Monday, April 29, 2013

Men of the Midwest

As a fan of Ronald Reagan, and trying to build a collection of campaign items used in the elections that Reagan was involved in, it was a natural process to visit Illinois and the sites where Reagan was born and grew up. Of course, to go all the way to Illinois from North Carolina, you might as well take in some other sites along the way. One of the joys of the trips I often take is that my dad goes along with me, and since he enjoys seeing the sites with me, it makes the trip enjoyable.

We started our journey on the morning of Tuesday, April 23rd, heading up I-77 through Virginia and West Virginia, picking up I-64 in Charleston, WV to head up through Kentucky. We arrived near Cincinnati around 4:00 that afternoon, and stayed in a Comfort Suites right across the river in Newport, KY. I had been to a Reds game last year, but my dad had not been to one since 2005, so it was a treat to get to see one in person together again. We rode a bus across the river into Ohio, and visited the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum. The exhibit this year was on Joe Morgan, the great second baseman during the 1970's. The game started at 7:10, and after spending a lot of money on stadium food, we were ready for the first pitch. Our seats were on the lower level behind first base in short right field. This provided us a close up view of the action, which was neat. The game itself was well played by the Reds and their opponent, the Chicago Cubs. The Reds were losing 2-1 going into the bottom of the 9th inning, when Joey Votto singled in Shin-Soo Choo to tie the game, sending it to extra innings. The Cubs scored two runs in the top of the 10th, and with rain coming down, we headed for the bus. After driving 8 hours to get there, it was a long day. It is always good to take in a Major League Baseball game in person, and I look forward to the next chance to see one again.

The next morning, Wednesday, we headed out of town, driving to Indianapolis, which is about a two hour drive from Cincinnati. We arrived at Benjamin Harrison's home around 10:30 to tour it, the home of the 23rd President of the United States. The tour lasted about an hour and a half, and was very detailed. The home is still in the appearance that it would have looked like when the Harrison's lived there, so it was great seeing all the rooms and how the President lived while he was there. The weather was cooler that day, and it rained off and on. After leaving the home, we headed towards Crown Hill Cemetery, where several famous people are buried,. including Harrison. We saw the graves of three Vice Presidents, a couple Civil War generals, and other notable people from history. Next, it was off to Carmel, where two fellow political collectors live, and they were both gracious enough to host dad and myself and briefly show us their amazing collections of various political items. One thing about trips my dad and I take are that we are serious when it comes to moving fast and seeing a lot, so after leaving Carmel, we headed to Lafayette, IN. There is a little town near there called Battle Ground, site of the infamous Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, where William Henry Harrison earned his nickname that would help him get elected President in 1840. This was a nicely preserved battlefield, with a very impressive monument honoring the soldiers that died there. Our first encounter with flooded creeks and rivers was here, and throughout the trip we saw rivers that had crested and overflowed their banks. After leaving the Lafayette area, we had a long drive to north central Illinois, heading to the small town of Eureka, IL where Ronald Reagan attended college. It was a three hour drive, but since we entered the central time zone, only took two. After a quick supper at a nearby Taco Bell, we pulled into Eureka around 8:00 that night, and toured a museum of Reagan items, a lot of which were given to the school by Reagan himself. They had several campaign related items that I have myself, and this was the first Reagan site we saw on the trip, so that also made it special. We then drove a short distance to El Paso, IL where we spent the night, after another long day of driving and seeing presidential sites.


Thursday morning, we left El Paso, and had about an hour and half drive to Dixon, where Ronald Reagan grew up. The weather that morning was very cool, and was around 40 degrees when we got there. The Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home is the main home the Reagan's lived in when in Dixon, and Ronald graduated high school here and served as lifeguard at nearby Lowell Park in the summers. The home is much like it was in Reagan's day there, and we saw the room him and his brother stayed in. There was also a nice statue beside the house. I also enjoyed sharing some of my Reagan buttons I had that were made with pictures of Dixon, and some of the ladies working there were highly impressed with some of the Reagan items I had. I also bought a few books and items in the gift shop there. Next, we drove down to the Rock River, where an equestrian statue of Reagan was. Crossing over the river, we saw a nice Abraham Lincoln statue, commemorating his service in the Black Hawk War in the 1830's. After a swing by Lowell Park and lunch at Jimmy John's, it was time to head to Tampico, about 30 miles to the southwest, where Reagan was born in 1911. Tampico is a very small town, but they are proud of Reagan being born there. Reagan was born above a bank, and you can currently tour it and the birthplace upstairs. There was also a nice mural of Reagan painted on a wall across the street. After spending about an hour there, it was time to move again, this time heading north along the Mississippi River and the town of Galena, IL. This town is where Ulysses S. Grant lived before the Civil War and after the war until he became President. The home that Grant resided in was open for tours, and dad and myself decided to take the time and tour it. A very informed tour guide showed us around, and the house was very impressive. Many items that Grant received during his world tour after leaving the White House are here in Galena, as well as many items he personally owned. After leaving the home, we went in to town, where the Galena Historical Museum had an exhibit on Grant, seeing many more items, including his buggy and top hat. Now, it was time to head towards Iowa. Crossing over the Mississippi, we arrived in Dyersville, town where the Field of Dreams movie was made. After checking into a hotel, we drove over to the movie site, and it still looks a lot like it did during the movie filming in the late 1980's. Dad and myself "had a catch" as Kevin Costner would ask his dad in the movie, and that was a great moment. We had dinner after that at Pizza Hut, and another long day came to an end. Iowa and southern Illinois can be considered the corn capital of the world, as we saw miles and miles of corn fields in every direction, although it was not growing yet at this time of year.

