The curator of the Boston Marathon

Ratti always on watch for some treasure troves

By Maggie Cassidy
Globe Correspondent / April 16, 2010

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To Boston Marathon great John J. Kelley, it was trash: an old sweatshirt balled up in a corner of the basement in his Cape Cod cottage, covered in dust and specks of paint.

But to Gloria Ratti, who serves as a vice president on the Boston Athletic Association’s Board of Governors and works for the organization collecting memorabilia, the item was treasure.

Ratti started working for the BAA in 1971, when she became a commissioner and helped organize road races throughout New England. The next year, she helped integrate women into the Boston Marathon, recording the first 100 women as they crossed the finish line.

Although she’s never been an athlete — she was inspired to get involved with the BAA by her late husband, Charles, an avid runner — Ratti began collecting memorabilia in 1995, when the BAA was looking for visuals to promote the 100th running of the Boston Marathon.

The project has spiraled into a “bona fide museum,’’ as Ratti calls it, as items ranging from medals to shoes used in 1920s races fill display cases in the BAA’s Back Bay offices.

Although many times it’s as simple as a call to old running friends asking if they have anything to donate, sometimes Ratti’s map to treasure is less expected: In the case of Kelley’s sweatshirt, she simply noticed it out of the corner of her eye when visiting him about five years ago. Kelley, who won Boston in 1957, wore the blue sweatshirt with the letters “USA” on the front during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. As an amateur painter, he sometimes used it to keep warm in his basement and was planning to throw it out.

In another case, a large silver punch bowl given to Arthur Roth for winning the 1916 race was spotted by a BAA intern holding beer cans at a party. Ratti accepted it on loan.

Other items on display include Bermuda shorts, a bathing suit and nurse’s shoes, all part of the attire worn by Roberta Gibb, recognized by the BAA as the Boston Marathon women’s winner before women were officially sanctioned in 1972, and a bottle of holy water from Cnoc, Ireland, that Joan Benoit wore when she won in 1979.

For Ratti, who grew up in South Boston and spent 39 years working for the CIA (“special projects,’’ she said), displaying the history and prestige of the Boston Marathon fuels her search.

“It makes me strive harder to gather the history of the event,’’ she said. “Anyone who knows about the Boston Marathon and views the items never fails to walk away with a newfound respect.’’