John Carpenter doesn’t swing a bat or score any touchdowns, but he does get recognized often for his collection of sports memorabilia, which is one of the largest private collections in the world, with more than 7,000 articles.
Most recently, Carpenter is being recognized for his collection on Kentucky Educational Television’s magazine program, “Kentucky Life”, where the crew at KET will be giving nine states and 20,000 people an inside look at the collection.
KET is the statewide education network in Kentucky for PBS. The program “Kentucky Life” is a magazine series that features interesting people and places from around the state.
“We feature a variety of artists and musicians, we visit a lot of towns across Kentucky, and also things of regional interest,” Brandon Wickey, “Kentucky Life” producer said. “John has ties with “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” that stretch back for years. When we heard of his collection, we thought it would be an interesting story and something a lot of our viewers would be interested in.”
The producers at “Kentucky Life” said that they had heard of the collection a few times over the years, but didn’t fully comprehend the size of the collection until they went and got a first-hand look at it.
“I was astounded by the collection just by hearing about it, but to fully grasp it you need to go and look at it in his home, which most people aren’t going to be able to do, but will be able to see now, thanks to the show. It is astounding what he has put together and the contacts that he has made in the industry.”
KET was impressed with not only the collection, but the collector, since one man from southeastern Kentucky has collected 7,000 pieces in just 22 years.
“It’s amazing, really,” KET producer, Rob Elliot, said. “He doesn’t live in a big city. You know, his part of Kentucky isn’t even a large part of Kentucky. For someone to have that kind of collection is amazing and you know, it isn’t all local stuff; it’s national stuff, it’s historic stuff. He’s got stuff from all across the board that is all-encompassing.”
A large part of Carpenter’s collection is the historical pieces of the Portsmouth Spartans, which will be featured in several minutes of the show.
“I wanted to focus on the Spartans when I started the story,” Elliot said. “Our show is called Kentucky life, but Portsmouth is right across the river and to have an NFL team is a big thing. So, we do touch a bit on the Thorpe collection and how he got that. The show will be about John as a whole though, not only his collection. He knows the stories behind everything in his collection; a walking encyclopedia of sports knowledge.”
Jim Thorpe is considered to be one of the greatest Olympians of all time. He played a wide array of sports, one being football, and was a member of the Portsmouth Spartans. One of the collectibles Carpenter has is Thorpe’s football helmet from his days with the Spartans. Thorpe will be a focal point during the show.
“It’s kind of amazing, all of the stuff he has that isn’t around anymore. We really concentrated on the Thorpe collection and Spartan memorabilia and how he got these things by Thorpe living in southern Ohio and playing NFL games in Portsmouth and the surrounding area. Sports coverage isn’t a big draw in public television, but the history involved in it is very important, so to bring it out and to let people know that all of this happened in their backyard, that all of these famous ballplayers were right here and played here is important.”
The fact that so many objects in Carpenter’s collection are rare and historic has Elliot excited to air the show he has been working on since summer.
“I think the show will go well. What I’ve tried to do is focus on John as a unique individual, who has collected all of these items and these items aren’t things that be picked up at a mall or bought somewhere, these are things are have historical ties to the area. We have this guy from southeastern Kentucky that owns the largest sports memorabilia in the world.”
Billy McClurg is a graphic designer and one of the founders of the Portsmouth Spartans Historical Society and continues his membership with the society and even masters the web page. He has long studied the NFL team that once was and is a go-to for Spartan information.
McClurg’s interest in the Spartans was an obvious one he says, “They were born in my hometown, I was born in Portsmouth and raised in the country. That right there is why I am interested in the Spartans. This whole thing was born right on the river banks of the Ohio River in Portsmouth. That was enough for me to get involved.”
McClurg is passionate about local NFL team that was born on the riverbanks of Portsmouth. He is even more passionate about preserving its history and keeping the past alive.
“You don’t have to like sports, but you really should know your area. As far as I am concerned, great history was formed on the banks of the Ohio, way back when we had this football team. I can’t believe people can live in this community and know nothing about it. There was a time when we had to fight to keep Spartan Stadium, and I can’t believe no one wanted to preserve this piece of history. Honestly, history is all Portsmouth has right now. I can’t think of anything outside of that, that Portsmouth has to hang its hat on. What have we had in the past 30 years outside of pain clinics and pill mills? The city is dying and nobody cares.”
The Spartan Historical Society webpage is www.portsmouthspartans.org and covers general background information of the Spartans, articles, photos, and collectibles.
“I really designed the page as a method to make people dig deeper into the Spartans. We put information on there that covers the basics, but we give them the options to further look into the history of Portsmouth’s NFL Team. You’re going to have to really check out the entire site and look through all of the links.”
John Carpenter’s special on KET’s “Kentucky Life” will air Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 17 at 4 p.m. It will also appear on the KET website at www.ket.org.