Need $15,000 worth of magnets?
Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
LAKELAND — Shawn McDowell needs a magnet to attract the owner of the world's largest refrigerator. After all, it would take a fridge the size of a U-Haul Super Mover — or about 18 regular-sized coolers — to display all of McDowell's roughly 4,000 refrigerator magnets edge to edge.
And the entire collection could be yours for a mere $15,000 or so.
McDowell, a Lakeland private investigator, recently put the magnets up for bid on eBay, the online auction site. The original auction ended with more than 1,000 looks but no one meeting the minimum bid of $15,000. McDowell extended the auction through Tuesday.
McDowell, 38, bills the cache as the "World's Largest Most Unique Magnet Collection," a claim impossible to verify or disprove. What's beyond dispute is that McDowell is never at a loss for something to hold a recipe or a lottery ticket on his fridge door.
"I searched on eBay and I've never seen a collection anywhere close to what I've got," he said. "I don't know who would possibly want something like this, but I'm hoping somebody would purchase it and donate it to a museum to get a tax break."
McDowell decided to sell the collection to raise money for an organization dedicated to helping grandparents pursue custody of abused or neglected grandchildren. McDowell and his partner in Florida Investigations Inc., Ken Rutledge, founded the United States Association for Grand Parents Rights (USAGPR) last year after assisting two sets of grandparents in custody cases.
Most of the magnets have been in boxes since McDowell moved to Lakeland from Nevada three years ago, but he displayed a few hundred Thursday in his downtown office. Several are three-dimensional and interactive, including a battery-powered depiction of a train-car diner. Press the front and a woman's voice calls out, "BLT, hold the mayo!" followed by the sound of a crashing plate and, "Oops."
Other noisemakers include a pinball machine, a British phone booth, a piano that plays "The Entertainer," a flushing toilet, an alarm clock that rings and announces "Rise and shine," a birthday cake that sings "Happy Birthday To You" and a "Panic Button" that emits a chorus of screams. One of McDowell's favorites depicts a fortune teller and when pressed declares, in a woman's accented voice, "It's in the cards" or "It's not in the cards."
"When kids come over, this is all you hear constantly," McDowell said, setting off a cacophony as he pressed various magnets.
Other magnets draw attention without making noise: an actual bagel (preserved in varnish), a miniature orange juice container, a set of Pez dispensers, a tiny Bible, and a pack of playing cards, boxes of Dots and Animal Crackers, a stapler, a fishing rod and line attached to a red fish, an octopus, a Christmas tree and matching wreath, a Bic lighter and a bottle of Visine. There are dozens of Disney-themed magnets and a few in the "adult" category, including one that reads: "My Sexual Preference: All The Time."
One magnet commemorates McDowell's unsuccessful 2002 bid for city council in Reno, Nev.
McDowell, a large man with an antic manner, got so excited describing his collection Thursday he sliced his left hand on a metal sheet holding some of the magnets and required eight stitches.
He inherited part of the collection from his mother, Ann McDowell, who died in 1999, and his most cherished magnet is one he made: an outsized photo of his mother's face. He also cites the influence of his aunt, Sarah Zuckerman of Las Vegas, whose fridge door bears "magnets covering magnets."
McDowell, who also collects snow globes and all things Disney, has received many magnets — some homemade — from friends. He unfailingly buys at least one magnet from any tourist site he visits and gathers others at every opportunity.
"If I go in Pizza Hut and I see a magnet on their cash register, I ask, 'Can I have that magnet?' or if I go in Walgreens or a doctor's office I ask for the prescription magnets," he said.
McDowell, who displayed his magnets at the Nevada State Fair in 2002, said if the collection doesn't sell he might eventually open his own museum.
"It would be difficult to part with these magnets," he said. "That's why the price is so high — plus we need money for USAGPR."
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