Grant home in Galena

Reagan statue in Dixon

Reagan birthplace

Reagan Boyhood home

Field of Dreams

Herbert Hoover was the first president born west of the Mississippi River, and being in Iowa anyway, it made sense to go see where he was born. There is a small town in southeastern Iowa called West Branch, and Hoover was born here in 1874. The Hoover birthplace is a national historic site, and the actual small cottage he was born in still stands. Hoover and his wife Lou are buried on a hill overlooking the birthplace, so we walked on a trail and saw it as well. Next door is the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, run by the National Archives. They had a wonderful exhibit on Hoover's life, including his time as mining engineer, food czar, Commerce Secretary, President, and Humanitarian. After leaving the library, it was time to leave Iowa. We ate lunch at a place called Grammy's, right off I-80, and it was good home cooking. Before crossing the Mississippi back into Illinois, there is a small town called Le Claire, where Antique Archaeology is located, otherwise known as the American Pickers. Mike and Frank weren't around, but it was neat to see the site made famous by the History Channel. After crossing the river, we were back in Illinois, and were just trying to find a place near Indiana to spend the night. Bloomington is above Springfield, and is where two men named Adlai Stevenson are buried. The grandfather was Grover Cleveland's second Vice President, and the grandson ran for President twice and lost to Dwight Eisenhower both times. We finally found a place to stay in Danville, about a mile from the Indiana border, and ate supper at Big Boy's.

Antique Archaeology
Hoover Library  

Hoover Birthplace

Well, by now, it was almost time to wrap up the vacation. We started Saturday morning by heading to Vincennes, Indiana, site of the old capital when it was known as the Northwest Territory. William Henry Harrison was Governor and lived here from 1800-1812. We toured Grouseland, his home, and saw many artifacts relating to Harrison and his time there. Being on the Wabash River, Vincennes was an important city in that period, and there is an impressive monument to George Rogers Clark on the river. Right across the river in Illinois is a statue dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, and it was here where his family first entered Illinois, that state where he would serve as Congressman and lawyer and spend most of his adult years. The last destination of the journey was Lincoln City, IN where Lincoln grew up after the family left Kentucky. Lincoln's mother died here and is buried on a hillside. This was a nice site and had lots to do regarding Lincoln's time here in southern Indiana. After seeing this, it was time to head to Louisville, KY where we planned to spend the night. After eating dinner at White Castle, we decided to go see Zachary Taylor's burial site again, which we had visited in 2009. We also found the Taylor home this time, located adjacent to the cemetery. It was time to get a hotel room, wrapping up another day of sightseeing in the Midwest. Sunday, it was time to head for North Carolina. We did stop in Frankfort, Kentucky's capital, to see the grave of Daniel Boone and Richard M. Johnson, Martin Van Buren's Vice President. After that, it was lunch at Steak n Shake in Huntington, WV, and then to home, where we arrived about 6:00 that evening. It was raining a lot on Sunday, but we made it safely home, and it felt like I had been gone a month. This was one of the farthest trips we had ever taken, and we put almost 2,200 miles on a rental car. Seeing all these presidential sites was very special, and it was great to be able to work in so many on one trip. I look forward to the next vacation, and I have a feeling there will be a stop at a Presidential site somewhere along the way. 


