By Kristen Levine, Reporter
When was the last time you saw a guitar signed by Jimmy Buffett, or a book signed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, or a handwritten letter from Ty Cobb? Mountainside Memorabilia is a gallery located in the plaza at 206 Worcester Road, in a large multi-room suite filled with rare sports memorabilia, autographs from Hollywood legends, and more. Dr. Robert Babineau, the owner of the gallery, has been collecting for 40 years.
“It started when I was much younger,” Babineau said. “I’m a would-be golfer, and I would go to charity golf tournaments, and after the tournaments they always have silent auctions. I would be making a point to buy a piece or two just to support the auction. Five years ago, I was at a charity auction for the hospice program at my hospital [HealthAlliance in Leominster], and I bid on my usual two. But at the end of the evening, I noticed that none of the other items had been bid on, and they were trying to raise money for the cancer center.”
Unable to leave the items meant for an important charitable cause unsold, Babineau went up to procurer Roy Crawford and made an offer for every lot. This meeting turned into a friendship between Babineau and Crawford, leading to their eventual partnership at the gallery. Babineau brought on Linda and Michael Hebert to help with the gallery’s finances and overall upkeep, forming a strong four-person team with a history of friendship. Crawford, a career procurer for over 35 years, has a knack for finding items both rare and storied.
“There’s a tremendous amount of history in here,” Crawford said. “We have a little bit of everything; boxing, horse racing, we’re going to have a lot of Olympic pieces in here. We have some signed guitars, some NASCAR pieces and soccer, tennis…. we know Princeton is a big tennis area and a big horse area.”
Some pieces of horse racing memorabilia include a Triple Crown print signed by winning jockeys, and a LeRoy Neiman signed print of Secretariat. Every room of the gallery boasts expert-framed prints and photographs, alongside rare pieces such as a Masters Tournament Green Jacket signed by legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus.
“It’s uniqueness,” Crawford said. “There’s pieces here you will not find in a retail store. [The gallery] is a labor of love. The best part of it is that we work as a team bringing it together. When people come in, we’ll go around and talk to them.”
The gallery has the quality of a museum, with each room keeping to its own theme. The first room visitors are treated to is a collection of Hollywood, television, and music history, with autographed guitars from Willie Nelson and Jimmy Buffet on one shelf, and autographs of the cast of the new Star Wars trilogy on another. The collection expands in the main room, with a glass case with presidential autographs to a rack of signed sports jerseys.
Every item in the gallery is fully vetted and authenticated; Babineau notes that memorabilia is never bought on auction sites such as eBay, trusting Crawford’s skills with procurement to reach out to trusted contacts and find items. Every item in the public areas of the gallery is for sale. While profit to help run the gallery is expected, Babineau also makes a point of donations to charity. A grand gala opening for the gallery is planned for September 18 from 4 to 8 PM. A raffle will be run for guests, with the grand prize of an NFL jersey signed by former Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman. All proceeds from the raffle will be donated to the Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation. Door prizes, drinks and appetizers will also be available.
The goal of the gallery is to bring pieces of sports and cultural history to Princeton for everyone to enjoy, bringing the experience of a big-city gallery collection without having to leave the comfort of their hometown.
“I want the four of us to have some fun,” Babineau said, when asked about the gallery’s goals. “Princeton’s a great town and I think we got a good spot; my hope is, people come in and just enjoy looking at the pieces. It’s a walk down memory lane.”