EVERETT — The 20-foot Muffler Man statue atop a downtown building is taking a stand against the virus.
He already had the social distancing thing down pat. All he needed was a mask.
What’s up with that?
Since 1983, the statue of the broad-shouldered man in jeans and blue-collared shirt has towered over Hewitt Avenue near West Marine View Drive. His slicked back hair, dark eyes and ripped bod can be seen several blocks away.
The hunk’s chiseled grin is now concealed by black fabric.
Building owner Boyce Cardell climbed on a ladder to mask the fiberglass titan a week ago. He was encouraged by his neighbors at the Soundview Bar & Grill across the alley.
“The barmaid and one of the cooks from the tavern said they wanted to put a mask on him,” Cardell said. “I said, ‘I’ll do it.’”
Not just any mask would fit, plus it had to withstand harsh weather and deter nesting birds.
Cardell sought the help of Everett Tent & Awning.
Like most people in Everett and beyond, owner Tim Thomas was familiar with the Muffler Man. He was honored to assist. Cardell made a cardboard pattern and Thomas stitched up an 18-by-24 inch face covering.
The $35 mask wasn’t his most unusual request.
“In the past I’ve covered an artificial horse inseminator. It’s a big dummy horse that I had to cover,” Thomas said. “I did it three more times after that for the same person. It was vinyl.”
For the mask, Thomas used Sunbrella, an outdoor performance fabric.
“I had to do some folding on it once I got there,” Cardell said. “I stitched it up with some wire, poked some holes.”
He used rubber bungee cords to fasten it around the giant’s head.
People at the Soundview on that Saturday evening watched and clapped when he was done.
The Muffler Man was an inspiration behind What’s Up With That, started in 2014 to explore the weird and wonderful characters of our county. A story about how this dude came to be was one of the first columns.
In a previous life, Muffler Man was a longtime fixture on the sidewalk at a downtown tire shop owned by Lee Burns. Longtime Herald readers may remember the slogan he used in ads that always began with “Lee Says….”
When Burns moved his Safety Service Tire shop to 1110 Hewitt Ave. in 1983, there wasn’t room on the sidewalk for the Muffler Man. So up to the roof he went. The shop closed a short time later.
“He said, ‘The man’s yours,’” Cardell said.
Cardell has cared for him in the decades since. He painted him once. He screwed spikes on his head and arms to keep the seagulls at bay. The statue is wired to the roof to keep him from tumbling. The dude’s shoes are about 4-feet long.
For the past 25 years or so, the building has been occupied by SSA Marine, a stevedore office that hires dockworkers to load and unload cargo. You might think the big guy would have a safety vest or helmet by now. Or at least work gloves.
The left palm faces down, right palm faces up with an open grasp. Muffler Man is a 12th Man during Seahawks season, with a blue flag in his strong hands.
He’s not for sale. Cardell said he turned down an offer of $18,000. “I found out they’re worth two or three times that much.”
The statues are part of a brotherhood of men cut from the same fiberglass mold. What started as a Paul Bunyan character promoting a restaurant in the 1960s led to a California company making a line of Muffler Men holding mufflers to attract customers.
Then, neon signage took over. The manly men were repurposed as pirates, cowboys, busty women and astronauts, their powerful arms holding rockets, hot dogs, guitars and golf clubs.
Google “Muffler Man” to see the figures with beards, red pants, green jeans, camouflage, suspenders, shirtless and revamped as a Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman and Howdy Doody Man.
There are Muffler Men figurines, bobble-heads and T-shirts that say, “I’m a Muffler Man, Not a Girlie Man.”
Cardell hopes his masked Muffler Man will be a titan against the virus.
“Maybe it will get to the president so he’ll put his mask on,” he said. “I think this would have been gone a long time ago if people masked up and stayed a distance. People weren’t paying attention to these doctors who know what’s going on.”
Andrea Brown’s “What’s Up With That” columns won a second place award in the national Society for Features Journalism’s 2020 contest. Columns judged were about Erwin’s Philly Cheese Steak in Everett, Whidbey Island’s flat earth guru Mark Sargent and Lynnwood curbside rocker “Wolfman Jim” Morris. The columns featured videos by Herald digital producer Sue Misao.