Geppi's Entertainment Museum
Stephen A. Geppi was a postman with an 8th grade education. But he became a multi-millionaire comic book distributor, and he used his money and his connections to create Geppi's Entertainment Museum. Its purpose, according to its brochure, is to show that pop culture collectibles mirror American history and are educational for kids. Geppi knows this first-hand, since he reportedly attributes his own literacy to Batman comics.
The average visitor, however, may miss Geppi's higher purpose, since it's way too easy to be distracted by all of his eye-catching artifacts. When it comes to viewing concentrated masses of plastic toys and pulp magazines, we tend to get rubber-legged and critically-challenged ourselves....
Geppi's Entertainment Museum displays its treasures in a Smithsonian-esque, museum-for-grownups space that fills the upper floor of an elegant 19th century train station. Despite the classy decor, there's a refreshing democracy in Geppi's presentation. Unless you're an expert, you can't tell if the comic book or action figure that you're looking at is worth $10 or $10,000 -- although it's likely to be the latter, if not considerably more.
The rooms are connected by a soaring Great Hall, its walls covered with garish posters for Grade B features ("Laurel and Hardy as The Bullfighters") and Saturday morning serials ("The Lost City episode 6: Human Beasts"), as well as framed cereal boxes of Count Chocula and Franken Berry; 1960s rock concert psychedelic playbills; and original comic panels from bygone funnies such as That Son-In-Law Of Pa's and Little Sammy Sneeze: He Never Knew When It Was Coming.
The heart of the museum is its shrine of comic books, "A Story In Four Colors," where visitors can see Geppi's pristine copies of Action Comics #1, All-American Comics #16, and Detective Comics #27: three of the most valuable comic books in the world. Kevin, a young employee and a fan, stood before them in awe. "There's more money here than I'll ever make in my life." No greasy human pawing permitted, though; a touch-screen "library" allows visitors to flip through the pages of some rare issues.
Thousands of comics line the walls and include the classic titles that are familiar to collectors, as well as obscure offerings such as Negro Romance, G.I. War Brides, and Molly O'Day: Super Sleuth. Forgotten heroes such as Sky Wizard, Green Lama, Bulletman and Bulletgirl remind us of the difficulty creating a character enduring enough to end up as a movie franchise.
Two adult fans were running around the room like schoolboys, pressing their faces into the cabinet glass, enjoying the breadth of the collection. "Do they have Amazing Fantasy #15?" yelled one to the other. Seconds later came the excited response: "It's over here!" (Amazing Fantasy #15 marked the debut of Spider Man.)
The museum's exhibits are arranged chronologically, beginning in the 1880s with The Brownies ("the first successful commercialized comic characters") and ending with recent multi-platform juggernauts such as Shrek and Spongebob Squarepants. Stretched between them is a dizzying galaxy of stuff to look at -- puppets, paper dolls, ray guns, jelly glasses, box top premiums -- far too many to be seen in one visit. Here are a few that caught our attention:
- A gallon-size tub of Hopalong Cassidy potato chips
- A Space 1999 lunch box
- A box of Mr. T Cereal
- All ten of the Happy Meal McNugget Buddies -- how many can you name? Corny, Rocker, Snorkel, Sparks....
The unsettling, long-nailed Struwwelpeter (Shaggy Peter) doll on display is a genuine cautionary tool for personal grooming, but it's a stretch to ascribe similar educational merit to items such as the Beatles-brand hairbrush and the box of Pinocchio hankies. You only have to look at a Popeye doll from the 1930s, or a Charlie's Angels styling head from the 1970s, to appreciate the creepiness of most toys.
In one room, a replica of the Daily Planet building rises against the back wall, displaying Superman knick-knacks. In another, a life-size Howdy Doody marionette theater frames five vintage 1950s televisions playing I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners and a test pattern. In a third, a scowling Batman dummy stands on a simulated parapet, flanked by the red Bat Phone and Bruce Wayne's bust of Shakespeare with the hinged head. Behind Batman is a small Martin Luther King Jr. shrine, which includes plastic flicker rings that flip his face with the text, "I have a dream" and "Free at last!"
The last two rooms -- whose artifacts begin around 1960 -- are the busiest (We would guess that the visitors who owned the older stuff either aren't interested in visiting, can't climb the stairs to the museum, or are dead). These rooms are where we overheard a number of visitors exclaiming, "I had one of these!," or groaning, "Oh, god, I remember these." Often these were the same people. Kevin told us that young visitors are sometimes upset to see toys from their childhood already on display in a museum.
After the Baby Boom collectors age and die, will the treasures saved by Stephen Geppi retain their value? We don't know. The next generation of pop culture fans will decide if a Miami Vice board game, or an unopened box of Star Wars Chocolate Cookies, are worth displaying in a museum.