Story: Brittany Twyman
Multimedia: Garland Young
Located on the second floor of Camden Station, Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, GEM, is a collection of nearly 250 years’ worth of history and childhood memories. Geppi’s Entertainment Museum opened its doors in 2006 atop the Sport’s Legends Museum and houses pop culture items dating from the late 1700’s to present day. GEM is the creation of owner Stephen A. Geppi who is also the founder of the U.S.’s largest comic book distributor, Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc.
Geppi started out by owning his own comic book store, Geppi’s Comic World, which the gift shop in GEM is named after.
“He had three stores and he saw the need in the market place to put everything under one roof,” said Zachary Winland, the Retail Manager at GEM. “90 percent of this is what he has collected over his 30 plus years in the industry and he just decided a little over six years ago that he wanted to display it. He wanted to show it to everyone, because one of the greatest joys for anyone in the business is to show off what they have.”
The remaining 10 percent of the collection comes from private collectors who were contacted to fill in the few areas that Geppi’s collection did not contain, said the curator for GEM.
While Visitors officially start their tours in the “A Story of Four Colors” room, the adventure really begins in the downstairs entrance. Visitors have two options to access GEM: they can walk up a flight of stairs or they can take the elevator up. The stairwell is adorned with images from various comics, books and toys, while the elevator is designed to look like a time machine decked out with Marvel gadgets and superhero logos. On each end of the second floor hallway stands a statue of Superman, while the walls contain numerous movie posters and images of characters.
“As far as I can remember there were always massive amounts of comics in our house,” said Danielle Geppi-Patras, daughter of Stephen A. Geppi. “The other collectibles came later and were mostly stored out of the home, but I can remember visiting those places when a new collection was acquired.”
Geppi-Patras decided to join the family business and work as the Sales Manager of GEM.
“The opportunity to be a part of my father’s dream to share his collection for other people’s enjoyment was the reason I wanted to work at GEM,” Geppi-Patras said. “Every day you get to see people reliving a moment from their childhood.”
GEM contains nine rooms that take visitors on a chronological journey through time. While walking through GEM, visitors will notice the high amount of items in the museum, but those are not the only items owned by Geppi. He also owns a warehouse full of other pop culture memorabilia, which he and his staff try to interchange at least once a month.
“The museum has over 6,000 different examples of entertainment memorabilia on display,” said Andy Hershberger, the Associate Curator for GEM. “This general number has remained consistent since the opening, although we have rotated pieces of the collection in and out to maintain variety.”
In the “Story of Four Colors” room, guests can view the history of the comic book in the United States. The comics range from classic comic books to modern editions. Amongst these comics are the first appearance of Batman and Action Comics No. 1, both of which are rare commodities with only 100-200 copies of each in existence.
In the room that follows, “Pioneer Spirit,” guests can see some of the influential people and neighborhoods that shaped Baltimore and gave the proclaimed “Charm City” its charisma. This room pays homage to Baltimore heroes and natives such as “leading advocate for the homeless of Baltimore,” Bea Gaddy, film maker John Waters and puppeteer Kevin Clash. The room was created to showcase some of Baltimore’s pop culture icons, Winland said.
“GEM says Baltimore to me simply that it represents my dad himself,” Geppi-Patras said. “He was born and raised in Little Italy downtown, he still lives there, and he is such a fan of his city. Seeing a small town boy have the chance to own a museum full of his love of memorabilia in the city he adores is pretty cool.”
A variety of things can be found throughout GEM including concert tickets, action figures, 8-tracks, video games and old editions of cereal boxes. None of the memorabilia in the actual collection are for sale, but they do have original items in the gift shop that can be purchased. Each item is likely to be worth a good portion of money, but the staff of GEM does not concern themselves with the economic value of the items.
“We don’t keep value,” Winland said. “The reason for that is not because we don’t want to know, there’s an insurance form that our curator has that [lists] everything in there. In all honesty, everything in here is priceless. To one person the box of Popeye cookies could have been [worth] 15 cents. To someone else, they’re worth hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars because it’s something that doesn’t exist anymore. There’s no monetary value that can be put on anything that is original.”
Winland has lived in Baltimore for six years and has worked at GEM since May. Until his hiring Winland had not even heard of GEM.
“When I came here, I just saw the potential for showing this off,” Winland said. “Being a fan and being in stores for the past six years I’ve lived here I’ve never heard of this place. And that’s kind of a shame, because this is something that should be shared with everyone regardless if you’re a fan or not, just because of the history that is here.”
Geppi’s Entertainment Museum is located at 301 W. Camden St and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission into the museum is free for children under 4 as well as for members. There is a $7 to $10 charge for adults and students wishing to tour the museum.
The history of comics is not displayed in regular comic book stores, Winland said. He feels that GEM can be used as a place for parents to educate their children and show them the things that they grew up with. Winland finds that each day that he comes into work he discovers something new within the museum. He insists that there is no place like GEM.
“The comic books are a big part of the museum, but it’s not the only thing,” Winland said. “It’s some piece of someone’s childhood everywhere you go…It’s not going to just bring warm feelings for what you heard, but what you had. And I think that’s the best thing that can happen. It turns you into a child again and you don’t get that often anywhere you go. That’s the thing you should expect, to turn into ten year old you.”