Steve Cole never dreamed he'd own a 50-foot tall gorilla.
Now, the gorilla that has stood watch over runners of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon in Cole's front yard at 40th and Shartel in Crown Heights belongs to him.
“I'm now the proud owner,” Cole said. “Fortunately, it's red, white and blue so we'll probably have a flag flying from it this year.”
The area on Shartel between 38th and 40th between miles six and seven on the course has become known as “Gorilla Hill” and Cole and a group of neighbors and friends have gone all in with the concept.
An ever-growing group of people — Cole's children joined in last year — stand at the corner in banana costumes encouraging the runners as they pass.
The group hangs several banners across the street and decorates the area with about 500 balloons.
This year, a local radio station will have its sound van camped out on the corner Sunday morning; Ben E. Keith donated several crates of bananas the group will give to runners as they pass; and the group printed and is selling T-shirts to raise money for the purchase of the gorilla. Another local company donated helium for the balloons.
Gorilla Hill's Facebook page has more than 550 likes.
“It's great because that's kind of at the top of the first long hill,” said Tiffany Eichner, a friend of Cole's who has been supporting runners at the corner since the tradition started as an unofficial water stop. “It gives them an extra spring in their step when they see a bunch of bananas encouraging them as they go by.”
The water stop idea proved messy — paper cups wound up everywhere — and Cole wanted to do something different.
It started with using the color yellow — the color of remembrance for the Oklahoma City bombing — and it took off from there.
“My wife and kids think I'm crazy most of the time,” Cole said. “Starting out, they were more interested in sleeping in than coming out to help, but they've come around.”
Now, not only are the kids — two daughters, 23 and 21, and an 11-year-old son — coming out dressed as bananas but their friends have started dressing up and helping out as well.
Cole's house has even been painted yellow to keep with the Gorilla Hill theme.
“If you know Steve at all, he always has kind of grand schemes,” Eichner said. “So this is nothing out of the ordinary. It's exciting, though. We like it as a neighborhood to get together and support the runners and have fun doing it.”
The group rented the gorilla from a local car dealership for the past several years, but when the dealership decided it was time to let go of the mascot, Cole scooped it up.
“Last year, he suffered a foot injury at the end of the run,” Cole said. “I don't know how many good years he has left but hopefully we'll get to keep using it for the next few years.”
While the group plans on having plenty of fun Sunday, Cole and the others will also be thinking about last week's events at the Boston Marathon.
“You kind of get sentimental thinking about our experience and about what's happened in Boston,” Cole said. “We want to support the people that are suffering in other parts of the country and do it in a fun way.”