Mighty Joe the Gorilla

Leaning George
Not many icons have a more colorful past than Mighty Joe the Gorilla who now towers over Mighty Joe's Gas, Grill and Deli in Shamong New Jersey.  Once you've seen Mighty Joe, you'll always remember him.  Originally built in Spain, he was first named "George" and he stood 25 feet above a South Jersey go-kart track. Others knew him from even earlier times, when he towered over the beachfront boardwalk in Wildwood, New Jersey as "Kongo-Pongo" and "Magilla."Mighty Joe and his message.

George was in sad shape at the go-kart track , pitched forward onto his mighty gorilla fists because his feet had buckled in a storm. It turns out that Larry Valenzano noticed George while driving on Hwy 47 to and from Wildwood. The gorilla, he said, "Always reminded me of my son Joe" who was a former body builder nicknamed "Mighty Joe".  Joe died of a brain tumor in 1999.  Larry renamed his gas station "Mighty Joe's" in his son's honor.

Larry wanted to buy the big gorilla to serve as a memorial and a mascot.  "My wife thought I was crazy" Larry said. "She told me, 'They're not gonna sell you that gorilla!'.  But you know what? They did sell me that gorilla!".

It almost didn't matter that he was able to buy Mighty Joe, because while Larry was figuring out how to ship the gorilla to his gas station, someone showed up at the go-kart track and tried to steal it.  Luckily, the owner was able to chase the thieves off the property.

After finally figuring out how to haul the gorilla cross-state and after six months in a repair shop, Mighty Joe was unveiled in 2004. 

He now stands on the south side of the gas station parking lot, inside a white metal fence, his scowling mug set against a backdrop of beautiful South Jersey pine trees and blue sky.  Joe's looking spiffy these days -- fresh coats of paint that gleam against his flat black fiberglass fur and glowing red eyes. A hole in his chest, which once held a rickety slide, has been covered with a sign that says:  

"Hello, my name is Mighty Joe.  My job is to look up to heaven from time to time and say, 'HEY, JOE, WE WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU.' "

Mighty Joe Valenzano
Mighty Joe Valenzano

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