Kozloff Collection

Kozloff Collection

Kozloff Collection

A short while ago, I had the great good fortune to take my second tour of Dr. Ed Kozloff’s running/track and field memorabilia collection. And I do mean tour. Kozloff, long of Motor City Striders fame, has what must be the most comprehensive, remarkable collection around.

Between my two visits, I’ve spent about five hours fascinated by what he’s been able to accumulate in a more than four decades. Kozloff has countless plates and cups, trophies and medals, posters and post cards, newspapers and magazines, biscuit and cookie tins, pocket watches, and wallets (complete with a stadium pass for entry into the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics)—all directly related to running and track and field and their history. But they reveal a great deal more, including much of the history of the past 150 or more years.

There are even a wooden block puzzle with running bunnies and a rolling BB game. He has belt buckles, kerchief slides, letter openers, and a pencil lead holder. And we can’t forget the spoons, license plates, and so much more. One early 20th Century mug from the Boston Athletic Association has photographs of a relay team etched in color on its glass bottom. How many medals, for instance, does he have? “I have no idea,” he chuckled as he pointed to boxes and boxes of them on many shelves.

His book collection is well over a thousand volumes and includes comic books, press books, and yearbooks/annuals. He has 135 autobiographies alone, including an autographed first edition of Roger Bannister’s The Four Minute Mile.

Somewhat improbably, there are running-related ashtrays (one from the New York Athletic Club in 1895) and cigar trays (NYAC 1902) as well as cigarette holders. The NYAC also gave out matches and match cases with its running foot symbol imprinted on them. Kozloff’s collection also includes an unopened pack of NYAC filter cigarettes. Running cards, like today’s baseball cards, came wrapped with cigarettes. Similarly, “magic cards” came with packs of candy in the late 1930s. Kozloff explained that they were “experimental. They developed when they were exposed to the sun,” revealing photos of track athletes at the time. And he has “candy bar cards from Canada from the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s.”

As soon as I came in the door, I was introduced to an original porcelain plate from the 1932 Olympics in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. It is in beautiful mint condition. “I went to a baseball card show in Ferndale,” he explained. He asked a dealer if he had any running cards. The dealer didn’t, but Kozloff left his contact information, asking for a call if anything of interest showed up. The two finally hooked up, on the third attempt, in Ann Arbor. That’s where he picked up the Amsterdam plate “and a biscuit tin, too.”

After viewing several other beautiful and historic pieces, Kozloff said, “Let’s go downstairs where the real stuff is!”

And he adds to the treat. Some items remain mysteries. For instance, he recently picked up an elaborate “trophy cup” given in 1868 to the runner-up at some “Jesus College Athletic Sports” event. That’s all he’s managed to discover about the cup so far, but he rhetorically quipped, “What did first place get?” There was a 1914 cup awarded at a London Modified Marathon Race, the nature of which he explained. “But,” he queried, “was that London, England or London, Ontario?” And we then spent some time speculating which it was more likely to be, considering factors such as travel and expenses of that era. It was a marvelous way to look at history.

But Kozloff knows a great deal about many of the items. He’s quick with a quip, description, or other story behind them. A 1927 cup serves as an example, as he tells its story. The cup was given to Frank Zuma, who won the Detroit News Auto Marathon on Belle Isle. “Zuma was a Boston winner, too. The Detroit News Marathon was held at the state fairgrounds, 26 times around the one-mile loop.”

One book recounted the story of Ernie Zamperini. He was a top US miler who was captured by the Japanese in the Second World War. Discovering who he was, the Japanese forced him to race against their best runners, after depriving him of food, making him run in combat boots, etc. Earlier Kozloff related, “Ernie would lay back and sprint past the Japanese milers to break the tape, only to have the Japanese officers say, ‘No. No. Race not over yet.’ There would be another lap and Zamperini would finish first again. ‘No. No.’” Finally, when the American continued to win, the Japanese gave up.

The 1932 Amsterdam plate isn’t the lone Olympic souvenir, hardly. He has collector cards from the 1952 games in Helsinki, Finland, all in German. There’s a fascinating Olympic yearbook from the ’36 Berlin Games; it, too, is in German, but the photographs tell a riveting story themselves. Spoons commemorate the tenth Games in Los Angeles.

Kozloff started collecting almost 50 years ago. “I got some of the running books in the ‘60s,” he recalled. The other memorabilia began coming shortly afterward. “I was visiting my sister in Washington, DC,” he said. He wandered into a flea market and began “flipping through a coin collection. I saw a few [running] medals. They were $2, cheaper than what we pay now. From then on, I began looking for them.” He doesn’t buy and sell the items. “I collect.”

Recently, he’s found some things online on e-Bay. Others have been given to him by his son, Ken, and wife, Sue. The 1895 ashtray from the NYAC, “Sue got it for me for my birthday.” He’s visited card shows, antique shops, flea markets, and even pawn shops in Washington, Atlanta, London (England), Niagara Falls…all over. Many dealers have his name and number and call him if anything that might be of interest appears.

Many items are personal for Kozloff, too. One is a trophy he received at Ft. Knox, KY, in the early 1960s for setting a record in the US Army physical fitness test. He said he was later told his record was broken a few years later—by NFL legend Jimmy Brown! He pulled out a yearbook from his old high school, Detroit Cooley. In it we saw a photograph of one of his track teammates, sprinter Ron Bussey—a friend of mine since the early 1970s.

There are other yearbooks and scrapbooks. Of interest was one scrapbook of the 1978 Detroit Free Press Marathon. Second place, he pointed out, at this year’s Free Press would not have made the top 20 in ’78. The 2010 winning time would have been good for 8th place back then. The entry fee 32 years ago was $5, while the pre-race pasta dinner cost $3.

Detroit made an official bid to host the 1952 summer Olympic Games. The rejection notice from the International Olympic Committee came in 1946 and Kozloff has it.

And, of course, he possesses all of the Motor City Striders yearbooks since 1973, the year after he was elected club secretary, on his way to becoming the long-time club president. “I get e-mails from the Free Press and from other runners” asking if he can look up information for them.

Numerous Detroit newspaper clippings tell bygone stories of high school championships and city field days of the 1920s and 1930s. And he has others, international and American. A New York Herald, dated Sunday, June 10, 1900, devoted “a color section” with photographs of track and field events held then, including a racewalk, shot put, 100-yard dash, and half mile race. “They were great graphics for the day. This might be the only one [copy] in existence.” Another item was a printed schedule from an 1853 English handicap race, showing how many yards apart the different runners’ starts would be. Yet another schedule lists when events and even their heats were to begin, just minutes apart, at a Detroit Public School field day.

Other races and publications also know about Kozloff’s collection. The Marine Corps Marathon has borrowed a graphic that he had from an earlier race poster. He has the first issue of Distance Running News, January 1966. DRN became Runner’s World and Kozloff lent it to RW for an anniversary issue. He also has the 1977 first issue of Michigan Runner and Track & Field News “back to 1955.”

Oh, there’s more, more, more…. It’s an incredible collection, interesting, educational, thought-provoking, and entertaining. I’m sure others would be equally fascinated with the memorabilia. Wouldn’t it be great if a major race could arrange an exhibit of the collection at its expo?