NEWTON John Birdeno's collection of cowboy memorabilia started growing after he gave a program at his son's third-grade class and discovered his mementos covered only a card table.
Now Birdeno, 67, will open a Silver Screen Cowboy Museum near Newton this month featuring the Wild West that emerged from Hollywood.
A sneak preview is planned for Feb. 14, with a catered Valentine's Day dinner and a program.
Movie cowboy Dale Berry will open the show, with ZERF, a singing cowboy from Manhattan, presenting his songs about the Kansas frontier. Honored guests are Paul Mix, a cousin of silent film icon Tom Mix, and Hooter Gibson, a cousin of actor Hoot Gibson.
Birdeno's collection goes back to the silent-screen days and features scores of lesser-known Hollywood cowboys as well as popular ones such as Tom Mix, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.
Among local cowboy aficionados whom Birdeno roped into helping set up the museum is retired Reno County Judge Steven Becker, who has his own museum of working cowboy artifacts in the century-old Medora Hotel in Hutchinson called The Bunkhouse.
Birdeno's interest is in the movie heroes whose riding and roping brought the romance and glamour of the Old West.
At the Silver Screen Museum, the collection of photos includes many that are autographed, along with posters, publicity still shots and other memorabilia. Many are in place, though more await being hung on walls or arranged in display cases.
The fun of establishing the Silver Screen Cowboy Museum is the authenticity of the location, Becker said.
"Kansas is so rich in cowboy history - Abilene, Ellsworth, Wichita, Dodge City," he said. "Being a part of Kansas, to me, means to be a part of the cowboy era."