Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Travel

Museum is a treasure trove of sports memorabilia

BOCA RATON — Baseball Hall-of-Famer Christy Mathewson, who pitched three shutouts for the New York Giants during the 1905 World Series championship, stares out from an extremely rare, autographed photo.

Jerseys worn by basketball superstars Shaquille O'Neal, Wilt Chamberlain and old-time great George Mikan bring back memories on the court. The front-end grill of the car driven by Richard Petty in his last race at Daytona International Speedway sits as tribute to his career.

These prized possessions – and those of other famous figures in such sports including football, boxing, tennis, golf, hockey, and track and field – fill Joel Platt's Sports Immortals Museum in Boca Raton.

The museum, which Platt opened in 1994, houses 30,000 of the more than 1 million sports mementos which he traveled more than a million miles to collect. Platt now owns the largest private collection of sports memorabilia in the world, with an estimated value between $50,000,000 and $100,000,000.

"(It is) the largest and most valuable collection of diverse and important sports artifacts ever assembled," says Michael Heffner, president of Leland's Auction House.

Tennis memorabilia anyone? The museum shows off an autographed photo of Don Budge, one of the early tennis greats. Autographed racquets of Pete Sampras and Chris Evert remind fans of their skills serving and volleying.

Baseball fans can see the glove of Lou Gehrig, the iron man of the New York Yankees. Fans also will see one of the most valuable baseball cards in the world – one of three known cards of Honus Wagner, the Pittsburgh Pirates great from the early 1900's. Other baseball memorabilia include the largest autographed baseball bat in the world. Actually, it's a tree hit by lightning and then carved into an 8-foot-tall bat by a Cherokee Indian – with 65 autographs.

"One of the best things about all of this," Platt says, "is that it gave me a chance to meet so many wonderful people. Not only the athletes themselves, but their families and their friends. Often, they've given me their most precious keepsakes ... or helped me track them down."

Platt tracked down an unusual kicking shoe autographed by NFL kicker Tom Dempsey. Actually, it's only half a shoe because Dempsey was born with only half a foot. A football thrown by quarterback Sid Luckman of the Chicago Bears for a touchdown in a 1943 game – one of seven balls he threw for touchdowns that day – also appears in the museum.

"I was lucky enough to get to know Sid Luckman's daughter," Platt says. "And when she gave me the ball, she told me, 'My Dad would have wanted you to have it.' "

For fans of the "Sweet Science," as it is known to boxing fans, the museum holds the gloves worn by Jack Dempsey when he knocked out Georges Carpentier in 1921. There's also a letter written by the immortal Jack Johnson after his fight with Jess Willard in which he complained about bigotry because he had married a white woman. The bell from the Jack Dempsey-Louis Firpo fight at New York's Polo Grounds in 1923 sits here. These items occupy space along with more than 100,000 boxing items, which is why Platt's boxing collection is considered the most comprehensive in the world.

What about golf? Dedicated duffers gaze upon the putter used by Gary Player. And hockey buffs can view Montreal Canadians jerseys worn by the Maurice "Rocket" Richard.

Track and field enthusiasts find themselves transported back the 1950s and 1960s when they see the warm-up jacket worn by Al Oerter. He won four gold medals – in four different Olympics – for the U.S.

Many items and letters of the legendary Jim Thorpe, star in such sports as track and field, baseball, basketball and football, allow a peek into his life.

"I found Thorpe's granddaughter in California, after a long search," Platt says. "And when she found out who I was and what I was doing, she dug up some of her most precious mementoes and gave them to me."

One of the best things about the collection, though, is Platt himself. He's a walking encyclopedia of sports stories, some of which are in his book, Sports Immortals: Stories of Inspiration and Achievement.

His penchant for sports memorabilia came in the aftermath of an accident. When he was four years old, Platt was playing in his uncle's car lot when he found a box of matches. He lit one and threw it in a gas tank. The resulting explosion left him hospitalized for a year.

To keep his spirits up, his parents brought him baseball cards every day, and his Dad told him wonderful sports stories. One night Babe Ruth appeared to Platt in a dream and told him not to give up. That dream eventually resulted in a magnificent obsession with sports souvenirs that ultimately led to his museum.

But as impressive as his collection is, Joel Platt is not done. In fact, he's now tackling his most ambitious project ever, what he calls his dream and the culmination of his life's work.

