By Peg Lopata, Contributing Writer
BOSTON – Richard Johnson, curator at the New England Sports Museum, must’ve been born under a lucky star.
Of course, it hasn’t all been luck. Through many years of hard work, Johnson, age 66, has become a foremost authority on sports. He’s got a tiny office that’s nothing to boast about, but no matter. He’s certainly in his happy place and has been since he was hired as the museum’s first employee in 1982.
“I couldn’t have sat down and conjured a better job,” said Johnson. “I’m very grateful.”
Johnson not only works as curator. He’s written books and essays―too numerous to mention them all. His book, Ted Williams, a Portrait in Words and Pictures (Walker and Company, 1991) written with co-author, Glenn Stout, was a New York Times Sunday Book Review Notable Book.
Sports, history and art in the heart
Johnson has a love for the combination of history, arts, and sports. As a child growing up in Worcester he was steeped in this combination by his family.
Johnson admitted he has this unusual blend of interests. But an accidental trip aboard a Bruins charter plane also steered him toward becoming curator of the Boston Sports Museum.
“That trip may well be why I do what I do. I’ve been a baseball devotee for as long as I can remember,” he explained. “Also, I grew up during another golden age of sports—the era of the Impossible Dream for the Red Sox, the Celtics eight straight years championship dynasty, and the Bruins and Bobby Orr. It was quite a time to be a sports fan and a young athlete.”
Not only has Johnson been a lucky guy in his career, but he’s also worked with and met such greats as former Red Sox player Ted Williams and Dick Cowans, a former Celtic.
“Behind the scenes, Williams made appeals for support that made all the difference for our museum,” explained Johnson. “And there’d not be a sports museum without Cowans.”
Museum’s scope goes beyond memorabilia
The scope of the Boston Sports Museum is wide—not only are there displays of memorabilia, but there’s also an archive, a research center and many community programs.
Though a good deal of the museum is beautifully displayed objects of the Bruins and Celtics, there are also displays devoted to other sports and their players. Fan of baseball greats will enjoy the displays dedicated to such legends as Ted Williams—there’s even his Fenway Park locker.
But it’s not all just about the players. There’s a display chronicling Title Nine, legislation which greatly impacted collegiate sports. It’s fitting. After all, intercollegiate sports began in this country with the 1852 crew race between Harvard and Yale.
In addition, Johnson aims to not neglect the sometimes-overlooked sports.
“We just installed a display on the Renegades, a women’s football team,” says Johnson. “And we’re about to install a display on the Boston Pride, a professional women’s hockey team.”
Going back in time
For history buffs, there’s one of Johnson’s most special items: the first 24-second clock from 1954. It was stored in coach Red Auberbach’s car during the many road trips the Celtics took.
Kids will especially like the full-size, life-like wooden sculptures of several sports legends by Armand LaMontagne. You’ll feel like you’ve come face-to-face with the men themselves.
Then there’s the display case featuring the twelve championship rings won by the area’s four major pro franchises over the past twenty-one seasons.
“It’s a true show stopper and distills the glory of the era into one elegant display,” said Johnson with pride.
If you love sports, this is a place you shouldn’t miss. To purchase tickets, you can visit the Sports Museum’s information desk located outside the Pro Shop in North Station.