

Who cares about the statehouse and the new presidential museum and Abraham Lincoln’s old restored neighborhood? Springfield, Ill., is home to a doughnut factory, and doughnuts play an integral role in the TV show.

Since Homer and his gang thrive on junk food, Springfield can also boast of its trademark horseshoe sandwich, the gloppy blend of meat, French fries and melted cheese, all heaped on toasted bread, which passes for haute cuisine.

And speaking of Homer, wasn’t that the middle name of disgraced former Gov. George Ryan? He was the last Illinois chief executive to spend much time in Springfield.

Kim Rosendahl, tourism director for Springfield’s visitors’ bureau, says she is peppered with more questions about “The Simpsons” than about Lincoln when she goes abroad to promote the city.

“I just came back from the United Kingdom, and everywhere we went people asked, ‘Springfield -- isn’t that where Homer Simpson lives?’ ”

With its portrayal of Americans as slovenly oafs, “The Simpsons” has developed a huge overseas fan base. A tiny Scottish town called Springfield has already raised its hand to compete for the movie premiere in Britain, should Fox want to repeat the contest on the other side of the Atlantic.

“Simpsons” fans from across the globe have compiled an exhaustive volunteer archive of trivia on The Springfield history section is kept by Sam Hughes, a recent graduate of Cambridge University. Hughes said the inspiration for Springfield is a running gag on the show, with contradictory hints dropped that could point to almost anywhere in the U.S.

“The only thing I can say for certain is that its not in Alaska or Hawaii,” said Hughes, who lives in Nottingham, a spot with its own rich fictional backstory.

That fuzzy reality is hardly dissuading the U.S. Springfields.

In Springfield, Ore., Mayor Sid Leiken scheduled a community meeting to plot strategy for a “Simpsons” campaign. The big selling point there will be the Oregon roots of “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening.

Across the continent, in Springfield, Mass., officials have held two similar public brainstorming sessions. Azell Murphy Cavaan, the community relations director, said her city, founded in 1636, could brag about being the nation’s first Springfield. It’s also the birthplace of Dr. Seuss, another icon of animation, not to mention being the birthplace of frozen food.

Back in Illinois, Springfield officials insist they’ve got that all beat. Homer’s father is named Abe, just like you-know-who. The fictional Springfield has a rival town named Shelbyville. And lo and behold, there’s a real Shelbyville, Ill., not far off from the real Springfield, Ill.

But officials in the real Springfield think their ace in the hole is Todd Renfrow, the general manager of the city’s municipal power plant. In the show, the richest and meanest man in town is Charles Montgomery Burns, the owner of the fictional Springfield’s nuclear power facility.

Renfrow is being touted in Springfield, Ill., as a dead ringer for Burns, right down to the long nose and bald head.

Renfrow, 72, admits he doesn’t know much about “The Simpsons” but has lately been hearing a lot about Burns.

“He really does look evil,” Renfrow said.

“People tell me he has this trap door in front of his desk and when people come in and ask for a raise he pushes a button and they disappear. Sounds to me like he’s got some good ideas.”