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Wauconda embraces 'Black Panther' connection

WAUCONDA – When King T’Challa and his people chant “Wakanda forever,” they did so out of love for their fictitious North African homeland – not the quiet, lakeside village in north Lake County. 

Yet, ever since the Feb. 16 opening of Disney’s new superhero film “Black Panther,” the village of Wauconda has been the center of some very unusual attention. 

From prank phone calls to national news and social media attention, Wauconda has become the unofficial real-world link to the fictional world in which King T’Challa – the Black Panther – exists. And Waucondans are having a blast with it. 

“I think it’s fun; I think it’s lively,” said Maria Weisbruch, executive director of the Wauconda Area Chamber of Commerce. “We get lots of phone calls about vibranium.”

Vibranium, of course, being the precious metal found only in Wakanda. Marvel fans will recognize it as the metal used to create Black Panther’s signature suit and Captain America’s iconic shield. Weisbruch said that just the other day a gentleman contacted her to discuss a new business venture he was interested in opening in Wauconda – a metal shop – but he had an unexpected question for her.

“He asked if we had a supplier for vibranium,” she said, laughing. “He had me going actually. As a Chamber, of course, you want new business, and the way he presented it was pretty funny, and I went along with it for a few minutes before he delivered the punchline.”

References to the film have now popped up throughout Wauconda: Bulldogs Grill on Main Street launched its own burger specials last week – the Black Panther and Killmonger.

“A lot of people really started jumping on the bandwagon and having fun with it,” said Tony Vazquez, general manager of the local burger grill. “It’s something that’s bringing a good light to town, rather than something bad going on in town. It’s something that’s great, so much fun. It’s exciting. It’s something they can get behind.”

Vazquez said he had originally made the connection – Wakanda, Wauconda – after watching “Captain America: Civil War,” which was the Black Panther’s cinematic debut in the Marvel universe, but he had no idea it would launch such large-scale interest in his hometown. 

“A few people saw the connection, but no one saw the media frenzy,” he said. 

Other local businesses have hopped on the vibranium bandwagon as well. Lindy’s Landing Marina and Restaurant has created a vibranium cocktail and has updated its marquee to read “Vibranium sold here; Wakanda forever.”

Photos of Waucondan officials and business owners wearing the Black Panther mask also have surfaced on social media, which spurred even more chatter on social media, especially Reddit and Twitter. Since all this began, major news organizations have visited or contacted the town to report on this strange coincidence, including CNN, USA Today, NPR, Huffington Post and the Chicago Tribune.

Village Administrator Kevin Timony said the community has been loving the spotlight. 

“It’s nice to have the attention and for the community to be promoted and get some regional and national attention,” he said. “I had already known prior to the movie coming out that they mentioned a place called Wakanda just from seeing the previews, but again it was spelled differently, so I didn’t really think it’d be a thing. But it turned into a whole thing there.”

Movie history buffs will recognize Wauconda as a film location for the classic film “Blues Brothers.” In fact, Phil’s Beach – the stretch of beach on which Jake and Elwood Blues drove in the 1980 cult classic – is scheduled to reopen to the public next summer. 

In the meantime, Vazquez said, Wauconda will continue to embrace its unexpected place in the Marvel universe. 

“Everyone is just having fun with it,” he said. “It really kind of brought the community together a little bit.”

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