Why It’s Important To Collect Dead People’s Stuff

I locked my keys in my car on Thursday. I had two major feelings on the matter – first, that it was really ironic that I had just been thinking that morning that it had been a really long time since I had done something monumentally stupid and that perhaps I was becoming a fully fledged self actualized adult, so it was super annoying that I was going to have to turn the counter on the “It Has Been __ Days Since Lipstick Did Something Monumentally Stupid” clock that exists in my head back to zero. The second was that the Joey Ramone auction was ending that evening and I already had an ulcer about it, and being stuck in a parking lot in one of rural Maryland’s less attractive shopping centers was going to severely impact my ability to monitor the results.

I guess technically there was a third feeling, which was that the locksmith the good folks at my insurance company provided to fish my keys out of my car had the most delightfully foul mouth I have ever had the good fortune to come across. He poked around at my car a bit and then squinted up at me and said, “That lock’s one harpy of a bitch, ain’t it, ma’am?” Which I think we can all agree is awesome.

Right about now, you may be wondering why I was having an ulcer about the Joey Ramone auction. That was because I had a bid on one of the items – one of Joey Ramone’s T-shirts. Which, I am happy to report, I won. My family and friends are just about as thrilled as I am. I know this because I have been giving them all regular updates on my item’s shipping progress ever since I got the FedEx tracking number on Friday. “Guess where Joey Ramone’s t-shirt is now?” I’d ask excitedly, waving my phone around over brunch, or sitting in a tattoo parlor while my friends were getting their noses pierced. “Wellington! Wellington, Connecticut!” And they didn’t look bored or pitying at all.

I was a total delight this weekend, let me tell you.

So….guess where Joey Ramone’s t-shirt is now?

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It’s here. At my house. In this envelope. I can’t wait to open it – Patrick and I are going to shoot an “unboxing video” (I believe that’s what the kids call it) tonight, which I’ll be sharing here shortly.

All of this has really made me reflect on how and why people (well, particularly me) collect things. Especially old things. Personally, I’ve always had a fascination with the past. Going to places like the National Museum of American History blew my tiny mind as a child. Look – right there, in front of you. Those are the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz. Some of the sequins are missing. Maybe they fell off while they were shooting on the Yellow Brick Road. Hell, maybe those sequins were a huge nuisance. Maybe Victor Fleming, harassed and over budget, was constantly yelling “Cut!” so someone could come and sweep the red sequins Judy’s shoes were shedding off of the set. And the shoes are right there. In front of you.

Or that beat up filing cabinet from the office of a psychiatrist named Lewis Fielding. You can actually see where the paint has been scratched and the metal is all dented from where it was broken into on September 3, 1971 by a Nixon administration secret ops group called The Plumbers. Right. There. In front of you. A mute testimony to an incredible event – and with that simple filing cabinet right before your eyes, it’s so easy to imagine it. To be there. Almost.

Sometimes, though, you want to be closer. You want to go behind the glass. Touch. Smell. Have some kind of visceral, tactile connection. There are two ways to do this – first, you can visit significant historic sites or burial places. Secondly, you can become a collector – of memorabilia, antiques, vintage clothing. I have done both.

When I was about 11, my grandmother took me to Cadiz, Ohio to visit the birthplace of Clark Gable. Cadiz wasn’t far from my hometown of Wheeling, WV, which made me feel like I had a special connection to my favorite actor. I understand that now they’ve rebuilt the house where he was born and established a museum, but at the time there was nothing but a granite monument marking the site and a tiny gift shop in some lady’s shed, which sold souvenirs and postcards. I took a picture with the monument and bought one of everything in the lady’s shed. I had hoped to post the photo in this blog, but due to incredibly dull reasons that involve dead car batteries, that’s not happening, so please enjoy this photo of me with a (presumably once living) bear taken at around the same time.

Please also note the enormous bow in my hair. Size wise, that bow would be FAR better suited to the bear.

Please also note the enormous bow in my hair. Size wise, that bow would be FAR better suited to the bear.

Gravesites are another place people like me head to feel a connection with people from the past – like this day, when Patrick and I visited the grave of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in Rockville. We brought a mini bottle of gin and a pencil to leave as tribute. I also tried to put together a Zelda inspired look for the trip, which actually came off more Nancy Spungen, but I think that’s ok. I think Nancy and Zelda would have gotten along. They were both brilliant women with mental health issues the medical community didn’t know how to treat. They both got a bad rap they didn’t deserve. And neither of them deserved to die the way they did.

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Collecting can get a bit touchier. We are constantly reminded that people are more important than things, which is absolutely correct. However, when the people are gone, it’s often the things they left behind that tell us their stories. It’s their things, in a way, that keep them alive for us. That keep their world accessible to us. This is a) why you need to make sure you’re supporting your local museum and b) why I started collecting antiques, vintage clothing, and memorabilia from a young age. There was – and still is – few things more amazing to me than putting on a vintage dress or a pair of shoes and wondering about the original owner – what she looked like, if maybe she wore this hat to, say, Marian Anderson singing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939.

It’s the closest I think I’ll ever come to actual magic.

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3 thoughts on “Why It’s Important To Collect Dead People’s Stuff

  1. This is a really cool post. I never thought of the sequins of Judy’s shoes like that. I thought they were really glued to them. But I guess Victor Fleming would’ve crazed over that. He was some kind of a nut.
    I really liked what you wrote about collecting and visiting places to pay homage to your idols. I love to collect everything about my favorite silent film star, Pola Negri. Like her spoon.
    That’s very nice about Gable. To me, he’ll always be that journalist in It Happened One Night and Rhett Butler. Congrats on your Joey Ramone relic! 🙂

    Like

  2. Pingback: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow | True Tales of a Punk Rock Pinup

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