Mike Long of Biddeford holds a sombrero once owned by Slim Pickens. He is the new owner after a bid of $225 at an auction on Saturday at the Saco River Auction Co. in Biddeford.

Mike Long of Biddeford holds a sombrero once owned by Slim Pickens. He is the new owner after a bid of $225 at an auction on Saturday at the Saco River Auction Co. in Biddeford.

BIDDEFORD — People are drawn to an auction of famous memorabilia for a variety of reasons. An item may take them back to their childhood, or the person to which it originally belonged is a favorite, and having a piece of history is a dream come true.

For Mike Long of Biddeford, seeing a sombrero owned by Slim Pickens on Saturday brought him home. Born and raised in Wichita Falls, Texas, Long associates with the late rodeo performer and Western actor. So when the hat was on the block at Saco River Auction Co., he jumped at the chance to purchase it.

“I am from Texas, so Slim Pickens’ sombrero is one of the reasons I am here,” Long said shortly after putting in the winning bid of $225. “The prices seem pretty fair. I mean, we’re talking Slim Pickens, Jack Benny. Who can say they have Jack Benny’s violin? Or Frank Sinatra’s hat? You can spend $200 on dinner with friends. This way, you can have something you can keep.”

The highly-publicized auction was made up of 71 items from the estate of Joe Franklin, a radio talk-show host in the mid-20th century. He asked his guests – he once estimated that he conducted 300,000 interviews – to bring something of theirs to donate. Franklin kept everything and authenticated it before dying in 2015 at age 88.

The auction was highlighted by a game-worn glove of Babe Ruth that went for $100,000 ($118,000 including the 18 percent buyer’s premier charge). Other items included hats belonging to Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Carson, Judy Garland, George Gershwin and Frank Sinatra; sports items from Joe DiMaggio, Roy Campanella, Billy Martin and Casey Stengel; Walt Disney’s original Mickey Mouse ears; and personal items of Lionel Hampton, Janis Joplin and Laurel and Hardy.

The total haul for the day came to $500,000, which didn’t match the $1 million in baseball cards that Saco River Auction, located in the Pepperell Mills, tallied from an estate last month. There were about 50 in attendance, though most of the bidding came from online purveyors.

“We do a lot of auctions, but this one is an important collection,” said owner and auctioneer Floyd Hartford before the auction began. “This is a big-time collection that will deal with a lot of passion (from bidders) because it transcends art, history and design.”

Hartford has been in the business for 40 years; 10 in the current location.

Alan Tracy of Freeport came with his daughters, Ella and Kate. As they were looking at items before the festivities started – Ella and Kate were particularly interested in the Mickey Mouse ears – Alan said he wouldn’t mind going home with a Ray Charles hat or one of the three John Wayne pieces. Less than one hour later, he was the proud owner of Ray Charles’ fedora for a nice price of $200.

“I feel great. I have something personally owned by Ray Charles,” said Tracy as he was writing out a check. “And I am very happy I stayed within the budget.”

Brian Cote of Saco, a regular at the auction house for mostly antique lamps, stopped in hoping for one of John Wayne’s items – spurs, boots or a hat. But when the prices crept into the upper thousands, he had to bow out.

“I’m an old-timer, so having something of his would be special,” he said.

One of the youngest in attendance was Joe Menario, a 28-year-old from Portland. He said he had a limit of $200 – later, he admitted it was $200 to $300 – so when he snagged Johnny Carson’s hat for $200, he didn’t have to walk out empty-handed.

“I was a big ‘Tonight Show’ fan, so I am very, very pleased,” said Menario, who also has a few Yogi Berra items to his name.

It was his first time at Saco River Auction, but he said it wouldn’t be his last.

“This is a nice auction house. I had not idea it was here,” Menario said. “I will definitely be back.”


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