'Disney Tattoo Guy' trading his passion for new love

At the William H. Bunch auction gallery in Chadds Ford, staff members (front) Jessica Blevins and Frank Renner and (rear left) Linda Gagliardi and Alicia Barnett sit on a car that used to be at Disneyland. It's among about 5,000 items on the block.
At the William H. Bunch auction gallery in Chadds Ford, staff members (front) Jessica Blevins and Frank Renner and (rear left) Linda Gagliardi and Alicia Barnett sit on a car that used to be at Disneyland. It's among about 5,000 items on the block.
Posted: November 15, 2010

George Reiger's small world has gotten bigger.

Once a lonely postal worker known as the "Disney Tattoo Guy" for the 2,200 Disney images inked on his body, he is selling his 5,000-piece Disney collection and getting rid of the body art so that he can be with his very own Disney princess.

"The Disney Tattoo Guy is dead," said Reiger, who lives in a 6,000-square-foot Mickey Mouse-themed house in Bethlehem, Pa., with custom-designed doors, ceilings, knobs, and fixtures.

The enormous collection, one of the biggest in the country, is going on the auction block Monday at William H. Bunch gallery in Chadds Ford. It took three days just to photograph and tag the items.

Reiger said he's unloading it all - the Disney props, the Mickey Mouse light fixtures, a 15-foot Nautilus submarine - so that he can move to Miami to be with his new love.

"I'm starting a new life," he gushed.

Reiger, 56, has been goofy about Disney for 40 years. He says he's made hundreds of trips to the Happiest Place on Earth, strutting down Main Street in tank top and shorts and getting more attention from his tattoos than Snow White.

But Reiger wasn't happy at all. Although he claimed in TV and newspaper stories that he had had six wives - and lost them all because Disney always came first - he now says that he lied and that he was as lonely as Quasimodo and got tattooed because he craved attention.

Last September, he found his Esmeralda.

Reiger was seated in a big auditorium at a Disney convention in California when a woman named Kathleen sat down next to him. In no time, he could almost see little red cartoon hearts fluttering over his head.

Not surprisingly, he described the 48-year-old woman (he won't give any more details, saying she wants to remain private) as "animated."

"She makes me feel like a kid," he said Thursday, just minutes from boarding a Disney cruise ship in Cape Canaveral, Fla., with her by his side. "I'm totally in love."

In January he plans to move to Miami, where she lives, and he'll marry her "whenever she says yes."

"I found a new life; I want to start fresh," said Reiger, who is also a magician and is selling his trove of magic tricks next week.

Though Kathleen doesn't mind the tattoos, Reiger said, he wants to be able to wear short sleeves without people stopping and staring.

"I don't want to see them anymore," he said.

In fact, on his last trip to Disney he covered up in a long-sleeve shirt and pants. "I've never done that before," he said.

Reiger said he fell in love with Disney when he was a kid and got his first tattoo, a scene from Fantasia, on his left forearm at age 18. He started collecting Disneyana and even built his house just to display it.

Most serious Disney collectors prize pieces from the 1930s marked Walt Disney Enterprises, the company's original name. While Reiger's archive is eclectic, "it's not old, it's not rare, it's just enthusiastic," said Mel Birnkrant, a former toy designer from New York whose own Disney collection is considered one of the finest in the world.

He often saw Reiger at conventions, where "he was sort of like a mobile show-and-tell exhibit, something you used to have to pay 50 cents to see at a sideshow," he said.

Included in the sale are Mickey Mouse decor, animation cels, park props, the Nautilus sub that he says is one of only three in the world, and an eight-foot-tall Jack Skellington figure from the Disney/Tim Burton fantasy film The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Bunch, the auctioneer, said he expects the whole lot to fetch between $50,000 and $100,000, with some pieces going for as low as $10. To attract Disney's core audience, the kids, the auctioneer has advertised in local schools and day cares.

Reiger found most of his treasures on hundreds of trips to Disney theme parks, including Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disney. He bought everything he could, he said, spending up to $50,000 a year on travel and shopping.

He added the tattoos slowly at first, but after he turned 30, the pace picked up. At the bottom of his back is a real oddity: 103 dalmatians, a mistake. Water characters such as the Little Mermaid, Monstro the Whale from Pinocchio, and the Nautilus, the submarine from 20,0000 Leagues Under the Sea, float across his stomach.

Villains are below his knees, while flying objects such as Tinkerbell, hot-air balloons, and the Rocketeer cover his back.

Like the lovesick mutt from Lady and the Tramp, Reiger is eager to share everything with Kathleen, including his love of Disney. When they visit, "I actually go on the rides. Before, I was too busy showing off," he said.

With that, it was time to board the boat.

"I've always done everything alone my whole life. Now I'm enjoying doing things with this one," he said of his girlfriend.

One more thing.

"It's like a fairy tale," he said.


Contact staff writer Kathy Boccella at 610-313-8123 or kboccella@phillynews.com.

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