“Grampa Eddie” knew it was special. After all, it wasn’t every day that a movie came out that starred Babe Ruth.
So in 1927, apparently after the giant banner promoting the film had arrived at the theater he managed, Eddie Lams of Kewanee, IL rolled up the ten foot long yellow piece of artwork featuring baseball’s biggest star and decided to hang onto it.
Remarkably, it remained tucked away in a closet for decades, folded and stored behind an old dresser in an upstairs closet. It was finally uncovered by Eddie’s daughter and grandchildren as the family cleaned out the old house in preparation for downsizing. Shocked to learn of its potential value to the hobby, they consigned the one of a kind treasure to Memory Lane’s upcoming Winter Rarities Auction, where it will carry an opening bid of $25,000 but will likely sell for much more.
The sheer size of the piece, combined with the 95-year-old graphics, scarcity and remarkable condition make it among the hobby’s most exciting discoveries in recent years. Made of a thin canvas type material and completely original, the banner measures about three feet tall by approximately ten feet wide.
“If you had this in a mancave with a T206 Honus Wagner and a PSA 9 ’52 Mantle and had someone come over, they’d ask first about this banner,” said Memory Lane Acquisitions Specialist Louis Bollman, who traveled to Kewanee to examine it in person just prior to last summer’s National Sports Collectors Convention. “I’ve been doing this for over 30 years and this is the most interesting thing I’ve ever come across. There’s just nothing comparable to it.”
Designed for use on both the exterior and interior of theaters that were to carry the movie starring Ruth and actress Anna Q. Nilsson, the banner remains in “ageless, almost time-capsule preservation” according to Memory Lane. There is some mild deterioration to the fabric in a few spots but there has been no restoration or in-painting of any kind and the original grommets from the 1920s remain. Memory Lane’s upcoming catalog description notes that “the bold yellow and powder blue colors still remain as vibrant and bright as the day it was made.”
The banner was almost certainly spirited home by Lams, who served as the projectionist and manager of the Peerless Theater in Kewanee, at the time a city of about 18,000 people in the northwestern part of Illinois. Eddie was an avid Ruth fan and Bollman believes it’s possible that he may have secured the banner and opted not to display it in his theater, a decision that will undoubtedly pay dividends for his descendants.
Lams was no stranger to the stage. He had been in vaudeville before returning to his hometown in 1921 to run the Peerless. He stayed there until 1952 and in all, spent 50 years of his life as a projectionist in the area. He died in 1986 at age 85.
“Babe Comes Home” was a romantic comedy with no spoken dialogue–just subtitles, music and sound effects. Ruth plays “Babe Dugan,” a ballplayer much like himself, who falls for his laundress, played by Nilsson. It was the second film for Ruth, who was by 1927 a national icon.
The banner will be among the premier items in Memory Lane’s first catalog auction of 2022. Bidding is expected to open February 5 and run through February 19 on the company’s website.