'Star Trek' fan leaves behind a collection like no one has done before
The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Saturday, July 13, 2024

'Star Trek' fan leaves behind a collection like no one has done before
Part of the massive collection of “Star Trek” memorabilia left by Troy Nelson, who died in February, at his childhood home in Bremerton, Wash., on March 13, 2024. The collection is among the largest known, according to the president of a nonprofit that focuses on the franchise. (Connie Aramaki/The New York )

by Sopan Deb

NEW YORK, NY.- Troy Nelson and his younger brother Andrew were almost inseparable.

The two youngest of six, they were born two years apart. They lived together in their childhood home in Bremerton, Washington, for more than half a century. Near their home, there is a park bench on which they carved their initials as young boys.

The Nelson brothers never married or had children. They worked together at the same senior home. They even once, as teenagers, dated the same girl at the same time while working different shifts at the same pizza shop. This lasted a week until they realized it.

“Two parts of one body,” Evan Browne, their older sister, said of their relationship in an interview.

On Feb. 28, Andrew Nelson, who had been treated for cancer for years, went to feed the chickens and ducks that were gifts from Browne to her brothers. He had a heart attack and died. He was 55. Just hours later, Troy Nelson, who was stricken with grief, took his own life. He was 57.

“He had talked about it before,” Browne, 66, said, tearfully. “He said, ‘Hey, if Andrew goes, I’m out of here. I’m checking out.’ Andrew would say the same thing, and then it really happened.”

What Troy Nelson left behind has become a sensation. After his death, family members posted pictures on social media of his massive — and, really, the keyword is massive — collection of “Star Trek” memorabilia, which have now been shared thousands of times.

The items took up two living rooms and a bedroom, all lined with bookshelves, according to Elena Hamel, one of the brothers’ nieces. The centers of the rooms were lined with additional bookshelves — all packed to the brim — to create aisles. There were jewelry cabinets serving as display cases.

The shelves contained action figures. Dolls. Models of ships. Posters. Ornaments. Lunchboxes. Legos. Several toy phasers and tricorders. (For non-Trek fans, the phaser is a weapon, and a tricorder is, essentially, a fancy smartphone.) Multiple “Star Trek” lamps. (Yes, there are “Star Trek” lamps.) Trading cards. Comic books. Trek-themed Geeki Tikis (stylized tiki mugs). Life-size cutouts of famous characters. A life-size captain’s chair.

While it’s impossible to account for every private collector in the world, Troy Nelson’s collection is almost assuredly among the largest — if not the largest.

The last additions to the collection came in the final weeks of his life: Stuffed rabbits in “Star Trek” uniforms. “I’ve never seen a collection that size,” said Russ Haslage, the president of the International Federation of Trekkers, a “Star Trek”-themed nonprofit that Haslage founded with Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the franchise.

Haslage’s organization opened in 2020 a “Star Trek” museum in Sandusky, Ohio, that has received donations of memorabilia from estates. Those collections “pale in comparison” to Troy Nelson’s, he said. (Haslage has reached out to the family to ask about donations from the collection.)

The older brother’s love of “Star Trek” began with the original series, which he’d watch with his siblings.

“It was our dinner meal,” Browne said. “When we had dinner, we were sitting in front of ‘Star Trek.’”

Troy Nelson began collecting in the late 1970s. His first acquisition was a model version of the Starship Enterprise. Then came Star Trek conventions. Why the franchise was such a draw to him remains a mystery to his family.

“I really can’t say. I mean, other than the fact that he was brainwashed with it at dinner time,” Browne said, laughing. “That sounds ridiculous. When we grew up, it’s like, ‘Dinner is at this time. And if you don’t get here at this time, you don’t get dinner.’ So it might’ve been a comfort for him.”

Troy Nelson would often monitor sites like eBay for items he didn’t have. On several occasions, he would express frustration on losing out on an item before being able to bid on it. Until he found out the reason.

“Andrew already got it for him,” Browne recalled.

Obsessive “Star Trek” fandom has long become an indelible part of pop culture, especially as the franchise — which has spawned several television series, movies, novels and comics — has been a long-running institution. There have been documentaries that have studied the subject, such as “Trekkies” in 1997. It’s been lampooned on “The Simpsons,” “Saturday Night Live” and “Family Guy,” and become a story line in an episode of “The West Wing,” among many others. For dedicated fans, accruing collectibles isn’t uncommon.

“When you collect these things, you’re closer to that genre that you enjoy so much,” Haslage said. “When I first started in 1979, I was grabbing everything I could get my hands on because it was cool, and it was a piece of the whole ‘Star Trek’ mythos. If you have these pieces, you’re a part of that universe in some way.”

It turns out that collecting is a pursuit that runs in the family.

Andrew Nelson collected mall swords, Ryobi-branded tools and statues of warrior women, like Xena, the warrior princess.

Browne’s house has a wall with thousands of smashed pennies and her living room windows are full of glass sugar and creamer bowls.

Browne’s father, Bud Peers, collected salt and pepper shakers, guns and knives. Troy and Andrew’s father, Norman Nelson, collected scrap metal and wood.

Hamel has 17 Christmas trees, all fully decorated with separate themes.

Browne’s son, Michael, who is 36, collects anything and everything related to black bears.

“When you have a large collection like that and it’s displayed like that,” Hamel said, “and it’s something that is important to you, it’s often really calming to be in a space like that. It’s just all the things that you love. It’s soothing.”

As far as Browne knew, Troy had no history of mental illness or any previous suicide attempts. After Andrew died, she received a distraught and frantic call from Troy with the news. She told him that she was on her way.

Browne said she called him when she got to the Tacoma Bridge. No answer. And then again, at the Manette Bridge. No answer. When she reached their home, the back door was open. And then she found him. The phone call was the last time they spoke.

Troy Nelson did not leave a note but did leave some things meticulously arranged by his computer, including a key to the house, burial plans for the two brothers, and bills.

“I don’t know really what I thought,” Browne said. “All I could do was just scream.”

The Nelson family is boxing up Troy’s “Star Trek” collection to prepare it for auction. Andrew’s ashes will be placed in an urn carved in the likeness of supermodel Bettie Page. (He was a fan.) Troy’s ashes will be placed in a “Star Trek” lunchbox.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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