The quirky, yet loveable Waldo character made its first appearance 25 years ago, and quickly claimed the stage as an international cultural phenomenon.
The signature red-and-white striped shirt worn by Waldo is the key to spotting him on the busy pages of the popular series of Where’s Waldo books, which embed the tiny guy into scenes from across the globe — from crowded beaches to congested city streets to bustling department stores to sold-out stadiums.
No longer confined to the crowded scenes depicted in the books, people can venture outside the realm of those pages and search for Waldo in downtown Sylva. The real-life version of Where’s Waldo celebrates Waldo’s 25th anniversary.
City Lights Bookstore owner Chris Wilcox jumped on the Where’s Waldo train after getting a call from the book’s publisher, Candlewick Press, which has pitched the idea in towns across America along with the American Booksellers Association. He quickly agreed — as did downtown merchants.
“I went around and tried to hit every business owner in Sylva. Most people were eager to participate,” Wilcox said.
Candlewick supplied a promotional kit, complete with enough 6-inch cardboard figurines of Waldo for all the participating businesses. Meanwhile, Wilcox stocked up on plenty of the Where’s Waldo books to sell at his own shop.
To prep for the 25th anniversary, the Jackson library ordered all the Waldo books in the series to replace the worn copies in stock that had been pored over by hundreds of eyes and little fingers during the years.
“People request the Waldo books all the time,” said Jenifer Ross, youth activities assistant at the Jackson County Public Library.
The library has been pulling out all its Waldo stops.
“Even dressing in Waldoish attire,” Ross said of the librarians. “There’s been plenty of red and white stripes at the library.”
The library has two Waldos to find, one in the teen section upstairs and one in the children’s section in the lower level of the library.
“The staff moves him around all the time, so he’s hiding somewhere different every day,” Ross said.
When children find Waldo, they can take the figurine to the service desk, where they will receive a card.
The obsession with Waldo has shown little sign of waning during its 25-year run.
The World’s Record for the most number of people dressed as Waldo to gather in the same place at the same time was broken in 2011 in Ireland, with 3,872 people turning out in the red and white stripes. There have also been life-size Waldo re-enactments, with Waldo fans hitting the streets to find someone dressed the part among the masses.
The Waldo promotion is a great way to encourage people to visit downtown stores.
“This is a great way for families and their children to become familiar with the businesses in Sylva, to meet people and see things they might not have seen otherwise, and hopefully become customers,” said Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Director Julie Spiro.
Join the Where’s Waldo hunt
Downtown Sylva merchants are inviting kids to scour their stores for Waldo sightings. Children who collect eight Waldo cards can redeem them for a Waldo button at City Lights Bookstore. If they find Waldo at 16 locations, they are entered into a drawing for a six-book set of Waldo books and a free jug of root beer at Heinzelmannchen Brewery. All children are also invited to a party at 6 p.m., July 31, at City Lights Bookstore.
Sylva businesses where Waldo will be hiding throughout the month of July include: City Lights Bookstore, City Lights Cafe, Eric’s Fresh Fish Market, Heinzelmannchen Brewery, Hollifield Jewelers, Hooker’s Fly Shop, In Your Ear Music, It’s By Nature, the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, Jackson County Public Library, Jackson’s General Store, Jake’s Mountain House, Livingston’s Photo, Main Street Bakery & Cafe, Motion Makers Bicycle, Nichols House and Survival Pride Clothing.