WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) — When Dr. William Mercer was 10 years old, he wanted to be an artist. His heroes were Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and Schulz’s character “Snoopy.”
But the cartoon art world’s loss was Wheeling medicine’s gain, and Mercer went on to accrue “thousands” of Peanuts collectibles — most of which were given him by his patients.
Now that Mercer is retired and not working from an office, the collection is coming to the basement level of the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum. It is presently “a work in progress,” but it should be ready in time for the celebration of the museum’s 25th anniversary next year, according to museum organizers.
Not only will Snoopy and the other Peanuts characters be on display there, but Mercer plans to continue presenting his anti-smoking “Joe Too Cool to Smoke” programs when school children visit the museum.
The blue “Joe Too Cool To Smoke” statue is the largest item expected to be on display there.
Over the years Mercer has befriended Schulz’s widow, Jean Schulz, who has given her blessing to the move.
“Mrs. Schulz made it absolutely clear that she wanted this to be a dedication to Dr. Mercer, and not a pat on the back to Mr. Schulz,” said Lynn Maguire, museum manager. “She wanted him to be at the forefront of this.”
But Mercer is adamant the collection actually belongs to the community. He estimates as much as 70% of the items were given him by patients, who handcrafted them in many cases.
“And I took a picture with everybody who gave me something,” he explained. “Those also will be on display.”
The accumulated book is about 1,500 pages, Mercer continued.
Maguire said museum workers started the project by attempting to brighten the stairwell leading from the museum’s main floor to the basement. She explained children have been often scared to come down the stairs because they were dark and dingy.
Now the area is painted a bright blue and yellow, and is lined with Peanuts cartoons with colorful graphics.
Nearby is the “Camp Snoopy” display with items related to Peanuts characters and their camping escapades.
There is a second display of all black-and-white Snoopy items, as well as Christmas decorations and snow globes. Additionally, there are plans for a Snoopy train to run in the museum. Thousands of other items are being kept off site in a warehouse for the time being.
“It’s a huge collection,” Maguire said. “It’s the largest collection we’ve ever been given, by far.”
Snoopy flags once flew outside Mercer’s initial office located at the corner of 12th and Eoff streets in Wheeling. He acknowledged he was forced to move from the building and to a larger office because he ran out of room for the Peanuts memorabilia.
Mercer said after he retired last year and no longer had an office, there was nowhere for him to store and display the massive number of items.
“And my wife wasn’t too crazy about me bringing everything home,” he continued. “I thought about the museum, and it just took off. I’m happy about that.”
Waiting to be seen by the public are Snoopy books and cartoons and even a box of dozens of Peanuts-related ties Mercer wore on the job. But he and museum officials aren’t certain how best to display the ties, or the 200 T-shirts he has accumulated over the years.
Officials at West Liberty University have been asked for their help and suggestions.