Argentina: A brick from The Cavern Club, a check for 11 pounds signed by Ringo Starr, an "authentic" Beatles wig. These and thousands of other objects related to the "Fab Four" are luring Beatles fans to a new museum in Buenos Aires.
The museum is the product of the particular "Beatlemania" obsession of Rodolfo Vazquez, a 53-year-old accountant who became a fan at the age of 10 when he got their "Rubber Soul" record. "With the song "In my life" I fell in love with the Beatles," he told The Associated Press.
Vazquez scooped up all the memorabilia he could find in Buenos Aires about history`s most famous rock band, an obsession that grew until he made it into Guinness World Records in 2001 as having the planet`s largest collection.
At that point, Guinness noted that he had 5,612 items in the attic of his home in Buenos Aires. His hoard has grown to more than 8,500 records, gadgets, puppets and games since then, more than 2,200 of which are on display in the Beatle Museum that just opened this month on Avenue Corrientes, in an area of the capital where tourists throng.
There are Beatles museums in Liverpool, England, and Hamburg, Germany, that display memorabilia along with objects from the band members` lives, and other private collections as well — Julian Lennon has many that show the more personal side of the four band members, published in the book "Beatles Memorabilia. The collection of Julian Lennon," including drawings his late father sent him when the Beatles were on tour.
But this storefront museum stands out for the sheer quantity of pieces, carefully arranged in display cases and on the walls. There are objects for all tastes: a box of condoms with the name of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, a wig that says it adjusts to any head size, and signed pictures of the four musicians.
"The idea is to show my collection permanently. In a year I would like to rotate the items on display with others from my collection," Vazquez said. Otherwise all of it would be closed into boxes and trunks without anyone being able to enjoy them."
Vazquez also keeps accumulating objects, either buying or trading for them with other collectors around the world.
"In Britain and Spain I found many fans. By mail I`ve received things from Japan, Britain and Brazil, and I`m still doing it," he said.
The Beatles broke up in 1970, but there`s no letup in interest about the band: When their song list was added to iTunes last year, more than 2 million individual songs and 450,000 copies of Beatles albums were sold in the first week.
The Beatles never performed in Argentina, but people here seem to have a soft spot for them, ensuring that cover bands have regular gigs. Many such bands play in Vazquez`s "The Cavern Club," a bar next to the museum named after the Liverpool nightclub where the band got its start.
Each year, Vazquez organizes a "Beatle Week," in which cover bands from around Latin America compete to be named the best imitators. The winners travel to a Liverpool music festival.
Vazquez claims he doesn`t know the total value of his private collection, which also includes record covers, autographs, toys, original pictures, concert programs, and cups and plates with Beatle images.
Vazquez said that he has a special fondness for 64 boxes of chewing gum in the form of miniature albums that allude to the 16 Beatles records.
Other rarities are four music boxes with figures of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
Vazquez even has certified copies of their birth certificates.
In one display case, there`s a brick — one of about 5,000 pulled from the demolition in 1983 of the original Cavern Club.
There`s also a hunk of the stage of Hamburg`s Star Club, a strip club where the musicians worked as the house band, at that point with Pete Best as drummer. A pair of drumsticks signed by Best, who was replaced by Ringo Star in 1962, is in the Buenos Aires museum.
There`s also a piece of the floor of Strawberry Fields, a Salvation Army orphanage near Lennon`s boyhood home whose name inspired the 1967 psychedelic rock tune "Strawberry Fields Forever."
Vazquez said nearly 2,000 people have visited since the museum opened on Jan. 3. Some have been thrilled.
"This museum is killing me," said Facundo Gonzalez, an Argentine visitor. "I want to steal everything and scream like a little girl. I am very excited. I find it incredible."
Dalton Araujo, a Brazilian, said he traveled to Argentina specifically to visit the museum.
Getting the chance to show his treasures to fellow fans is immensely satisfying to Vazquez, but he says there`s one thing he hasn`t been able to do: meet the surviving Beatles themselves.
"What I am missing is to shake hands with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, hug them and chat with them a little bit," he said.
"It is what would complete me and I would be the happiest collector on earth."