RELICS: Meaningful Mementos and Why We Collect Them
- Introducing RELICS, the newest feature on Haint.Blue, in which we share with you these personally precious, somewhat scandalous, and always awe-inspiring items from our personal collections -
In the Catholic faith, a relic is a venerated object (often bones or other pieces of a Saint’s body) that are used to honor the Saint, with the hope that they will intercede on the bearer’s behalf. The National Shrine of St. John Neuman in Philadelphia once sold bone chips dyed red in silver charms to devout worshippers. I stumbled upon one such relic amongst a pile of rosary beads one early morning at the flea market. For less than five dollars, I became the owner of a first-class relic.
The Catholic church categorizes relics on a scale of first-, second-, and third-class. A first-class relic being a piece of the Saint, a second-class relic being an item that belonged to the Saint, while the third-class relic simply touched a first-class relic.
After purchasing the bone chip pendant from the flea market, it got me thinking - could the term ‘relic’ be used interchangeably with other collectibles?
I started looking around my many collections for other “first-class relics.”
A piece of brick and stucco from a smashed miniature building from Holy Land USA. A simple pick up on my only trip to the long abandoned religious theme park in Connecticut. It was snatched up without much thought as I trudged through the snow with my tour guide, The Occult Collector, Calvin Von Crush.
A piece of tile from the central guard tower at Eastern State Petitionary in Philadelphia, procured on an Atlas Obscura “Obscura Day” behind the scenes tour as I was the last to leave the tower.
A piece of coal from the burning Hell town of Centralia, Pennsylvania.
While others were sold as relics: A small corked bottle of broken wood, gravel, and dried moss collected from Roadside America, now a closed miniature village. The bottle embossed with “Real Pieces of Roadside America.”
My grandfather was also a collector and through him I was gifted some of my more unusual relics.
During World War II, my grandfather would serve as a radio operator and waist gunner on a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. His adventures are worthy of their own books and posts; however, his military service would be cut short as he was taken a prisoner of war on December 13, 1943; ultimately finding himself near Krems, Austria in the prison camp Stallag 17 B. He would eventually go on a freedom march and get to come home to the United States and receive an honorable discharge. He would make the trip back to Austria in 2008 and was able to find the ruins of the prison camp. He brought back some artifacts including snippets of barbed wire that once imprisoned him. He also kept his German-issued POW dog tag, both of which sit side-by-side in one of the cabinets in my home.
His most unusual relics would come from a tragedy not more than an hour upstream from where he called home for most of his 90+ years. Sometime in 1968 my grandfather procured two pieces of the Silver Bridge.
The Silver Bridge collapsed on December 15, 1967 and took 46 lives in the process. In the months after the disaster, the bridge would be pulled from the Ohio River and laid in a field just south of town, not far from where the Silver Memorial Bridge now spans the Ohio River. Around the end of the studies of the wreckage and the ultimate scrapping of it, my grandfather went and got a sliver of rusted metal and a larger piece of metal that he put in his rock garden. Why? I have no clue. It would be roughly 30 years after the fact before he would reveal that he had done this and that the slab of metal in his rock garden that had been painted red and silver over the years was indeed from the Silver Bridge.
In 1997, I was visiting my grandparents and accompanied them as they took a trip to visit friends in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. The Internet was still a Wild West and small-town cryptids like Mothman had fallen into a level of obscurity. I was fully aware of the Silver Bridge collapse, as it was a story that was repeated often. Of particular poignancy was the fatality of young Cathy Byus, the 10-year-old whose body was never recovered from the wreckage. She was the same age as my mother, which made her tragic demise probably quite disturbing to my family. During this particular trip, I would hear about “the bird”, referring to Mothman. The game was afoot and I started collecting Silver Bridge and Mothman memorabilia - rare records, first edition books, limited run toys from Japan, the collection was not defined by boundaries. My grandfather gladly gave me the small piece of the fabled Silver Bridge, while he insisted he wasn’t ready to share the large piece.
During a trip in late 2007, sharing the wild desolation of the TNT area with some family members on their first excursion looking for Mothman, I was blessed to find a chunk of concrete from the top vent on one of the many concrete igloos that dot the former munitions factory.
After my grandfather passed in 2015, I would have to wait until 2017 to be able to collect the large piece of metal from the garden and, in some homage to him, I left it in my yard. Now rusty and misshapen, I still like to dream of the trip where he collected it.
As I stare at these items collecting dust, I ponder what will happen to them after I’m long gone from this mortal shell. Will they get scrapped as junk, will their significance be preserved by my son, or will his family think I was a fool for collecting bits of debris? This question is shared among any and all collectors, whether their collections consist of baseball cards or pickled lifeforms floating in jars - what will happen to it all when we give it up? Because we all are just temporary custodians of these items. In the meantime, I will surround myself with these relics and keep alive the magic of from where they came Just like the long-deceased Saints, they will live on in memories and for the time being make me happy to own them.