His dream exists only in blueprints now, but he's determined to raise $200 million for a "Sports Immortals International Hall of Fame and National Sports Museum." The plans call for training facilities, interactive displays, a 360-degree movie-theater-in-the-round, a research facility for sports medicine, and dining and retail components.

"Four states are vying for it," Platt says, "and they've each offered sites. We're concentrating now on the financial part. And we're very optimistic. This is too big – and too important to too many people – not to happen."

Until it does, though, Platt happily escorts visitors around his museum where every item has a story.

"I cherish every piece," Platt says. "But I cherish the stories behind each one just as much."

To learn more, call (561) 997-2575, visit sportsimmortals.com or e-mail [email protected]

This story was first published on VISITFLORIDA.com.

Comments
In Sitka, Alaska, food doesn’t get more natural than this, or cheaper

In Sitka, Alaska, food doesn’t get more natural than this, or cheaper

SITKA, AlaskaA hefty brass bell hangs from a rafter in the middle of the Pioneer Bar. The P Bar, as everyone calls this down-home dive on Baranof Island about 90 miles southwest of Juneau, is a smokey haven for locals and fishermen. And it could be w...
Published: 12/07/17
Exploring Alaska’s Inside Passage with the adventure, expense of a cruise

Exploring Alaska’s Inside Passage with the adventure, expense of a cruise

JUNEAU, AlaskaNaturalist John Muir didn’t have Patagonia waterproof Yulex gloves Amazon Primed to him. He did not have Gore-Tex or special wicking fabrics. His socks were probably wet the whole time.These were my thoughts as I looked up from a cabin ...
Published: 12/07/17
A guide to holiday events at Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens and more theme parks

A guide to holiday events at Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens and more theme parks

Instead of shoveling snow, Christmas in Florida means celebrating the holiday season in shorts and T-shirts at theme parks and local attractions. Some parks even haul in “snow” for an authentic holiday vibe. While the last two weeks of t...
Published: 12/06/17
The challenges of being a chef on a remote Alaska cruise ship

The challenges of being a chef on a remote Alaska cruise ship

James George, 49, executive chef aboard the Safari Endeavour, has the kind of resume that makes you double-take. A graduate of Johnson & Wales in Miami, he went the hotel and country club route, spending eight years at the fabled Breakers in Palm Bea...
Published: 12/07/17
Tampa Bay's most unique Airbnb rentals include the RV parked behind Ferg's

Tampa Bay's most unique Airbnb rentals include the RV parked behind Ferg's

These are some of the most unusual vacation rentals available on Airbnb in Tampa Bay.
Published: 12/05/17
Florida’s iconic offshore Stiltsville survived another hurricane season

Florida’s iconic offshore Stiltsville survived another hurricane season

MIAMI — Stiltsville, a stubborn relic of Miami’s less-glitzy past as a sun-soaked outpost, has survived Hurricane Irma’s brutal winds and waves, much to the surprise of the landmark’s caretakers and fans. Perched at the edge of sea grass flats where ...
Updated one month ago
Story of Louis Vuitton: As travel changed, so did luggage

Story of Louis Vuitton: As travel changed, so did luggage

NEW YORKAs travel changed, so did luggage. That’s the story told by an elaborate exhibition about Louis Vuitton, the luxury luggage and fashion brand. The exhibition, free to visit and on display in Lower Manhattan through Jan. 7, is called "Volez, V...
Updated one month ago
Black Friday deals at Legoland, SeaWorld, Disney and more

Black Friday deals at Legoland, SeaWorld, Disney and more

Black Friday isn’t just for stores. Many theme parks and attractions in Florida are also offering up deals that could make a nice gift or family splurge. The smaller the park, the bigger the deal, so Legoland, Gatorland and SeaWorld are toutin...
Updated one month ago
Most air travelers say taking off your shoes is okay. An etiquette expert disagrees

Most air travelers say taking off your shoes is okay. An etiquette expert disagrees

Unless you are ensconced in first class, sleeping on a plane is as intimate as dozing off in a waiting room on jury duty — everyone on the aircraft knows the decibel level of your snoring and the sad state of your socks.To gauge how passengers percei...
Updated one month ago
With Harry Potter’s Christmas, Universal Orlando proves holidays are big business

With Harry Potter’s Christmas, Universal Orlando proves holidays are big business

ORLANDO — Christmas has finally come to Hogwarts at Universal Orlando in a new holiday attraction opening Saturday. In addition, Universal Studios has completely upsized its holiday parade with more Macy’s balloons, stunning floats and snowy effects ...
Updated one month ago