Sometimes it starts with little forethought and cascades from there. You have one of something and then two and suddenly a couple hundred or thousand. Ok, that's not exactly how it happens, but for these collectors from around Northeast Ohio that's sometimes how it feels. One day you're just going about your business and then one day, for example, you're the person someone thinks of if they have 4,000 troll dolls they'd like to unload. These things happen, and that delights us (and probably stir other emotions in friends and family who live with the hobbies), so we talked to the owners of eight of the oddest, best, and largest collections in Cleveland.
Eric Eakin, Bay Village
What does he collect? Bedpans
Huh? No, really, bedpans.
Okay, go on: "Antique and unique bedpans. I have male and female urinals, infirmwear, but not chamber pots." With more than 250 pieces, Eakin has the largest known (and possibly only?) collection in the world. "There's a collector for every item — cat pins, prosthesis, glass eyes. I just happen to be the bedpan guy."
Tell us more, then, Bedpan Guy: "Some go back to the early 1800s. They're made of porcelain, metal, stainless steel, enameled metal, recycled newspaper, plastic, aluminum. I have a urinal from a B-29 bomber, travel urinals for kids, miniature bedpans, bedpans that were used as greeting cards, bedpans that have been turned into works of art, bedpans with Native American or outdoor motifs. I even have a Jim Traficant bedpan. They're mostly from the United States but I've gotten some from overseas, traded from Great Britain, some from Germany and Israel. I've also got a metal urinal from the television series M.A.S.H."
How on earth did this get started? Eakin's mother was visiting England in the 1970s, and when she was leaving the two friends she was visiting handed her a key to a locker at the airport as a parting gift. Inside the locker were two bedpans — as a prank, the friends wanted Eakin's mother to have to carry the two bedpans home on the airplane. She gave one to her son and the collection began. "My wife liked to go to antique stores when we first got married. I'd see these laying around, and thought nobody in the world collects these, they're just too strange to collect. So I started doing it. Some people get it, some of them don't get it. If you have a sense of humor, you push forward; if not, you don't say anything. They're all clean, I don't use them; it's bad karma to use them. Most of these have probably never been used."
Are they valuable? "I pay a dime, 50 cents, a dollar for them." His quirky collection has been featured on TV and written up in publications, which hasn't increased the value in any way but has made it easier to score additions. A woman from Wooster tracked him down a few years ago and invited him to a barn that was filled with bedpans that her father had left her. "People have left them hanging on my front door knob," he says. "A guy from an antique store once sent me a picture saying, 'I thought of you.' Thanks!" Eakin admits he's going to need to get rid of them at some point. Although individual pieces aren't worth a ton, one lady sold her 150-piece bedpan collection to Ripley's Believe It Or Not for $150,000 20 years ago, so he's hoping his collection might see a similar fate.
Where does he keep them? "Most are on the shelf in my basement. But my wife lets me put the six best ones around the house, on display. You know the saying, 'A guy was so poor, he doesn't have a pot to piss in'? Well, I'll never be that guy."
Dave Brown, Macedonia
What does he collect? Brown has one of the largest collections of Star Wars memorabilia in the world. He collects all things Star Wars but mainly focuses on action figures and play sets, along with comic books.
How'd he get his start? Brown began collecting Star Wars memorabilia as a kid growing up in Macedonia. "I was 9 when the first Star Wars film came out, and went to see it with my family and it blew my mind. Not only the film itself, but all the hype and interest surrounding the film really hit home. I stayed interested in Star Wars throughout the years, and then my son was born and the movies were re-released and I got back into collecting."
He's not alone, is he? Absolutely not. Though his collection of thousands of items might be one of the largest, plenty of others love the hobby too. He trades and swaps pieces and is involved in the Star Wars collector's community, including the Ohio Star Wars Collectors Club, which he stumbled on eight years ago and is now the president of. "I began going to meetings and really enjoyed how Star Wars collectors came from all walks of life: doctors, nurses, teachers, truck drivers. The group has events but what really sticks out to me are the friendships which are bonded by a common interest."
What does his family think? Brown has four kids who have varying degrees of interest, but his wife has alway been supportive and she's a member of the club as well. They'll be heading to Orlando later this year for a Star Wars conference and celebration.
Would he ever give it up? "I wouldn't, because it doesn't overtake my life. It's more of a fun hobby, a home project. Life happens, my focus goes up and down, and I'm not the kind of person who has a daily obsession with collecting."
Morrie Everett, Kirtland
What does he collect? Vintage movie posters.
How many does he have? Oh, just 196,000 or so, covering 40,000 different titles. It's the largest vintage movie poster collection in the world.
