Bruce Wechtenhiser

Bruce Wechtenhiser, of Johnstown, shows off his Spider-Man collection. Dec. 16, 2020.

Watches, masks, figures, puzzles, posters: If it has Marvel Comics hero Spider-Man on it, Johnstown resident Bruce Wechtenhiser is interested.

He’s been collecting Spidey merchandise since childhood and has amassed an impressive assortment of items.

“I latched onto him and never let go – for 53 years,” Wechtenhiser, now 56, said.

His passion for the wall-crawler landed him this month on the “Spider-Collector” YouTube show, an offshoot of the Spider-Man Crawlspace website, where he was interviewed by site creator Brad Douglas.

Wechtenhiser was familiar with the Crawlspace and web series and reached out to Douglas after a recent episode featured another fan’s collection.

Douglas was glad to have him on and interviewed Wechtenhiser for nearly two hours about the various items of memorabilia.

“It was an incredible collection and one of the biggest I’ve ever seen,” Douglas said. “He pulled so many items out and had a story for pretty much every single item. He put the ‘amazing’ in Spider-Man.” 

A few pieces that intrigued Douglas were a Spider-Man pinball machine that Wechtenhiser fixed up, and his Rockomic records.

Wechtenhiser became interested in collecting the vinyls this year and has acquired several variants.

Douglas said after Wechtenhiser contacted him and sent photos of his collection, it was “natural” to have him on the show.

“I can so relate to his love for Spider-Man,” he added. “It’s nice to see someone so passionate about his hobby.” 

‘On the ground floor’

Wechtenhiser’s initial encounter with the web-slinger was when he was 3 years old in the late 1960s – when the first cartoon adaptation of Spider-Man aired on TV.

He had an immediate connection to the superhero’s story and at the time his older brothers were already interested in Batman and Superman, which left the new guy all to him.

“I did just about everything with Spidey and Marvel,” Wechtenhiser said. “I was on the ground floor with most of that stuff.”

Spider-Man first appeared on the page in 1962, co-created by comics legend Stan Lee and Johnstown’s own Steve Ditko. 

Throughout the years, the New York City webhead and his alter ego, Peter Parker, have grown in both popularity and demand – spawning hundreds of comics, a number of cartoons, merchandise, video games and several movies.

In the basement of his home, Wechtenhiser set up a display of his collection for this interview.

It included everything from original Halloween masks, lunch boxes and board games to trading cards, cups, model kits and Christmas ornaments – some of it signed by John Romita, who was the second Spider-Man artist.

His treasure trove of memorabilia doesn’t stop there. Wechtenhiser also saved every issue of “The Amazing Spider-Man” since No. 71, which is framed and hanging on his wall next to other comics and related posters.

That series has nearly 1,000 issues now – a number that matched Wechtenhiser’s collection at one time. 

‘He truly loves it’

 He sold off about 400 pieces in 1998 and 13 years ago he let go of another 200-300 items.

The super-fan now estimates that he has roughly 300 artifacts left.

The rarest pieces of Wechtenhiser’s collection are an alternative play field for his Spider-Man pinball machine and a 6-foot tall poster of Spidey by Ditko from 1965.

He acquired the artwork this year and a friend built a frame.

Although he never got to meet Ditko, who died in June 2018, Wechtenhiser said he appreciates what the artist did for the the comic industry and has a signed letter from Ditko he received as a child.

Wechtenhiser said he’s been in touch with Ditko’s family and hinted at future involvement regarding memorializing the Johnstown native in the city, but couldn’t provide any further details.

Wechtenhiser’s wife, Blythe, said she’s “blown away” by her husband’s knowledge of Spider-Man and thought it was “really cool to see him bring all this out.”

“He’s put in so much time,” she said. “That just tells me that he truly loves it.”

Blythe Wechtenhiser referred to her husband as an “encyclopedia” for the web-slinger, adding that the character has been a part of not only their lives but their children’s lives for a long time. 

‘Connection to the past’

As a child, Blythe Wechtenhiser was a bit of a Spider-Man fan as well, noting that she had a favorite puzzle of the superhero, which is now part of her husband’s hoard. 

A majority of Bruce Wechtenhiser’s collection is made up of pieces such as that – artifacts from the silver age of comic books.

A lot of the older items have an emotional connection for him, because they were given to him by his mother, Jean, who passed this year.

One of his favorites is an AM radio in the shape of Spider-Man that was given to him for Christmas during his childhood.

A few Mego action figures of Spider-Man characters from 1974, such as the Green Goblin and Lizard, hold a similar place in his heart.

These, too, were Christmas presents.

Most of Bruce Wechtenhiser’s collection will be put away until another time when he can show it off. But the framed comics, poster, pinball machine and some other items stay up all year long – a testament to his life-long fandom of “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

“If it has some connection to the past, I buy it,” he said. 

Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.

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