Urban Icons: Metairie's Muffler Man, battered and bruised by Isaac, down but not out

Sep 12, 2012

He survived Hurricane Katrina and numerous tropical torments large and small.

But Isaac proved too much for Metairie’s Big Man statue, knocking him from the perch he’s occupied for more than 35 years near the corner of Clearview Parkway and West Napoleon Avenue, breaking off his head and one arm.

The two-story fiberglass “muffler man” has served as a landmark and company mascot for Clearview Auto Title & Notary since 1975, when business owner Sal Mortillaro purchased him for $400 from a New Orleans Midas Muffler shop.

“Best investment I ever made, other than my wife,” Sal had joked with me earlier this year. “Brought business in without costing me a nickel more than I paid for him.”

Sal named the statue “The Big Man,” and in his most recent iteration he wore Saints black and gold, his head capped with a gold crown. Over the years, the mascot has taken on an almost human persona, practically becoming a member of the Mortillaro family.

But on the morning that Hurricane Isaac came through, the family received bad news.

“I got a text message about 5 in the morning from a buddy of mine who is with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, and he said, ‘Sal, if you didn’t get the news, the Big Man is down,'” says Sal Mortillaro II, Sal’s son and branch manager.

Worse yet, the Big Man was missing his head and one of his muscular, outstretched arms had snapped off, leaving a stump of jagged fiberglass.

“It hurt my heart, beyond belief,” says Sal.

He’s one tough hombre – the Big Man, that is, although I’m sure Sal’s no slouch either – having survived nearly 40 years worth of everything New Orleans and its tropical weather could throw at him. But obviously, his time had come.\

“My dad actually said he had a bit of a premonition,” Sal says. “He had a bad feeling that this would probably be the one. And lo and behold, he was right.”

The Big Man in his glory days.
Credit Glen Abbott

This story has a happy ending, however, thanks to social media. The head was found several blocks away, although the missing arm still hasn’t turned up. The person who found the head announced it on Twitter, and Sal received “literally a tweet of a tweet of a Facebook of a tweet, saying, ‘The Big Man’s down, and we have his head.’ And the tweet was a picture of his head in somebody’s front yard.”

“It was like, I guess a tumbleweed,” Sal says with a laugh. “Big head rollin’ down the street. It blew several blocks up.”

After the return of his head, the Big Man awaits some restorative fiberglass magic. “He is currently in a ‘secret lair’ in the Metairie area, and he will be rebuilt,” Sal tells me.

They’re hoping his missing arm turns up, but if not, Sal hopes to talk with Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World about the feasibility of reproducing it. In any case, they want to return the Big Man to his perch of honor as soon as possible.

“We were worried about him, we truly were. He’d look a little funny up there without a head. We’d hate to lose him. He’s our mascot, he’s been out there for so long.”

For more information on Metairie’s monumental muffler man: http://travelingringo.com/2012/02/roadside-attractions-massive-muffler-man-monument-in-metairie-la/

Glen Abbott is a New Orleans-based freelance travel writer/photographer. Visit his blog at www.TravelinGringo.com