When did he start? "I began collecting in college at the University of Virginia in 1961. A friend of mine took me to his house and showed me his meager collection of memorabilia." Being a lifelong cinephile, Everett's interest was piqued, plus he immediately thought he could outdo his friend's collection.
Sounds expensive: That's partly why Everett turned the hobby into a business. He operates hollywoodposterauction.com and started selling posters in 1989. "I spent the farm collecting all this stuff and ran into some financial trouble," he says. He's had the business for 28 years now, including a store in Kirtland that used to be on Euclid Avenue downtown, and has operated shops in Chicago, L.A. and London.
Any brushes with fame? "I've run auctions for Martin Scorsese. I had a store in Hollywood for five years. Michael Jackson would come into the store dressed like an old woman, a hood over his head and giant, I'm talking giant, sunglasses on, and whisper in his high voice, and say, 'Do you have any Shirley Temple or Walt Disney posters?' And I sold him whatever I had." Everett also owns the largest movie print business in the country, based in New York City, that licenses thousands of movie photos.
Most unique item? A super-rare poster from the 1927 film Metropolis, the German sci-fi film directed by Fritz Lang.
What do friends and family think? "They had some skepticism at first. They thought, 'What are you gonna do with all this stuff that's taking up a lot of room and you spent a lot of money on?' Back then there really wasn't a huge market for it, though. But I don't womanize, I don't go to the bar; I collect movie posters. There are a lot worse habits I could have."
Can I see the collection? Sure. Everett's store, The Last Moving Picture Company, is at 10535 Chilicothe Rd. Give the store a call at 440-256-3660.
Jamie Riegle, Cleveland
What does he collect? Superman memorabilia.
Is this a hobby or a job at this point? Riegle deals memorabilia full time through his web site, Supercollectibles.com, where he sells DC Comics toys and collectibles. "I started with Superman and expanded from there. The store is separate from my collection; it's been running for about 15 years now. I buy wholesale and have over 2,000 items in the store, including some one of a kind vintage pieces."
How'd he start? "I started collecting comic books when I was 4 years old; my father grew up on comics, and started buying them again when I was born. I was always into the DC stuff — Justice League and all. Then the Superman movie came out in the late '70s. I saw it in the theater and everywhere you went there was more Superman stuff. Then superpowers came out in the '80s and I went and bought all the play-sets. Back then everything was just these quarter boxes. My parents would take us around, we'd hit garage sales, comic book stores, and I'd go through my list to make sure I had the full collection. Every weekend there was a comic book show at a hotel, and I used to have a lot of Justice League stuff — Batman, Wonder Woman — and it got to the point where there was just too much stuff to collect. Before I did the store, I would set up at flea markets on the weekends to get rid of duplicates or trade for Superman stuff, and eventually I decided to focus solely on Superman stuff."
How much stuff? "In addition to the Superman collection, I still have 80s toys, Kiss action figures, Transformers, GI Joes." Riegle estimates his full collection at 40,000 pieces.
Anything really rare? "I have a few one-of-a-kind items. I have the original customs form when Superman serials came out in 1948; they had to send film reels to the U.K. to play over there, and I got my hands on the original customs documents with stamps that show all the shipping information to the U.K. I have a Canadian book cover from 1940 when the radio shows were on. A bakery sponsored this book and it might be the only one that exists. I have a poster from Nov. 20, 1943, a bill posted in a theater in Uruguay, when the cartoons started showing theaters. I also have a can of Superman machine gun oil from Vietnam, which isn't an officially licensed item."
Would he ever give it all up? Riegle always said that if he doesn't have a museum by the time his sons, appropriately named Kal-El and Lex, are done with school, he'd think about giving it up. But Riegle's goal is to open a museum where he can display his full collection. He's curious why one doesn't exist in Cleveland, since it's the birthplace of the Man of Steel.
Are you still adding? "I get emails everyday from people, sometimes it's foreign stuff that I don't have because it wasn't released here, sometimes it's worthless. I've met a lot of the families of the creator. His daughter sent me a comic signed by her dad. Right now I'm not buying nearly half the stuff I used to buy. I ran out of room. I helped set up the Superman display at the airport. I'm also a wish granter for Make-a-Wish; a lot of kids want a superhero party, and I have the stuff to throw the party."
Is his wife on board? "We used the Superman theme music at our wedding. She wasn't a Superman fan when we met, 20-some years ago. I told her up front when we started dating I wanted to name the kids Kal-El and Lex. Now she's really into it."
