September 8 was “Star Trek” Day, with a live-streamed event including special announcements and new trailers. But the live stream wasn’t the only “Trek”-centric event taking place that day.
In West Chester, Pennsylvania sits the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center (AHMEC). The museum opened in 1996 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the American Helicopter Society (now the Vertical Flight Society), and it houses actual helicopters, large and small, military, commercial, and private. On Thursday, September 8, 2022, they opened a “Star Trek” Screen-Used Props and Costumes exhibit. Heavy was at the members-only opening, which included an appearance by propmaker Michael Moore. We sat down to talk about the collection with its owner, Garrett Derr.
Genesis of a Collection
Derr is a Pennsylvania native and he recalls sitting down to watch “Star Trek: The Next Generation” on Channel 29 in Philadelphia when he was in elementary school. “It was that new TV show I could watch every week,” he says, his voice rising with excited nostalgia as he speaks. “It was, obviously, definitely an exciting show to watch as a kid.”
After one of the episodes, he saw an ad for a “Star Trek” convention in Valley Forge, PA. After a certain amount of begging, his uncle finally consented to take him to the event. “That was my first real big experience seeing all the ‘Star Trek’ stuff. I fell in love with ‘Star Trek’ then and then after all the series ended…the conventions died, there wasn’t that much stuff anymore and I became an adult, you know, and had to work and I worked a lot and did my jobs.”
Derr continued to watch “Trek” as a casual fan until his sons inspired him to do more. Derr explains, “I was watching it and they ended up watching it with me. And they got all excited with it for a very short period of time…There was a small Creation event in Parsippany [New Jersey], so I ended up taking them to that. And of course, they wanted a costume, so I made them Borg costumes.”
Costuming was something Derr was familiar with, having “done tons of living history stuff over the years. I learned to sew ’cause I wanted them to be my way. I can make boots, I can pretty much do anything with costuming. When I did all the living history stuff, nobody could get their boots repaired, so I just taught myself.”
Derr eventually stopped doing living history and “fell down the rabbit hole” with “Star Trek” costuming instead. That hobby led to his starting a collection of original “Trek” costumes, created for the franchise. “I really just started collecting the costumes,” he says. “My first one is at home. I have DeForest Kelley’s fur shawl that he wore on Rura Penthe [in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”]. And actually, when I bought it, it was supposed to be somebody else’s. But when I physically had it, I’m like, ‘Well, it’s not that one.’ And then I just searched and searched. I got it from a SciFi museum out West that was closing down and they kind of got it in a lockbox from Paramount way back in the day.”
In order to identify the exact costume piece, Derr had to examine screenshot after screenshot until he was sure of who actually wore the item. When he was done, not only did he discover that it had been made for Kelley to wear, but it had been reused by Scott Bakula in the “Star Trek: Enterprise” episode “Judgement.” “I’ve got to do some restoration to it,” Derr admits, “’cause it’s part real fur and part fake fur and the real fur is starting to come apart.”
Touring the Collection
Space may be the final frontier but at AHMEC it’s not infinite, and this limitation meant that Derr wasn’t able to bring his entire collection. Still, the items he brought are intriguing and, for a knowledgable “Star Trek” fan, recognizable.
“Trek” has a reputation for beautiful costumes, beginning with William Ware Theiss’ costume design for the Original Series. Among other things, Derr’s costume collection contains a Bajoran militia uniform, Rom’s baseball shirt from the “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” episode “Take Me Out to the Holosuite”, and Amarie the four-armed piano player’s outfit in TNG’s “Unification II.”
“I have Rom’s full baseball practice uniform,” Derr tells me. “I have the socks and everything. It’s the same with the four-armed piano player. I have the gloves, I have all the little swizzle-stick earrings that were in her hair and her nose and everything. I have the complete outfit.”
Derr also owns the complete Bajoran uniform, boots, earring, and all, but was again limited by practical considerations, this time the logistics of displaying every piece of the costumes. “It fits me,” he tells me with a little smile. “That’s one of the other selling points for me when I buy it. If I can get a costume that I can wear…[My wife] will laugh at me. She’ll come downstairs and I’ll have it on and I’m watching the episode and I’m like, ‘What?’ That’s what I love about some of the prop collecting, too, because I can go and watch the episode and be like, ‘I’ve got that!'”
And speaking of his prop collection, he has a lot of cool stuff to display on that front, too. On display in the collection is his favorite piece: one of the iconic phaser rifles from “Star Trek: Nemesis”, made from resin. His other favorite is there, as well: the “Phoenix” pre-flight checklist from “Star Trek: First Contact”.
“At first I didn’t realize what it is,” Derr says. “But when you go past the first page, it’s all copies of the original Columbia flight list. So it’s a real flight checklist for the Columbia shuttle, and I was looking at it and was like, ‘Oh, this is kind of cool.’ And then I was reading the first page and I was like, ‘Wait a minute. This says Montana Space Center.’ I start going through screencaps and there, Zefram Cochrane was standing in the pod [holding it].”
Derr doesn’t simply own handheld props. On display are several consoles and control panels, including one from “Star Trek: Enterprise” that was used as an Andorian control panel, and then repurposed and repainted to become a Vulcan, then a Klingon one. An especially nifty piece is a Cardassian control panel, monitoring Klingon ships, as seen on Gul Dukat’s ship in “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”
Derr’s passion for “Star Trek” is obvious, and he has made it his mission to become an Ambassador of sorts for the franchise. When he was injured at work, Derr found himself with lots of time on his hands, so he decided to start attending conventions on a more regular basis. He wanted to go as a Klingon, but couldn’t find a costume he liked. “It has to look like I walked off the set,” he proclaimed, but since no affordable screen-accurate costumes were available, he made his own.
“I went to the first couple of cons,” he continues, “but I just noted that the ‘Star Trek’ stuff was just not there. It was mostly like, you know, a couple of fan groups, whatever ships, and that was it. There were some [“Star Trek”] actors, but they had a huge 501st [Legion, from “Star Wars”] and you had all this stuff from everything else, but nothing ‘Star Trek.’ And the costuming wasn’t there.”
Derr realized he could use his talents to rectify the dearth of “Trek”-related convention exhibits. “I was like, ‘Well, it’d be cool to go and do a little set-up, take some of the original costumes, and show people how they’re made. That’s part of the reason I bought them.”
And “Project Stardate” was born. According to his GoFundMe page, Derr’s ongoing mission is to “help promote and grow ‘Star Trek’ fandom” by creating “a traveling showcase of production and screen-used props, costumes and set pieces.” The goal is to inspire fans by giving them an up-close-and-personal look at items created for and used by the various series in the franchise.
The exhibit at AHMEC is just the tip of the iceberg. “I was like, ‘Wow, I could build a really cool set-up to go to conventions,'” Derr says, “‘and really take something that’s a traveling museum that nobody’s seen before.'”
Derr’s goal is to expand the exhibit beyond what he now owns and even display some of his own work. He’s in the process of building a full-scale Type-15 shuttlepod to add to the exhibit. You can learn more about that project and see work-in-progress photos, as well as view the full gallery of pictures from the exhibit at Daily Star Trek News.
The “Star Trek” Screen-Used Props and Costumes exhibit at the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center runs until Sunday, November 27, 2022 with a speaker series that you can watch from anywhere in the world every Thursday night throughout. For more information, visit AHMEC’s website. You can follow Project Stardate on Facebook.