Walk down the narrow stairway to Eldon Thompson’s basement and your eyes almost can’t focus because of what they’re seeing, which is a little bit of everything, a sports smorgasbord sea of memorabilia.
A hodgepodge of sports photographs, posters and newspaper clippings are hanging on every inch of every wall in the room that has a pool table smack dab in the middle of it. Shelves and tables have neatly placed memorabilia, including some 1920s and 1930s Ashland Tomcat football and basketball team photos, autographed baseballs and other sports trinkets.
The 88-year-old Thompson has made the basement haven a hobby since 1999 and some of the clippings are as old as him. Like the front page of the Lexington Leader the day after the Tomcats and Kittens captured the 1928 state basketball championships.
He has a program from the national tournament in Chicago where the Tomcats won it all in 1928 and a bracket from the national tournament that same year. He has a tattered photo that shows an old Tomcat logo with the scores of the five games from the 1928 national tournament, a rare piece of Ashland sports memorabilia.
Longtime friends, including the late Bun Wilson, entrusted him with much of the Tomcat memorabilia, which he said he might loan out but would never sell. He has a game jersey that was worn by James Castle, a Tomcat football team captain in 1939 who was a sophomore when the original Putnam Stadium opened in 1937.
Thompson was a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers and especially Gil Hodges and Duke Snider. He penned a letter of the day that he went to Crosley Field in Cincinnati in 1952 and timidly went up to Hodges for an autograph because he was his favorite player. Hodges not only signed his program, but he passed it around so everybody else in the Dodger dugout at the time could put a signature on it. Unfortunately, he says, that program may have been accidentally thrown away by his mother. It may be the only thing not on his wall.
The letter he wrote of that day in Cincinnati is well written and typed in all caps. It’s framed on a shelf, angled perfectly on a small bookcase, with several other framed photos beside it.
Three baseball cards of Hodges are on a wall, too, and somewhere, he said, are ticket stubs from a Super Bowl that he once attended. “I think the Vikings were one of the teams in it,” he said. There’s also a photo of him in the Winner’s Circle at Keeneland after a friend invited him to come down following a big victory.
He has a lot of UK and Louisville photos and posters and Styrofoam footballs with scores of Kentucky football wins etched on them. There are hats, golf balls with Louisville logos, photos of Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, Johnny Unitas and a framed photo of the cover from the 1952 Cotton Bowl when Kentucky stunned Oklahoma.
He has a Tomcat warmup jacket that has a message on the sleeve from Larry Conley. Thompson, who was an Air Force veteran, was an American Legion baseball coach when Ashland’s “Larry Legend” played in the early 1960s. The inscription reads: “To Eldon, One of the great baseball coaches in Ashland. Larry Conley.”
In another corner on a table sits a framed photo of the 1922 Ashland Tomcat basketball team. Beside that are several football team photos from the 1930 era in Ashland. He has schedule cards, programs and other Tomcat memorabilia in the room.
Mixed among it all are photographs of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and their involvement in sports because family makes his world go around.
There’s no rhyme or reason as to how everything is pinned, taped or glued to the walls but nearly every available space is taken. While the collection wouldn’t bring a king’s ransom, they mean the world to him. Much of them are personally signed to him and all of them have a story behind them.
Another item hanging in the room is a framed letter to Andy Rooney of “60 Minutes” that he wrote in 1996. It seems Mr. Rooney suggested parents should never name their children after them and that it was, in fact, dumb to do so. Thompson took exception to that statement and he wrote a letter letting Rooney know about it because he was proud to carry his father’s name. Here’s how he closed that letter.
“One last item, if you ever come to Kentucky and look me eye to eye and say my parents were dumb for naming me Eldon, Jr., DUCK.” And he signed it: Sincerely, Eldon W. Thompson Jr.