Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 | 2 a.m.
John Feathers and his wife were sipping coffee as they watched the 6 a.m. news last week in their Las Vegas home when they received an early-morning jolt.
A story came on about a man who had left behind a collection of thousands of maps inside his Los Angeles home after he died in February. They watched as the reporter described this man as a “map hoarder” who had maps stuffed in crates, cabinets and even gutted stereos. His collection would be donated to the city library, making it one of the top-five largest collections in the United States.
Then the shock came. The “map hoarder” was John Feathers.
“I just about dropped my cup of coffee,” Feathers said. “That’s my son.”
It was at that moment Feathers learned what happened to his son’s most prized possessions. After John Everett Feathers (or Jeff as he called him), 56, died, he and his wife, Joyce, left it up to his son’s partner to determine what to keep and discard. They had no idea his partner left the maps in the house for a real estate agent to find.
It shocked them, but they were relieved to know their son’s collection wouldn’t be tossed in some trash bin. Those maps, and the traveling associated with them, were more than just his passion — it was who he was.
“He just loved to travel because he was in his element,” John Feathers said.
“It was like he went into his own world,” said Joyce Feathers, Jeff’s stepmother.
Feathers said his son was never happier than when he was on the road with his head buried in a map. He said Jeff was a loner growing up. He was born with a cleft palate that was fixed as a child, but it left him with a speech impediment that caused him to struggle in school. He fell behind his classmates and was drawn to reading and collecting National Geographic magazines, rather than playing with friends.
Jeff collected his first map when he was 8 or 9 years old, John Feathers said. They were on a road trip together to visit his grandparents in West Virginia when he picked up a free map at a gas station. He loved the trips and became absorbed in the maps and traveling.
“He was a loner and I think that was just his way of enjoyment,” Feathers said. “Just something he loved to do, and he always loved to travel throughout his whole life.”
Everywhere Jeff went he collected maps, until eventually, he traveled places specifically to buy them. He often bought them by the box, and when he discovered eBay in 1993, he bid on maps nearly every day.
Joyce Feathers said his job as a hospital dietitian was out of necessity to pay for his map collection, although, at one point, their son’s partner had told them Jeff had been $50,000 in debt from his map purchases.
“He was having UPS trucks coming to his house all the time with maps,” Joyce Feathers said. “I said, ‘Oh my god, he’s spending every dime on maps.’ But that was him. He lived and breathed maps.”
Joyce recalled Jeff as a child, sprawling the maps out on the living room floor and reading them for hours each day. He delicately turned each page, as if the paper might disintegrate.
He learned so much about the roads that when they traveled he could point out areas of interest without looking at a map, and could describe what the land was like before road development. He especially loved Route 66.
He could also travel anywhere without a map and never got lost.
“In the beginning you say, ‘What do you want with all this crap? What do you want to save all this stuff for?’” Joyce Feathers said. “Well to him it was very important.”
Both said they were surprised to see how Jeff’s map collection wound up overrunning his home. Joyce Feathers said Jeff only became a hoarder after his first partner, Walter Keller, had passed away.
Still, they are thrilled that his maps will be donated to the Los Angeles Public Library. A Los Angeles Times story reports that the library may need a year to sift through the vast collection. But when it’s done, John and Joyce Feathers said the real estate agent, Matthew Greenberg, told them Jeff may receive a plaque at the library.
His life will forever be connected to his maps.
“He was amazing,” Joyce Feathers said. “He would’ve been good working in the library with all that historical stuff. I think he would be really thrilled to know that’s where all his stuff went.”