It goes without saying that we attach special meaning to those baubles that serve as reminders of our touchstone achievements. It might be the trophy on the mantel that proves you finished first in the Left-Handed Mixed Singles Bowling League back in the day, or the plaque proving that you were once applauded as the Regional Widget Salesman of the Year. For the more gifted who have shone brightly on loftier stages, there’s the Nobel Prize, the Oscar, the Heisman Trophy, a Super Bowl ring or an Olympic gold medal.
Cherished reminders all, they are proudly displayed, polished to a fine sheen … and occasionally lost. It is the stories of the latter misadventures that have fascinated me during a lifetime of interviewing those who have stood on award stages and delivered acceptance speeches.
For instance, when the legendary Jesse Owens returned from the 1936 Olympics in Berlin with four gold medals, he said he reluctantly agreed to lend them to a traveling carnival for nationwide display. Alas, they soon were missing. The Olympic bigwigs were alerted to the tragedy and struck a duplicate set for Owens. Then, his house burned down and those were destroyed. Finally, a third set was made and presented to Owens. One of his medals, which he later gave to friend and entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, made headlines recently when it sold at auction for $1.47 million to California collector Ron Burkle, who also happens to be the owner of William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize in literature.
And don’t get me started on Hattie McDaniel’s story. She was the first African-American to receive an Academy Award, for her 1939 role as a servant in Gone With the Wind. Her Best Supporting Actress Oscar was displayed in the Howard University drama department until it mysteriously disappeared in the late 1960s or early ’70s. Years of detective work have not succeeded in locating it.
The BEN HOGAN MUSEUM of Dublin, owned by the Dublin (Texas) Historical Society, is at 121 East Blackjack and open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. daily and by appointment. Visit www.benhoganmuseum.org for further information. Admission is free.
I can’t tell you how many tales I’ve heard about championship rings dropped in lakes, lost on golf courses or, in at least one instance, gambled away in a poker game. According to his autobiography, heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali angrily tossed his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River after he was refused service in a Lexington, Ky., restaurant after his triumphant return home.
Thus my reason for traveling to little Dublin, Texas (pop. 3,800), a couple of hours southwest of Dallas, to visit the 3-year-old Ben Hogan Museum of Dublin. I wanted a look at the prestigious Hickok Belt, which was presented to the top pro athlete from 1950 to 1976. Hogan, the town blacksmith’s son, won it in 1953. Well, actually, it isn’t the original received by the legendary winner of 64 tournament titles including the Masters, the PGA and the U.S. and British Opens.
According to Ben Matheson, historian for Fort Worth’s Colonial Country Club, that one was stolen by the son of a club member from the club’s trophy room in the late ’70s. When the culprit was apprehended, the belt was returned; however, the solid-gold award’s precious gems — which included a 4-carat diamond, a ruby and a sapphire — were never recovered. The belt’s jewels were replaced with synthetic stones and the award was put back on display in Colonial’s Ben Hogan Trophy Room.
Then in the early ’90s, trouble struck Hogan’s award again when a second robbery took place at Colonial. This time, only a few pieces of scrap gold from the buckle were recovered. Sadly, it was no longer much of an award.
In 2007, Matheson and Colonial’s historical-preservation committee located the exact mold that was used to make the first Hickok Belt. A replica was made from the original mold for permanent display in Colonial’s Ben Hogan Room, where it is today.
There was also a replica, however, on display at the United States Golf Association Museum in Far Hills, N.J., where it was displayed in the recently completed Ben Hogan Room. But in 2012, it was stolen by some thief who was likely unaware that it was only gold-plated with synthetic jewels. The trophy has yet to be retrieved.
Back to the mold they went. Upon learning of the theft at the USGA, Colonial’s historical-preservation committee presented the USGA Museum with a second replica belt in June 2013.
The latest incarnation, looking exactly like the original right down to the alligator-skin belt it is attached to, is now the proud centerpiece of the Dublin museum, which is right around the corner from the site of the old Hogan Blacksmith Shop.
When Matheson; Robert Stennett, executive director of the Ben Hogan Foundation; and Mike McMahan, a Ben Hogan Foundation board member, arrived last November to present it as a gift to the Ben Hogan Museum, they spent considerable time wandering among the fascinating and tastefully displayed memorabilia collected in what was once the office of a Dublin doctor. “Mr. Hogan,” Matheson told museum director Karen Wright, “would be so proud of this place.”
Which is to say it’s well worth the trip. And, Wright points out, the building’s security system is state of the art. Thieves be warned.