When The X-Files premiered on September 10, 1993, I was a 12-year-old 7th grader in the first ever class at Maple Avenue Middle School in Saratoga Springs. I’m not sure if I caught the pilot episode, but it didn’t take long for the show to catch on like wildfire in my soon-to-be-teenage boy friend group. There was Derrick, Brian, Phil and Dan—and others I’m sure I’m forgetting—and we’d have sleepovers at one of the guy’s houses on Friday night after school and stay up late to watch the show. And sometimes, it’d be really difficult to fall asleep afterwards (see: Season 1’s “Squeeze,” about a half-man-half-monster that feasts on people’s livers; it still haunts me to this day.)
For the uninitiated, The X-Files, which aired on Fox, was the perfect amalgam of horror, science fiction and alien invasion movie, but within the confines of the small screen, with memorable characters such as Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson)—and a host of great recurring characters such as Mr. X (Steven Williams) and the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis). These, of course, were the days before Facebook and pause-able TV, so you really had to be a fan (and watch the show) in real time. Since I was also a collector, I bought everything I could relating to the show—the trading cards, comic books, a special edition magazine and poster, a map of all of the fictional locations in the show and the issue of Rolling Stone magazine that featured Duchovny and Anderson in bed together, naked (it was an inside joke for fans; it took seven seasons for the two characters, who had amazing onscreen chemistry but never got romantic, to actually hook up).
Unbeknownst to young me, fellow Saratogian, collector and X-phile Jim Thornton, ten years my senior, was also worshipping The X-Files and quickly transforming into a fanatic. But instead of coming at the show cold as I had, he’d had some practice hiding under the covers. “I was a huge fan of Darren McGavin and a TV show called Kolchak: The Night Stalker [in the ’70s], which was a one-season show [that had a] monster-of-a-week [format],” says Thornton. “It scared the crap out of me when I was a young kid.” Years later, when he was in his 20s, Thornton watched The X-Files pilot, and it reminded him of the show. “I was instantly hooked,” he says. (Chris Carter, who created The X-Files, has cited Kolchak as one of his many influences for the show.) And just like I did, Thornton started building what would become a much larger X-Files memorabilia collection, which by his estimates, now includes anywhere from 6,000-10,000 items in it. It even has its own official name: The X-Files Preservation Collection.
Thornton would begin building the collection in earnest, circa 1997, after he ended up buying some Topps’ Widevision X-Files trading cards while on a chance trip to Crossgates Mall. The collection would eventually balloon to thousands of pieces, including priceless screen-used show props, wardrobe items and set dressings. Thornton tells me that the acquisition of the more sought-after items came in “stages.” He started with commercial and promotional items, then started tracking down “crew gifts,” or pieces that the show’s actors would’ve given to various TV crew members working on a variety of episodes. “It’s all networking,” he explains. “You can get something from eBay here and there, but 95 percent of the stuff I get is from [X-Files] contacts.” It makes total sense: Many of the most desirable items among memorabilia collectors, whether they be early book manuscripts or game-worn baseball jerseys, come straight from the source. That’s because they have nearly indisputable provenance (or proof of authenticity). How can Thornton prove that his screen-worn items, say, are the real McCoy? Through a process many high-end collectors and auction houses use called screen-matching. In other words, the item can be authenticated by watching the episode it appeared in and “matching” it to how it looked onscreen. It’s not a perfect science and forgeries have been known to surface, but the process certainly gets validated if, say, the actor who wore a bloody shirt sells the collector that item. To that end, Thornton has acquired some really unique items, including furniture from Agent Mulder’s FBI office; a singed doll from the episode “Chinga,” which was co-written by horror author Stephen King (Season 5, Episode 10); a suit worn by actor Mitch Pileggi, who portrayed Mulder and Scully’s supervisor, FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner; and possibly the most valuable item in the lot, an actual film-used “alien cryopod” prop from The X-Files: Fight The Future movie. Thornton guesstimates that he’s spent more than $100,000 on the collection throughout the years, and to celebrate his undying love for the series, he’s even gotten most of his left leg covered in an X-Files tattoo sleeve.
Now, Thornton and his wife, Kelly, who’s also a fan of the show (but not “an obsessed freak like me,” acknowledges Jim) have launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money to turn the collection into a museum—in Saratoga, of all places (at press time, the campaign has raised $3,646 toward a goal of $8,000). While one might expect a collection of this type to be housed somewhere in Hollywood or up north in Vancouver, where many of the show’s original seasons were shot, Saratoga—a city primarily known for its historic racetrack and arts venues—now has a chance to become ground zero for a one-of-a-kind X-Files museum, with Thornton’s Preservation Collection taking centerstage. (Parts of the collection have already been displayed at local Comic Cons and X-Fest, an X-Files convention, in Chicago.) And why not? We already have a robust collection of collectible stores in the area and a thriving Comic Con—and well, Saratoga is in sore need of a geek-culture injection, following the shuttering of the Comic Depot last fall. While the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, did acquire its own massive collection of X-Files memorabilia in 2008, who knows the next time any of those items will see the light of day? When saratoga living reached out to the museum, a representative there confirmed that none of its X-Files items are currently on display and the next time museum-goers might catch them on display would possibly be an upcoming pop culture exhibit tabbed for 2021 or 2022. (The rep could neither confirm nor deny that the items would be featured in the upcoming exhibit.) Mind you, it’s also been nearly two years since the last X-Files episode aired, as part of a series reboot that got mixed reviews, so unless there’s an actual alien invasion of Earth between now and 2022 (or the season miraculously gets resurrected again), the museum doesn’t have that solid of a reason to display any items.
A Saratoga-based museum could also reap all sorts of rewards for the city. For one, it could add to the already booming cultural tourism scene here. And it could also summon a new crop of celebrities into town—either during racing season or the offseason—who would act as ambassadors for the city. According to Thornton, many former X-Files cast members—many of whom have gone on to star in other series such as Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy and countless others—have viewed the collection and given it the thumbs up. “We’ve met almost all of the stars from the show,” says Jim. Key series actors such as Pileggi (Skinner), Nicholas Lea (Alex Krycek), Annabeth Gish (Special Agent Monica Reyes) and some of the Lone Gunmen are included in the mix. (The Thorntons have even met the show’s main stars, Duchovny and Anderson, without the collection in tow.) One of the most vocal supporters of the collection is actress Karen Konoval, who appeared in the series on three separate occasions between 1995-2018 in three different roles. (Most memorably, she plays the ghastly Mrs. Peacock in the series’ most disturbing and controversial episode, “Home,” which was given a lifetime ban in reruns by the Fox network; I’ll leave it up to you to seek it out.) “[Konoval] has been nothing but the sweetest person on the planet,” says Jim. “She’s been very supportive on social media. She knows what I’m trying to do.” He goes on to explain that The X-Files is one of the longest-running show in TV history. “One thing I don’t like about the greatest shows on the planet is that, when they’re done, people forget about them,” he says. “I can’t let that happen.”
Might I suggest, if all the cards fall into place for the Thorntons, that the new home for their Saratoga X-Files collection be called “The Red Museum“?