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The History of IndyGear

 

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By now, most everyone knows the story of how Indiana Jones was created. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg honed the concept for the adventuring archaeologist on a beach in Hawaii in the summer of 1977 and the rest is cinema history with “Raiders of the Lost Ark” sprinting wildly into cinemas in 1981 and etching the adventures of Dr. Jones into the popular consciousness of the world.

Far fewer know the epic adventure that began in June 1981 when the lights came up after the first screenings of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” While virtually everyone in the audience took away the vicarious excitement and thrills of Harrison Ford's intrepid archaeologist, a special few came away with a piqued interest in the clothes that made the man—his hat, his jacket, his bullwhip and everything in between.

Unofficially, “IndyGear” was born in June 1981, when men like IndyGear's own Lee Keppler and Michaelson left “Raiders of the Lost Ark” unable to get the image of a rumpled brown fedora out of their heads they would have rather had on their heads. And so, the adventure began.

Keppler started his investigation during “Raiders'” original theatrical run in theaters. He was connected with the firearms industry in Hollywood, and had access to the original holster and whip holder. Lee discovered which revolvers were used and also found out what was on Dr. Jones' feet, the Alden 405 walking boot. Without his efforts, much of the information would not be available to us.

One gentleman in particular, Steve Ferguson, is largely credited with finding the source of Indiana Jones' famous fedora. In the mid 1980s, Ferguson met Keppler and made him aware of the Herbert Johnson fedora and began sub-contracting them for fans among other found pieces of the Indiana Jones costume. Around the same time, Keppler had discovered the origins of Indy's leather jacket and bullwhip and had made contact with Peter Botwright of Wested Leather and whip-making master David Morgan.

"Just about everything pre-World Wide Web was by word of mouth. Our only source to check against was the movie itself, and that was $2 a pop. The colors were never figured, as the color pictures that eventually came out were under the control of the printer, and the shade of the belt, pants and shoes seemed to change with each successive printing. We just mainly had to guess until the Internet came about." —Michaelson

A common trait amongst Indiana Jones fans, both old and new, is a penchant for tenacity. Whether this trait is inspired in them by the tenacious Dr. Jones or simply like-minded men and women being drawn to him because they relate to his unwavering determination is hard to say. Regardless, Indiana Jones fans over decades have not been given an easy road when it comes to information about his clothes and props. Unlike “Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” Indiana Jones had no “fanzines” or book after book published with the artwork and props inside. Even after the advent of the Internet, until the merchandising fervor of 2008's “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” there was very little information available to Indiana Jones fans and the films themselves with a few choice photos became the backbone of prop and gear research.

Keppler and Michaelson's tenacity led them to contact the costumers and prop masters at Paramount Pictures directly via telephone for information. Way back in the days before the world wide web, anyone willing was able to contact a movie studio and ask to speak with any one person in the prop or costume department and actually get them on the phone, or at least receive a call-back. More than a decade after Indiana Jones hit the screen the prop and costume collecting market exploded and the studios shut down communication after calls became too frequent. It is now unheard of for the common fan to receive such inside information from any studio. You really have to know someone on the inside. Without doubt, the calls made by Keppler and Michaelson which would plant the seeds of Indy gear were placed at just the right time and the information proved invaluable.

With the arrival of the web came the Indiana Jones Web sites, one of the originals being Micah Johnson's Indyfan.com. On March 3, 1995, the Indiana Jones WWW Page was announced. On October 1, 1996, the 'X' Marks the Spot section debuted with the first kernels of information about Indy's gear. By July 1997, the site had been renamed to Indyfan.com and on August 20, 1997 the Indyfan Forum debuted and fans could discuss anything “Indy.”

Indy-related gear was a common topic of conversation. Fellow fans were converging for the first time in one place and sharing their discoveries, one of the most notable being the identity of the shoulder bag.

