Exhibit exposes election losers

In time for the upcoming presidential election, Gelman Library presents a new exhibit showcasing the losers of past presidential campaigns.

The exhibit, titled Bright Stars through the Perilous Fight: Men and Women Who Would Be President, opened Oct. 2 and will continue until Jan. 26, shortly after the next president enters office.

The display features campaign paraphernalia from failed campaigns dating back to the Andrew Jackson-John Quincy Adams contests of the 1820s.

Not a lot of people have a collection like this, said Gary Cohen, who co-owns the exhibit with his brother, Steven.

Cohen’s collection features items handed out by candidates, including neckties, straight razors, potholders and ink blotters – each of which appealed to specific segments of voters.

Candidates lured male voters by offering razors, while others catered to women voters by giving away potholders and nail files after they received the right to vote in 1920.

These items were very much a part of the people’s lives, and modern people don’t use some anymore, said Bernadette Boucher, the exhibit’s curator.

Cohen’s penchant for campaign paraphernalia started in 1964, when he collected buttons from Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign in his hometown of Great Neck, N.Y. This began his lifelong interest in collecting memorabilia.

Some of his memorabilia is humorous. A ruler from Republican Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign bares the slogan, Goldwater, a leader not a ruler.

A birthday card with a picture of Reform Party Candidate Ross Perot reads, Go out and have yourself a terrific birthday. The inside reads, Who needs a party, mocking his third-party affiliation during the 1996 election.

Other memorabilia adopt a more serious political message.

Women made political statements by putting together quilts, Boucher said.

Cohen referred to this collection of quilts as crazy quilts, which showcase women’s political efforts women gained the franchise. Most feature a political ribbon sewn in the middle of bright fabrics.

Memorabilia that is valuable today is related to a visit or a dinner or is brought to conventions by delegates of the local state, Cohen said.

Cohen began collecting campaign paraphernalia from this year’s presidential campaigns at the Republican Convention in Philadelphia. Although he was unable to attend the Democratic National Convention, he said friends assisted him in collecting memorabilia.

When Boucher began the display, she contacted both the Republican and Democratic National Committees to get her material from this year’s campaigns.

The Republicans sent anti-Gore material, and the Democrats sent nothing, she said.

Still, Boucher said she maintained her objectivity when composing material for the display. The exhibit will feature a wall dedicated to the loser, whether it is Texas Gov. George W. Bush or Vice President Al Gore, and will be available for viewing Jan. 20-26.

Until the Gelman exhibit, Cohen said he had never showed off his wares before and he is happy GW gave him the opportunity.

Boucher said the opportunity is even better in an election year, when showcasing politics just makes sense.

The Smithsonian will open an exhibit Nov. 15, titled The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden, said Valesa Hilbig, senior associate in the Office of Public Affairs at the Smithsonian.

The exhibit will run permanently, which means here 10 years, she said, and will feature 500 objects from campaigning to the role of the American presidency, Hilbig said. But it will only focus on election winners, she said.

-Jason Steinhardt contributed to this report.

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