This Super Bowl looked different from years past in many ways, but there were still the star-studded commercials. Ranging from funny to somber, they always strike up conversation outside of the big game. One fourth-quarter car advertisement struck a new chord by tapping rock star Bruce Springsteen, who has long avoided appearing in advertisements. In the ad, Springsteen makes a plea for unity to a politically divided nation — from an understated road stop in Chiefs country.
“There’s a chapel in Kansas, standing on the exact center of the Lower 48,” Springsteen says in a voice-over. “It never closes. All are more than welcome to come meet here, in the middle. It’s no secret the middle has been a hard place to get to lately.”
Road trip savants might already know that Springsteen is talking about Lebanon, Kan., where the geographic center of the 48 contiguous states is at a park located about four hours west of Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium.
The two-minute Jeep ad, titled “The Middle,” was filmed at the U.S. Center Chapel in Lebanon as well as “in locations across the United States,” according to a Jeep news release about the commercial. The car company says Springsteen was “intimately involved” in the creation of the ad, and that he wrote and produced the advertisement’s score.
And while not everyone on Twitter agreed with the political tone or use of the Boss in the ad, Kansas’s tourism board spoke out in favor of the advertisement Monday.
“What an impactful commercial that resonated with so many Americans,” Kansas Tourism spokeswoman Colby Sharples-Terry told The Washington Post. “We are always pleased when Kansas is featured in a positive and inspiring manner.”
Sharples-Terry said the state’s tourism division was not involved in the making of the Jeep ad but was made aware of production that took place at the chapel — which is indeed open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The tiny roadside chapel and a nearby road marker that have designated the site since 1941 are erected off Highway 281, on KS-181.
The exact location of the geographic center of the contiguous United States is apparently disputed, however. According to an independent website endorsed by the Kansas tourism board, the exact geographic center is about a half-mile away from the chapel “in the center of a former hog farm.” Kansas Tourism says the site was designated by the town of Lebanon and based upon a U.S. National Geodetic Survey done in 1918, and that the exact-center coordinate “has always been disputed.”
“Call it spiritual or call it Patriotic — whatever the reason — people [are] fascinated by the idea of standing exactly in the center of the country,” the tourism board says on its website.
The chapel holds a guest book and sometimes small gifts left by visitors for those who visit after them. It was previously destroyed in a car crash in 2008, but it was rebuilt and remains a popular stop for thousands of visitors per year, according to Kansas Tourism.
“Our light has always found its way through the darkness,” Springsteen says in the commercial, which fades out with a call for a “ReUnited” States of America. “And there’s hope on the road up ahead.”