A statue of a prominent, albeit fictional, resident of Lake Geneva
After another move from the Chicago Examiner to the Chicago Tribune, Smith drew an anthropomorphic family of goats in a panel called Old Doc Yak which ended on February 8, 1917 with the Yak family moving out and leaving an empty house, wondering who might move in. On February 12, in the same space formerly occupied by the Yak family, Andy Gump and his family moved into the same house and began a 42 year run, until October 17, 1959, as one of the first syndicated comic strips.
Andy Gump was based on a real-life character that Smith met through his brother. The man had no chin, the result of his jaw being removed because of an unarrestable infection caused by a tooth removal that went bad. Andy Wheat had his name legally changed to Andy Gump after the strip became successful.
The Gumps was one the first continuity strips, that is, to offer a continuous story line. It was a type of soap opera not unlike the later Gasoline Alley. The concept was that the Gumps were an average family, and it was a hit from the start. So many newspapers wanted to run the strip that the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate was formed to distribute The Gumps, and it is still distributing comics today under the name Tribune Media Services.
Andy Gump was a blowhard, his wife, Min, was his pillar to lean on and secretly the brains of the family. They had a mischievous son, Chester, a rich Uncle Bim Gump and an incorrigible maid from Wisconsin, named Tilda. There was also a cat (Hope) and a brawling dog named Buck.
Smith based more characters on a real people, Tom Carr and Mary Gold were conceived from Ted Polk, an inventor and manufacturer, and Mary Bridgeman, his secretary. Smith dated Bridgeman, but after they broke up, he killed Mary Gold, the first cartoon character to die in a strip. The mail was overwhelming, and a publicity still shows Smith buried in a mountain of mail The Tribune received.
The Gumps spawned a radio show (the first strip to do so) and a movie. The strip inspired the creation of Amos 'n' Andy and as a result, influenced radio and (eventually) television in the continuous story lines.
Smith signed a million dollar contract with the paper. He drew the strip in a studio that was part of his large house on Geneva Lake. The Tribune placed a statue of Andy Gump in Smith's front yard. Some time later, the Tribune raised his salary and he signed a new contract. He died in an automobile accident on the way back to Lake Geneva, on October 20, 1935. Legend has it he wrecked his brand new Rolls Royce in that accident, but it is only legend and is not true.
After the death of Sidney Smith, The Gumps continued for two decades under the authorship of Sidney Smith's assistant, Gus Edson, who had some assistance from cartoonist, and later actor, Martin Landau. It was never as popular after Smith's untimely death (he was 58.) After World War II, readership and distribution trailed off and when the plug was pulled in 1959, it appeared in only 19 newspapers.
The statue was moved to this location after Smith's death, honoring Lake Geneva's contribution to popular culture. It was destroyed in a drunken riot, circa 1967, and replaced. The replacement was stolen in 1989 and replaced. The commemorative plaque was even stolen - but it turned up later and was re-placed.
So here stands Andy Gump, a prominent, albeit fictional, resident of Lake Geneva - brainchild of Publisher Joseph Patterson, brought to life by Sidney Smith, a pioneer in modern entertainment.