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    You may recognize Jerry Lotz’s house by the limousine parked on Frankfort Avenue — just in front of the Statue of Liberty with Ronald Reagan’s face — or for the caboose installed inside the fence along William Avenue, or for any number of other unusual objects that made up Lotz’s collection. You may even know Lotz’s place for Lotz himself.

    “Two people this morning have called him cantankerous,” says Lotz’s daughter, Sherry, with a laugh. It’s Sept. 27, a couple of months after her father’s death, and his peculiar collection of objects is piled in a warehouse down the street, about to be picked over by strangers in a two-day public auction. “I like the way (one person) put it,” Sherry says. “‘He was just crusty.’”

    Lotz died a few days after his 80th birthday in July, after six years of struggling with dementia. Sherry had been caring for him in his home the entire time. “He left it all to me,” she says, sounding both honored and overwhelmed. “He always told me to have an auction.” She stands outside with the remaining statuary and bric-a-brac. “I’m doing what he wanted.”

    In an interview with the Courier-Journal in 2016, Lotz said of his collection: “I can’t take it with me and the kids never cared.” After talking to Sherry, though, it’s hard to say she doesn’t care. She inherited her father’s penchant for collecting — antique kitchenware, gumball machines and toy pigs, to name a few of her favorites — though she has made a more concerted effort to limit herself. “I had all the gumball machines on the porch and thought, maybe I just need three,” she says.

    The process of collecting, “it gets inside you,” she says. The modest list of her father’s things that she wanted to keep — furniture, family effects — has grown into a general, “There’s stuff I’d like.” Inside the house, she shows me one of the items she is most attached to, a rough carving of a Native American with a short haircut that Jerry made himself. It was a precursor to the totem pole made from a railroad tie that eventually stood in the backyard (and then eventually fell over, miraculously without breaking anything). “He made the stairs,” Sherry says as we climb them, “and the banister. He was always making things. He was a genius.” At the top of the stairs I peer into a room with ornate wallpaper from another era. Sherry tells me it used to house a brass bed and implies that Lotz’s room had been brothel-themed. “He was from a time…” she starts, a little choked up and unsure how to finish. “He didn’t show a lot of affection. This,” she says, indicating everything — the estate and collection and how to hunt for a good pick and his decision to leave it all to her — “was his way of showing affection.”

    Outside, two family friends and fellow collectors, Andrew Lopez and Mark Elliot, act as literal gatekeepers, letting some people inside and keeping others on the sidewalk to peer in through the bars at the substantial assortment left behind. They’ve been friends of the family long enough that they each have stories of their own favorite picks from Lotz’s collection. Lopez has a stack of signs that Lotz purchased from the since-closed Schmidt Museum of Coca-Cola in Elizabethtown. Elliot collects architectural salvage and says Lotz once sold him a cast-iron ball, indicating with his hands something the size of a cannonball, with a cement pedestal. The Jeffersonville-based collector had been friends with Lotz for 20 years and shares stories of Lotz’s days as a bouncer in bars along Main Street. Elliot once had to trick Lotz into coming over to see his own collection by pretending they were going to a sale.

    Sherry says, “I went (to the auction) this morning to look one last time. I have a lot of people ask, ‘Are you ready?’ And I don’t know how you get ready for a thing like that. As ornery and hard to take care of as he was, I miss him.” She has many memories of going to auctions with her father, who started his own collection by going out picking with his mother. “I was a child and I wanted to play and…you stand around all night waiting for the thing he wanted. Now I value that time,” she says.

    Just a block down Frankfort, the auction is underway. When I arrive at about noon, more than 100 people are milling about the warehouse. A young couple tells me they met Lotz a few times in his yard. They’d gone to his house to get their photo taken, and Lotz had given them a pair of dice. Though they have collections of their own, they aren’t here for anything in particular. “Just something to remember him by,” one of them says.

    A puppet of McGruff the Crime Dog goes for $25. A framed vintage print of teepees on a prairie sells for $210. Someone wins a safety pin as long as a baseball bat. One woman buys a plastic elephant for $20. “I have a three-year-old and she loves elephants,” she says. “I thought I could make it into a swing.” Like a lot of the collectors here, she’s excited about getting a good price but also about taking “a little piece of Jerry, too.” (Later, Sherry will say that things were selling too low, and she’s not sure the auction will yield the fortune her father predicted.)

    The walls are lined with items: a Marilyn Monroe poster, tin signs advertising bygone products, Coca-Cola chandeliers, a box of vintage fishing lures, a host of vintage African-American caricature figurines. In an open area, larger items stand like statuary: carousel horses, a motorcycle with a sidecar, a strange Donald Duck-themed vehicle with a crane on the back. I can’t help but notice a gumball machine and a family of pig toys. There is something funerary about the scene. The dismantling of Jerry’s collection — his life’s work, in a way — feels like disassembling a tapestry thread by thread.

    “It’s probably going to happen to me,” Cecil Whitaker, another of Lotz’s friends and a collector of gas pumps and signs, says as he approaches the registration table to pay for a miniature gas pump. “But it’s the joy of finding it.” He wipes a speck of dust from the pump with his thumb.

    Robert Sullivan met Lotz one summer when Sullivan was 10 and Lotz was 13. All the neighborhood boys had made scooters and would ride them downhill to State Street, where an outcrop of brick would either stop them or send them flying. Lotz didn’t have a scooter, so he put a phonebook on a pair of roller skates and rode it down the hill. “He was always making stuff,” Sullivan says. He gestures to the item that has just come up for auction: a wooden arm holding a sword, painted gold. “He made those,” he says. “He made them and had them cast in aluminum.” Sure enough, the next item is a similar arm holding a globe.

    Sullivan sits in the back but doesn’t plan on bidding. “I was sitting on the bench (outside Lotz’s house) with him and said, ‘If you gave me free pick of any one thing here, I don’t think there’d be anything I want,’” he says. There was once a giant horse reared back on its hind legs that struck Sullivan’s fancy, but he didn’t want to spend the money and it sold to someone else.

    Lotz offered to go to Mexico and get him another one. “He was the most generous person I’ve ever met,” Sullivan says.

    This originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline “Lotz's Lot.” To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Andrew Hyslop,

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