Sherry Groom, Alliance
What does she collect? Troll dolls, and a lot of them: She's got the largest collection in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Hobby or a full-time job? A bit of both. Groom operates the Troll Museum in Alliance but still maintains a full-time job as a nurse.
How'd it get started? "The collection just kind of happened over the years. I got my first toy for Christmas. Trolls were pretty rare back in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, so it wasn't a big collectors item. But then in the '90s, trolls really made a successful comeback and they became pretty easy to collect and eventually people wanted to dump their collections so I take them."
Why? "The reason I collect them is that they represent the oldest supernatural being, a troll. They started to appear in folktales from Scandinavia and I liked those. I started out collecting just a few, then I had a roomful, then they had to go into boxes where I had too many to display and we needed a hut, so I purchased a building in downtown Alliance. I actually purchased the building to support Alzheimers, the Arch for Alzheimers non-profit. We needed a hook to get people in, so the trolls were a way to do that."
How many do you have? "My collection has grown from 2,000 to 19,000."
How's the store and museum working out? "We opened three years ago, but we did a real soft opening, doing a couple of tours a month, then a couple a week, now a couple a day. Our best day, we did 15 tours. We have a full-time resident artist by the name of David McDow. Our exhibits are very unique. We're part of Discover Ohio, the Canton Business Bureau and the Akron Business Bureau."
What does her family think? "My family all disowned me [laughs]. My kids are pretty ashamed of me and want nothing to do with it [laughs again]. My husband was always very supportive though; he's done all the renovations on the buildings and owns the business with me."
What else? "Now with trolls back in the limelight, it's really brought in a new guest list to come see the museum; kids and people of all ages come in. We had a Dreamworks exhibit as soon as the movie came out.
Looking for a home for your troll dolls? "We believe that no troll should be abandoned and made to suffer through the humiliation of thrift stores and yard sales. Send us your troll and we will take very good care of it and give it the love it deserves."
Biggest acquisition? "My largest donation was over 4,000 trolls. It was from a young man who wanted to have something in common with his girlfriend, so he started this collection and it became pretty large. Then his girlfriend left him, so we got the trolls."
How to visit? Go to 222 East Main St. in Alliance, Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; or call 330-596-1157.
Tim Harnett, Cleveland
What does he collect? Lots of shit. Everything, really: Comic books, tiki mugs, anything related to the United Kingdom, records.
When did he start? "I started collecting comic books when I was 12 years old. I was building my own environment in which I felt comfortable, but it's also part of an addictive personality. After collecting comic books, music took a hold of me toward the end of high school. I got into punk, the Sex Pistols, the Cramps, and that got me into record collecting and helped me build an identity, a sort of private rebellion."
What does he have? Five thousand records, to start with. Sixteen boxes of comic books containing 150 comics a piece (that's 2,400 issues in total). Between 200 and 250 tiki mugs. He is also fascinated by U.K. culture and has basically set up a full English pub in his basement.
What do people think of it all? "Everyone thinks of our house as a museum, somewhere between admiration, and fascination, and thinking we're insane."
What's unique about his collections? "We have pre-Prohibition memorabilia from breweries. We have tiki mugs where the artist has only produced 50 of them, and then literally breaks the mold, we have a few of those. Also, some rare punk 7-inchs, albums where the band members don't even own the record."
Would he ever give it up? "I tell myself every day I'm gonna stop and it just gets worse; the stuff ends up owning you."
Jerry and Darla Arnold, Beachwood
What they collect: Antique holiday items
How they got their start: The oldest of six children, Jerry collected things as a child. "I always wanted something that was my own," he says one afternoon from his Beachwood home where he and his wife Darla have put vintage Valentine's Day cards on display throughout the house. "Having my shoebox of treasures, those were my things. I had rocks and fossils. I would be outside and find sea glass and stones." The two Cleveland Institute of Art students married 50 years ago, and at that point, they started scouring area garage sales to buy old items they could refinish and up-cycle for sale. Since Darla had an interest in vintage Christmas decorations, they began assembling a collection of antique holiday decor ranging from cards and candy containers to handmade ornaments. They now possess an exhaustive collection of hard-to-find antique holiday items from Easter, Halloween, Fourth of July, Valentine's Day and Christmas. The two have a cottage industry designing antique-inspired ornaments and collectors regularly send damaged toys and ornaments to Jerry, one of the few people capable of restoring the delicate decorations. Each year, they put 23 decorated Christmas trees in their home.