Nancy Lincoln grave
George Clark memorial

Zachary Taylor grave

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Death of a President: The Nation Mourns

                            Lincoln's Funeral Train

       One of the saddest moments in history is when the President of the United States dies unexpectedly in office. For the first 50 years of the presidency, death of a chief executive was something the country had not dealt with. In 1841, William Henry Harrison caught pneumonia while giving his inaugural address, and died on April 4, 1841, one month after taking office. The country was in shock and went into a state of mourning, as Harrison had been a war hero and greatly loved by the people. Many memorial ribbons were created honoring the late Harrison. A huge memorial was eventually erected in North Bend, OH where he presently rests, a theme that would become common for presidents who died in office. Just nine years later, another Whig, Zachary Taylor, fell ill at a July 4th celebration in Washington, and died a few days later. Once again, this sudden passing of a president sent the nation into a time of mourning. One of the biggest and most important losses of a president came in 1865, when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, the first in American history. The country had just wrapped up most of the Civil War, and victory celebrations were going on in a lot of places in the North. Lincoln's death also caused an uproar and demand for justice, which came a little later with the hanging of John Wilkes Booth's companions. The Lincoln funeral train was very long, hitting major cities in the East and Midwest, before reaching Springfield, Illinois. The second presidential assassination came in 1881, when James Garfield was gunned down at a railroad station near Washington. This death was treated much like Lincoln's, with many black ribbons and items made to honor Garfield. The White House was also draped in black cloth. Twenty years later, another president would fall to the assassin's bullet, this time William McKinley, while in Buffalo, NY. There was tremendous mourning for McKinley, and many buttons, ribbons, and memorials were made in his honor, topped off by an impressive grave site in Canton, Ohio. The next president to die in office was Warren Harding, in 1923, due to illness or heart issues. This was once again a shock to the nation, as the scandals that plagued Harding's reputation were not yet fully known. The Harding Memorial Commission was formed and headed by Calvin Coolidge, raising thousands of dollars for a memorial. Franklin D. Roosevelt was leading the country towards the end of World War II when he suddenly died while visiting Warm Springs, GA in April of 1945. Roosevelt's death was mourned not just in America, but in much of Europe. One of the most tragic presidential deaths was that of John F. Kennedy, especially at such a young age. With the age of television, Kennedy's funeral was televised, bringing millions of people into the mourning and funeral procession. Every time a president passes away, it is big news, whether they had been out of office three months or thirty years. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson shared the fate of dying on the same day, July 4, 1826, causing a rare moment in history in which two great figures die on the same day. James Monroe trailed behind Jefferson and Adams by five years, dying on July 4, 1831. John Quincy Adams was the first president to die in Washington, D.C., dying in the U.S. Capitol building. John Tyler's death was not recognized officially by the United States, as Tyler had been elected to the Confederate Congress, dying shortly after that. James K. Polk only lived three months after leaving the White House, the shortest time of any presidential retirement. Herbert Hoover lived the longest amount of time after leaving Washington, although Jimmy Carter can pass that mark in the next few months. Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan both lived to be over 90 years old. Since Richard Nixon's death, all funerals for presidents have become nationwide events and often held at Washington's National Cathedral, and all former living presidents attend. Below, I have pictured some items made for memorials or in honor of presidents. A few of these I own, and a few of them I borrowed from past auctions to show a wider variety.

                               Garfield Memorial ribbon, 1881

                                  Grant ribbon, 1885

       Warren G. Harding memorial button and ribbon

                    William McKinley memorial button

                             William H. Harrison ribbon, 1841

                               John F. Kennedy memorial button

                            Warren Harding's funeral in Marion, OH

         Dwight D. Eisenhower's funeral, National Cathedral

                                  Franklin D. Roosevelt's funeral

John F. Kennedy's funeral

 William McKinley's funeral

The living presidents at Ronald Reagan's funeral, 2004

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Joys of Attending an APIC Show