“I was contacted by the organizer of one of the main sites, might have been Indy fan, and asked if I knew what the bag was, he sent me a picture. Well, as we are specialist dealers in British WW2 Militaria from 1914 to 1965, and as I have a particular collecting interest in all things British anti-gas, it was not hard to identify. He then put my details on his web site and the word spread from there! At one point we were the only people who had them!” —Ian Durrant of Sentimental Journey

Josh Maley started the Web site, “Jones Equipment Shoppe,” in July 1997 and spent “long hours on the telephone to various outlets.” Maley is known as one of the first documented Indy gear fans to post photos of his Herbert Johnson “Poet” online.

One of most important pre-IndyGear Web sites was “Indy's Diggs,” remembered for being one of the first sites to incorporate in-depth FAQs on the jacket and boots. Created by Max Shulte and Mike Davis with IndyGear's own Michaelson working behind the scenes, the page became one of the first to begin what has now become an IndyGear tradition—documenting even the smallest details of gear items with almost surgical precision.

“IndyGear owes its roots to 'Diggs' for most of its original content.” —Michaelson

At that point, the gear interest exploded and IndyGear.com, created by now-retired founder “Indiana John,” officially opened. Soon after, Noel Howard, who worked on Raiders as a costumer for Bermans and Nathans in London, was discovered and so were his replica shoulder bags, shirts, pants, belts and holsters. The hunt for Indy's gear was on, and the conversation flooded Indyfan.com.

Intense study into the jacket began as well as the search for the original Raiders hat block shape. A few significant staffers of IndyGear at the time were integral in pushing the development of the now-famous Flightsuits Expedition “Raiders” jacket. At the same time, the first generation of the exclusive and now-famous Akubra Federation was the result of intense collaboration between HatsDirect and IndyGear staffers. During this period, Keppler's Adventure Supply became an online store.

Never have three films been so picked over frame-by-frame in every generation, from VHS to DVD and even a rare high definition broadcast that was acquired on portable hard drives around 2001 for further study. Soon, finer details about the Indy bullwhip handles and bag straps started to come to light, as well as the most subtle nuances of even the holsters and bags.

IndyGear expanded with the creation of Club Obi-Wan where all the gear pieces could be discussed ad nauseam. As Club Obi-Wan and IndyGear.com built a reputation for excellent research thanks to all those tenacious community members, word on the Internet spread and soon some prestigious finds were surfacing on IndyGear first. Members such as Indy Magnoli and Steve Delk would go from being buyers to proactive craftsmen and vendors, with the former eventually helping design The Lost Journal of Indiana Jones and the latter becoming not only responsible for the resurrection of the Raiders fedora but ultimately the hatter on “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

Soon, the members of IndyGear were no longer struggling to find out what happened to all of the lost relics of Ford's costume because the items were showing up on Club Obi-Wan's doorstep. Sergei helped track down an original “Raiders of the Lost Ark” bullwhip, Minnesota Jones acquired an actual “Temple of Doom” holster and both revolvers from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” fell into the hands of private collectors who shared extensive photos and invaluable information with Club Obi-Wan.

The most pivotal find however came on March 13, 2008, when IndyGear member “Desi” revealed that he had found and purchased the original “hero” fedora worn by Harrison Ford in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Long thought vanished or destroyed, this hat was in essence the object that had started the whole phenomenon back in 1981 and had become the mythical unicorn that Delk and hundreds of others struggled to catch and recreate.

In 1981, Lucasfilm and Steven Spielberg, through Indiana Jones, discovered the world's the most iconic outfit in adventure cinema. Like the Ark itself, the secrets of Indy's clothes would virtually dissolve into the ether after 1989's “Last Crusade.” Yet, in a strange twist of poetic destiny, Indiana Jones' lost gear rode off into the sunset only to be rediscovered not by Lucasfilm, but by those who would ultimately comprise IndyGear.com. It would be those of IndyGear who would have a hand in helping reconstruct Indy's wardrobe for one more adventure...


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