This weekend KET will be featuring an eastern Kentucky man and his vast collection of sports memorabilia.
John Carpenter, of Firebrick in Lewis County, has gathered over 7,000 pieces over the past 38 years. His collection includes jerseys, caps, bats, helmets, baseballs, footballs, basketballs, pictures, cups, letters, programs numerous autographs and even commemorative plates.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not first recognized Carpenter as having the “World’s Largest Private Sports Collection” in 1994. They updated that status in their nationally syndicated cartoon again in 2001 as the collection mounted.
Carpenter says he started collecting items back in 1974 through a family connection. His mother worked at a jewelry store in Ohio and a friend of her boss had a grandson that played with Marc Buoniconti at Furman. Buoniconti’s father, Nick, was a linebacker for the Miami Dolphins.
“I asked if I could get an autographed photo of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins team and he was able to get it for me,” Carpenter said.
He was 15 at the time and his collection grew from there.
Among his most important pieces of memorabilia are a football believed to have been kicked by Jim Thorpe while playing in 1927 for a semi-pro team in Portsmouth, Ohio; a home-run ball hit by Babe Ruth; an autographed Brett Favre helmet; and the jacket worn by baseball umpire John McSherry, who died on the field in Cincinnati in 1996.
Carpenter doesn’t sell anything in his collection and says he’s gotten most his autographs simply by asking for them.
“I send them stories that have been written about me, and a stamped self-addressed envelope. I let them know I collect for the fun of it,” he told Kentucky Living Magazine last year.
Carpenter and his collection will be featured as part of this weekend’s Kentucky Life program, airing at 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday on KET.
“(My collection) is probably the best-kept secret in Kentucky. I take some of it out every now and then for sports shows and festivals,” he said. “(KET) has known about it for several years, but didn’t realize how large it was. They filmed part of it in summer and then came back to finish up during the first part of December.
“I’m really excited for so many Kentuckians to be able to see it.”