One of the greatest thrills of attending an American Political Items Collectors/Conservators (APIC) show is the chance to get to know fellow collectors better and to spend quality time with people who share the same passions of collecting political memorabilia. This weekend, it was Greensboro, NC that witnessed a large group of collectors from around the country come into to town to trade, sell, and buy political items. It was an honor to have our current APIC president, Chris Hearn, attend, along with all the other APIC members who made this show an enjoyable experience. One of the highlights of the weekend was having some of Chris Olmstead's items on display, some of the rarest buttons in the hobby. There was an entire frame of Charles E. Hughes items that he displayed as well as a case with some rare Teddy Roosevelt, John Davis, James Cox, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and William H. Taft buttons. I have included pictures of a lot of these rare items. The weekend started off with the traditional hospitality room, in which show coordinator and Region 7 VP Charlie Hertlein offers up his wife's famous meatballs, along with other delicacies. After everyone had their fill of food and talking with other collectors, it was time to room hop. Several dealers open up their rooms and give a preview of things to come, and this is a good time to buy a few buttons before the general public sees them on Saturday. One nice thing about most sellers is that they don't have prices on their items, so they may be flexible on the asking price, or give you a discount if you buy several items from the same seller. When it finally came time for the main event on Saturday, I was more than looking forward to the bourse. I could tell it would be a great show when I walked in to the ball room and saw wall to wall of riker mounts and cases of buttons, posters, ribbons, tabs, plates, sheet music, and 3-D items. It was a nice site to see all the collectors enjoying themselves by mingling with fellow collectors and seeing what deals they could find and add to their collections. Another treat was having former Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode attend the show, and he is also running for President for the Constitution Party. I believe this was one of the better shows that have been held in Greensboro, and I want to thank Charlie Hertlein and the others who planned the show and made it a success. This show is one of the highlights of my year and I am already counting down to next years show: 364 days away!

Monday, February 13, 2012

"Where do you get all your Campaign Items?"

One of the most asked questions I receive when people find out about my hobby is, "Where did you get that" or "How did you find out that the button was for sale" and "Is that expensive." I will admit, as a newcomer to the hobby, roughly 85% of my items have been bought on eBay. eBay is an amazing resource for campaign items of all types, ranging from $1 to $15,000 for some rare items. You can easily search for items on ebay and there are constantly thousands of campaign items on the site. One does have to be careful though, because many fake items end up for sale on ebay. The remaining 15% of my items have come through a combination of ways: internet auction sites, other collectors, and shows. Attending an American Political Items Collectors show can be a great experience, and you get to mingle with others who share the passion of collecting items. Prices at shows can sometimes run a tad high, but the upside is that dealers at shows often have lots of items that would rarely show up on ebay, so you may pay a little more but for items tougher to find. Auction sites are a great place to buy items as well, especially because the items are guaranteed to be authentic, so that relieves some of the problems of ordering stuff on eBay. Some great auction sites are Old Politicals, Anderson American, and Historicana Auctions. Hake's also does an auction, and so does Heritage, but they can run at the high end of the hobby and normally only deal in rare items. Buying or trading with fellow collectors is also a good way to get new items, and like the auction sites, more often then not the items will be 100% real and authentic. Sites such as Political Parade, Amres, The Political Banner, and others are great places to go to. Some dealers have their own websites, such as Lori Ferber, Legacy Americana, and I can say I have ordered at least one item from all of these sellers and they are all very committed to the hobby and quickly fill orders. For 2012 campaign items, it is getting tough to find buttons, but sites like Zazzle and Cafe Press make them, although some in the hobby consider these vendor buttons and not really campaign buttons. Overall, ebay is the best place for someone starting out to buy campaign items, but it might take a while to get the hang of it. There has been a few times where I got into a bidding war with someone else who really wanted the item and I ended up paying more than I should, and a lot of times the item will show up later again on eBay. Below, I have pictured some of my best eBay finds and the best items I have bought on eBay.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sending the Candidates through the Mail: Postcards

With the invention of the United States Postal Service and stamps and postcards, it was made possible to mail someone a card showing a presidential candidate. Most of these appear after 1900, ranging from William Jennings Bryan through the present, although there are a few examples from candidates before 1900. Before the age of computers and telephones, the most effective way for the general public to talk to each other was through the mail, and come election season, you might find a postcard with the likes of William Taft, Woodrow Wilson, or Warren Harding in your mailbox. A few postcards that I have that are used are generally just a brief paragraph discussing something going on in the person's life, while no mention is made of trying to influence the receiver in voting for the candidate shown on the postcard. However, what better way to show who you support than by mailing someone a postcard that has the candidate pictured on it. Postcards are often neatly designed and very colorful, sometimes showing the presidential and vice presidential candidate or a catchy phrase or slogan. Some of the classics are "We Will Win With Woodrow Wilson" or "Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge" just to name a few. Postcards in the hobby are highly collectible, and some of the rarer ones are quite costly. The one setback for postcards can be the condition issue, since paper does not hold up well over one hundred years, often exposed to moisture or water. Finding one in clean and crisp form from the early 1900's is tough, but minor wear does not greatly effect the value. As for stamps, there are few of them that were actually used during the campaign. Most are commemorative and came out after a president died. There are some "seals" that could be used to put on the envelope you were mailing, but were not actual postage. I have pictured a few of the older postcards I have, and notice the designs and message behind them. Most do not just show the candidates, but try to perhaps sway a voter's mind.