Museum-worthy art collection discovered in Cleveland
by BETTIE MARLOWE, Banner Staff Writer
Sep 23, 2012 | 1172 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Art Collection

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In 1978, Jon Metzger of Cleveland was lauded as a 13-year-old collector in a Banner story by then-Lifestyles Editor Sandra Rowland. More than 30 years later, his collection of autographed photos, letters and cards from the famous and infamous would fill a museum.

Born and raised in Cleveland, the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Newt Metzger, he has one brother. He is a graduate of Cleveland High School. He said Cleveland was a good place to grow up. He worked in health care management for years with hospitals all over the country.

When asked how many photos he had acquired, his answer was “I don’t really know.” But he does have his favorites, such as Neil Armstrong, Mother Teresa and Lillian Gish (a rarity).

Included in the collection are Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Harry S. Truman and wives, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan and Bess Truman. Add to those Eleanor Roosevelt, Mamie Eisenhower and Ladybird Johnson, and you have the beginnings of a Hall of Fame. Also, Metzger said, Mamie Eisenhower replied on the first request for an autographed photo. Since he stopped collecting a few years ago, the later presidents and first ladies are not in his collection.

It was not always easy, he said, to get responses from the people he pursued, but ultimately, most sent pictures, letters and even invitations — and the Eisenhowers sent a birth announcement for Julie Nixon’s and David Eisenhower’s baby. He has copies of Nixon’s Memoirs Vols. 1 and 2, also — all autographed.

His collection extended to movie stars, race car drivers, singers and musicians — the well-known and some obscure or almost forgotten. But the “ugliest one” he said he received was a cryptic note signed with a swastika by Charles Manson.

Astronauts Neil Armstrong’s and Alan Shepard’s photos hold a special place in Metzger’s gallery. He said these were snapshots of history.

His photos (and notes) from Lillian Gish can’t be replaced — no more anywhere, he said. And he has the only photo he knows of taken of the “M*A*S*H” cast during filming. Other stars include Claudette Colburn, Clint Eastwood, Lana Turner, Lucille Ball (in her comedy episodes), Jane Russell, Esther Williams, Shirley Temple, Jackie Gleason, Benny Goodman, Woody Allen, Bette Davis (“she was always good to send things to me”), Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Mae West, Elizabeth Taylor, James Cagney, Roy Rogers, James Stewart, Ole Blue Eyes Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope. Paul Newman and Robert Redford didn’t sign a lot of things, Metzger said, but those are in his collection, too.

Then there were the other television personalities such as Wally and The Beaver on “Leave It to Beaver.” The photo of Bishop Desmond Tutu has its place, along with Jonas Salk (polio vaccine), Gloria Swanson, Katharine Hepburn and Sissy Spacek who played the title role of “Carrie” in the 1986 Stephen King movie.

Political figures were always sought after, such as Barry Goldwater, Strom Thurmond, Gov. Ray Blanton (he sent a Christmas card), Colin Powell and the Whitewater players including Charles Colson, whose note read, “Loving God.” Taking an honored place is Gov. John Connally, who was with President John Kennedy when JFK was assassinated and was a victim of the shooting, also.

His reply from Mahatma Gandhi came only 18 months before he was assassinated — “giving up everything for our freedom struggle,” he wrote.

President Reagan, Metzger said, was great. “He signed numerous things, but he wouldn’t sign his picture with the monkey” (from “Bedtime for Bonzo”), he said. When Reagan came to Athens, Metzger and his father, Newt Metzger, were on hand to greet him and get pictures.

Not everyone is a “living” character. He has the older Dr. Seuss books and several original drawings with personal messages in the “balloons” of the figures.

About the time of George H.W. Bush’s presidency, Metzger “kinda” stopped his collecting, he said. He continued his mailings through college, but then, “it faded away,” he said. “It got harder and harder.” He said he doesn’t keep up with who is popular.

From observation, he probably “ran out of room.” The stairwell to the “museum” basement is lined with autographed — not just signed, but signed to him — pictures of stars from old movies. And the basement walls boast at least another hundred, plus a stack of albums and boxes, filled with historic treasurers.

More than a few continued a correspondence with Metzger — especially when he was a teenager — seemingly pleased at his interest. “Age was on my side,” he said. He attributes his success in contacting the rich (and not-so-rich) and famous to a lot of luck. “I’m just a fan,” he added.

His advice to someone who has an interest in this kind of hobby is that you have to be not only prolific, but persistent and inspired, he said. “You have to keep trying — for instance, it took me a long time to get through to Lucille Ball.” For every one he got, he added, he made three attempts to contact others. “You have to contact anyone and everyone.”

At some point, Metzger said, his collection may go to a museum, but he’s hesitant about his future plans for his “art collection” since they are “his life,” although he wouldn’t rule it out. He said his parents were supportive of his hobby and his mother would find addresses for him while his dad would get things signed.

“I’m pretty satisfied with what I’ve done,” the collector said. “I can’t imagine how selling them would come to pass — I don’t let them out of my sight.”