Photo illustration by Katie McBride

John Barelli, R’71, admits that he left a few stories on the cutting room floor when he wrote Stealing the Show: A History of Art and Crime in Six Thefts, a recently published memoir chronicling his career as chief of security for New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Some tales weren’t mentioned because he didn’t think they fit the book, others because he and the museum agreed not to share them, and a few — well, accompanying Michael Jackson on an after-hours tour is another category entirely.

“He was quite a character,” said the affable Barelli.

After graduation, he worked as a police officer in Richmond before moving back to his hometown and entering private security with the New York Botanical Garden. His long stint at the Met — “the top of the security field,” he said — soon followed.

“You’re protecting the cultural heritage of the world,” said Barelli, a member of UR’s Athletics Hall of Fame for his Spider football career.

The former lineman also was responsible for protecting less ancient, but just as recognizable cultural touchstones. During the late Diana, Princess of Wales' 1996 visit to the Met for its eponymous, star-studded annual gala, he was by her side throughout the event.

Over the course of his tenure, technology such as closed-circuit television recording systems and continued personnel growth (he estimates more than 600 people were on the security staff) changed how Barelli did his job. But his law-enforcement instincts — what he calls “a sixth sense” — and staying abreast of criminal trends helped him thwart untold incidents that otherwise would have been fodder for his book.

“You’re able to read different signs,” said Barelli, who met his wife, Anna, a fellow Met employee, at the museum. “And you really have to keep up with what’s going out in the outside world, whether it’s terrorism or theft."