A quest to purchase a book printed in 1936 with the results of that year’s Berlin Olympics required two military tours of Germany, 20 trips to booksellers and $ 240, but the effort drove one man from the Alabama to donate a copy of the book to the Jesse Owens Museum in Oakville.
Owens, a native of Oakville, won four gold medals in athletics at the Berlin Olympics, a feat that earned him international fame as he refuted German leader Adolf Hitler’s theory of Aryan supremacy.
Justen Burns of Springville said he found and purchased the 168-page Olympic “Cigarette Photo Book” titled “Olympia 1936” in 2019. He and his wife Fabiola donated the 85-year-old book to the museum on Wednesday. .
“I love the story and with my appreciation for Jesse Owens and what he’s accomplished, I wanted the book,” said Burns, 41, who retired from the U.S. military as a sergeant in first class. “It showed the adversity he had to overcome. He went to Germany in 1936 with the Nazi regime at its peak and winning four gold medals is pretty amazing. But in reality, the gold medals were secondary to what he had accomplished.
“There is no other situation I can find of an athlete entering a country who has openly expressed disdain for any other race and here is Jesse Owens coming in and beating his best. With all the negativity and all the comments that came out, he put them all to bed that day. No one can deny what he has done and he has done it on the world stage.
Owens became the first Olympian to win four gold medals. He set Olympic records winning the 100 meters (10.3 seconds), 200 meters (20.7 seconds), long jump (26 feet, 5.25 inches) and 4×100 relay (39.8 seconds ).
Burns said that during his seven years in Germany, he had likely traveled to more than 20 places to find the full book. He said he had seen around 100 copies, but most were in poor condition.
“I saw one in Nuremberg in 2008 and it fascinated me. So I continued my search to find the perfect one, ”he said.
Burns said he bought one in 2010 when he first returned to the United States. “Most of the pictures were there, but a lot of the pages were torn and the cover was pretty badly marked. I gave it away when I knew I was going back to Germany.
On his second tour of Germany, from 2017 to 2020, Burns continued his personal mission, which ended in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a medieval walled city founded in 1274, southeast of Frankfurt.
He went to an antique store there and inquired about the book.
“(The manager) took me through what looked like a secret back door. She actually had three, but only one was in perfect condition, so I bought it, ”he said.
It was complete with photos and had little wear and tear on the pages and cover. He paid 200 euros, about $ 240, for the book listed in very good condition. The book is written in German.
Soon after he bought it, he began to think about donating it to the Owens Museum in Oakville, the Lawrence County community where Owens was born in 1913.
Fabiola said she was initially shocked by his intention.
“I was surprised because he spent so much time investing in his research,” she said. “I asked him if he wanted to keep him with the family. He said it belonged to a museum that anyone can see.
Burns said he was grateful she didn’t oppose it too much.
“Better to be in a museum. It honors his life so that everyone can see it, ”he said. “If I keep it, it will stay in my library and every once in a while I could show it to my friends and family. But that wouldn’t serve his purpose, which is to let everyone see what they had to go through to accomplish what they did. I cannot give the appreciation he deserves for what he has done.
“It’s better here than on a shelf in a house. … Sometimes you have to take the story to people, especially some of the younger ones.
He said many people don’t realize Owens was one of 10 children born to a pair of Oakville sharecroppers.
“Some people don’t know he’s from Alabama,” he said. “Much of your life is based on your education. I’m sure he didn’t start running when he got to Ohio State. Something he learned here brought him there. He was an exceptional athlete and a wonderful part of Alabama history and world history. “
Owens and his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio when he was 9 years old.
Nancy Pinion, director of the Jesse Owens Museum, said she was delighted Burnses donated the book.
“This rare book is an invaluable addition to the museum’s collection,” she said. “We are honored that Justen and Fabiola made the decision to donate it after years of searching all over Germany for a blank copy of this specific book to make the difficult decision to place it in the museum. We invite everyone to come and see it for themselves.
The 7019 Lawrence County 203 Museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
The admission fee is $ 5.