Election Day

Erin Thompson '11 and Tom Kirn '09 look over the collection of political buttons on display in the rotunda of The Ames Library.

Political Campaign Memorabilia Offers Reminder of History

Nov. 4, 2008

BLOOMINGTON - All eyes are on the polls today as Illinois Wesleyan University students, faculty and staff join the rest of the world in anxiously awaiting the results of the 2008 election. A collection of campaign memorabilia dating back to 1904, which is on display in The Ames Library rotunda (1 Ames Plaza, Bloomington), offers a reminder to campus that win or lose, political campaigns are historic in their own right.

More than 100 buttons, ticket stubs and other campaign items make up the display, from a time when holographic imaging was the latest technology. Campaign buttons span the last 25 presidential contests, documenting the unsuccessful - Barry Goldwater '64, the Rev. Jesse Jackson '88 - and the victorious - Clinton-Gore '92, Bush-Cheney '00 - in equal measure.

The collection belongs to Steve Peterson, a member of Illinois Wesleyan's Physical Plant staff and self-proclaimed "political junkie." Peterson, who spent 18 years as a political commentator on a local radio station, inherited the first pieces from his grandmother but said the advent of eBay has made his collection balloon to more than 300 items.

"I used to pick up these things one at a time. I'd go into an antique store in New Orleans, and I might spend 80 dollars on an inauguration press pass," said Peterson.  "Some collectors pay thousands of dollars for a spoon used by Andrew Jackson," but Peterson likes his postcard from former President Theodore Roosevelt just fine.

In the display case, a letter to Peterson's grandfather from the former President Franklin D. Roosevelt's wife explaining where he can find an FDR campaign button frames the button itself. A Jimmy Carter pocketknife reading "Mr. Peanut for President" under a Confederate flag sits opposite a button picturing Peterson standing beside cardboard cutouts of Michael Dukakis, the Democratic candidate for President in 1988, and Jesse Jackson at the '88 Democratic Convention.

Like everyone else, Peterson has a candidate he would prefer to see elected today, but that is not the only reason he is looking forward to Nov. 5. "After the election is the best time to buy," he said. Each candidate having spent millions on campaign paraphernalia, Peterson is sure to find plenty to add to his collection.

Contact: Teresa Sherman '09 (309) 556-3181