By Maddie Orton
If you’ve held onto your Springsteen pins, playing cards, and Halloween mask, you may want to consider putting them in the able, and carefully-gloved, hands of Eileen Chapman. She’s the head of Monmouth University’s Bruce Springsteen Special Collection.
“It’s really a fan-based effort,” Chapman says.
The project started in 2001 as the brainchild of Springsteen fanzine, Backstreets Magazine. “Backstreets saw that so many of the earlier music magazines had closed. They were no longer operating. They made no provisions for archives,” Chapman explains.
The Asbury Park Library housed the collection at first, but as space filled up items began spilling over into people’s homes across various states. Chapman asked to bring it to Monmouth University. Now, a little over a decade after it began, the collection has grown to over 20,000 items.
“We’ve got a host of academic papers, newspaper articles, magazines; we’ve got Bruce’s yearbooks,” she says.
And that’s just scratching the surface. Notable items include; WNEW FM’s Bruce Juice ‘made of 100% pure rock n’ roll,’ a shirt from the ‘Draft Springsteen for U.S. Senate Committee’ and this Irish passport made by a fan and given to the rock star onstage.
“And you know, he said he was offered $5,000 for it, but he said he felt it belonged here in the collection, which was just pretty amazing,” says Chapman of the faux passport.
Chapman says the focus is on preservation and accessibility. The collection is available for viewing by appointment, and she’s had visitors all the way from Japan, England and Germany.
“We have a lot of writers; folks that are researching for a doctorate or a thesis. We have fans who just come see some of the items here,” she says.
Even with the collection’s thousands of pieces, there’s still a list online of wanted items like yearbooks from schools where he performed, magazines and show reviews. With stacks of boxes filling four rooms the collection is impressive. Springsteen himself visited when it first opened at Monmouth University and gave it high praise.
“He had said at that time that we had more items here than probably in his mother’s basement,” Chapman says. That’s a big accomplishment. “Exactly. She’s been collecting his whole life!”
For those who can’t get enough of The Boss, Monmouth University’s gallery in Rechintz Hall currently features the Grammy Museum’s traveling exhibit, Bruce Springsteen: a Photographic Journey.