Weirdest inclusion or addition: Once they went to an antique book sale and found a very small book with a pink silk cord and a picture of a rabbit under an umbrella. They bought it to go with their Easter collection for about $10. Six months later, they read about a series of early, self-published Beatrice Potter books that sold at a special Christie's auction. There were only six known books, but they suspected they might have the seventh, so Jerry contacted Christie's reps who said it was unlikely they had an original. The couple decided to send it to Christie's to be appraised. "[The Christie's rep] was appalled that we sent it via regular post without insurance," says Darla, noting that they had been convinced at the time it was likely a reproduction. But the experts agreed it was the seventh. Because it wasn't part of the Potter auction, they knew they wouldn't get six figures, but it still sold for a whopping $29,000. "That's what keeps collectors going — I mean, talk about the hunt," says Darla.
What friends and family think: Darla and Jerry say they don't entirely come clean to relatives when asked about their collecting tendencies. "We never tell them what we pay," says Darla. "That's rule No. 1. They don't understand it. They can't relate because they're not collectors. Some of our sons' friends would come over and see how much we had on display, but they weren't impressed. Our youngest son is a minimalist; he doesn't want any of this.
What would make them stop: Darla and Jerry say they have no intention of stopping anytime soon, but they admit "old age will have an impact on us really soon." "I can't see having it, if you can't put it out and share it," says Darla, who says they put their antique decorations on display for every holiday. "We know collectors who have the stuff and don't ever put it out, but that's not us," says Jerry. "We put out all the Valentine's Day items this year." Ultimately, collecting functions as a form of therapy. "I've had a few bad things happen in my life and collecting served as a diversion, so I wouldn't dwell on those things for some amount of time. A passion like this gives you something else to occupy yourself."
Marky Ray, Summit County
What he collects: Rock 'n' roll memorabilia with a Northeast Ohio bent
How did he get his start: As a kid, Ray collected beer cans and coins. While at boarding school in southern Ohio, he started doing flyers for a band called the Unexplained. That led to a desire to start collecting and making flyers and "punk ephemera." "That was the thing about punk rock," he says one morning from one of several rooms in his home devoted to keeping various flyers and rock 'n' roll artifacts. "It gave you a license to create. I could do it myself. My dad was an artist, so I had access to all sorts of things, and I had free rein." Now he has a collection of guitars, 'zines, cassette tapes, vinyl albums and concert T-shirts that takes up the better part of his modest single-story home. "My focus now is on scaling down to Northeast Ohio stuff that I want to preserve," he says as he leafs through an album of old flyers. "I've got concert listings from the old Scene magazines and Cleveland After Dark. I have lots of punk era fliers from the [shuttered record store] the Drome and the classic punk era flyer stuff is my main focus."
Weirdest get: Ray owns a couple of Nine Inch Nails guitars that frontman Trent Reznor smashed during live performances. At the time, he worked on the NIN crew, and he simply picked up the pieces of the broken instruments, painted a psychedelic pattern on them and brought them back to Cleveland where he had them repaired. "I've got a couple of [Cramps singer] Lux Interior microphone stands from jumping off PA systems and breaking them in half. One was from a show in 1997 at Gray's Armory. That was a great show." He also has self-published books of poems by the late Cleveland poet d.a. levy, which he inherited from punk rocker Bobby H, who helped finance and facilitate the release of the two Cleveland Confidential releases put out by the Cleveland punk band the Pagans. "I was [the late Bobby H's] friend, and his widow willed me the paper ephemera," he says of the levy collection. "I've been documenting it and gave a lot of it to the Rock Hall Archives and the Cleveland Memory project. This stuff needs to be seen. It's rarer than hens' teeth. Levy was brilliant. He was like Cleveland's answer to Lenny Bruce." Ray also owns a vintage acoustic guitar that once belonged to Dick Lurie, an infamous Cleveland guitarist who studied with Segovia. He bought the item for $6.95 at a local thrift store.
What friends and family think: Ray says his wife is "a little dismayed sometimes" and his daughter thinks "it's a little nutty." But his wife possesses a deep appreciation for rock history. "She's a collector too, and she saw Elvis in 1974 and even 'touched' him [but not in a pervy way]," says Ray. "I can't top that."
What would make him stop: Because of limited space, Ray says he can't expand his collection much more. "My daughter just wants the vinyl and the guitars," he says. "I'm selling off collectible toys and antiques and everything that my daughter doesn't want. I'll probably pass on the guitars and the rare vinyl and stuff that is worth money but has sentimental value. I don't have anything worth a shit ton of money. You have to know the context for something like the Nine Inch Nails guitar, or you'd just think someone fucked up a really cool guitar." Ray hopes that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Archives can put together a Cleveland-centric museum/display affiliated with Northeast Ohio. "If there were a space, I would donate some of this to it."