Back in 2012, “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening crushed a lot of Bay Staters’ hopes when he revealed that his personal inspiration for the cartoon’s iconic setting of “Springfield” had actually been his native Springfield, Oregon, a small city just outside of Portland. Many had assumed the town took its moniker — and much of its geographic and demographic inspiration — from the Springfield in Western Massachusetts, where early writer and showrunner Mike Scully hailed from.
Perhaps that’s because Springfield in “The Simpsons” did have a lot of similarities to a particular place in the Commonwealth … one right in the Merrimack Valley, in fact. Lowell-born and Chelmsford-raised artist Lance Wilder has served as background design supervisor for the show for a whopping 27 years and 329 episodes, and he saw fit to sneak plenty of his hometown’s architecture into the space behind the quirky characters. For example, the appearance of Springfield Town Hall is directly based on the Chelmsford Public Library, while Springfield Elementary takes its inspiration from McCarthy Middle School.
There are even some direct transplants from the real world into the animated one. Zesty’s Pizza has been serving up hot slices of Italian pie in Chelmsford since 1981, and it became part of Springfield’s town square just around a decade later thanks to Wilder. And local landmark Skip’s Restaurant may now be defunct (the old dining car was shuttered in 2008 after 62 years of business when the owners sold the property), it will live on in “The Simpsons.”
Wilder isn’t the only Chelmsford-Springfield connection. Chelmsford-raised John “J.R.” Krause, the show’s current prop designer, has been with the show since its inception.