With the 2016 Presidential election today, we at the UT Tyler Archives and Special Collections Department have set up an exhibit celebrating the campaign trails of past elections from the 1896 election to the most recent 2012 election. Located on the second floor of the Robert R. Muntz Library, the exhibit showcases a variety of items from the Tim Anthony Jackson Collection. Mr. Tim Anthony Jackson was a local news reporter in Tyler in the late 1970s that collected American political and cultural artifacts. He unfortunately passed away as a result of a tragic car accident, but his estate has generously donated his collection to the Muntz Library. The collection contains nearly 4,000 items directly relating to presidential campaigns of the Twentieth Century including everything from buttons, clothing, literature, board games, masks, puppets, post cards, music, and other novelties.
The exhibit is separated into three shelves dedicated to various items on each shelf. The top shelf shows political toys and whimsical items related to certain candidates. Unfortunately, there was not enough space to include the Barack Obama Chia pet, items like the Lyndon Johnson and Obama dashboard dolls, Reagan and H.W. Bush monchichi dolls, Jimmy Carter walking peanut toy, an electronic “I Like Ike” Eisenhower elephant, and Jackie and Caroline Kennedy paper dolls are some of the few play items pulled out that are amusing for both children and adults alike, while still creating awareness for the political candidate. Even the family dog can participate in the political scene by playing with the Bill Clinton or Bob Dole squeaky toy. Clothing items can also be considered a toy item, especially if they are as comical as the Ronald and Nancy Reagan slippers with them tucked into bed.
The middle shelf of the exhibit is predominantly devoted to political campaign buttons but also include other miscellaneous items such as a horn from the 1896 McKinley parade, a Goldwater soda can, pencils with candidate face erasers, matches, and a Jimmy Carter vinyl record. Political buttons are the most widely recognizable forms of political memorabilia. Advertising everything from campaign slogans, to portraits, to satirical cartoons, buttons are diverse in size, shape and appearance. Ribbons with pin backs have also been used to a lesser degree, but still manage to show support to a presidential nominee. The buttons also highlight other members of the political landscape: those who ultimately lost the election. These figures include William Jennings Bryan, Adlai Stevenson, and Ross Perot, all of whom are included in the exhibit at least once.
The bottom shelf is dedicated to literature and other various printed materials that aim to spread information regarding the potential candidate. Some are very straightforward and describe the political stance of the presidential nominee like the pamphlets of Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt, and Wilkie that discuss the policies for the nation. Other text items may be used for entertainment purposes, such as the Hillary Clinton coloring book where you can bring to life the life of the former first lady and current presidential nominee from her childhood to her road to the White House. There are also the presence of trading and playing cards and the advertisements of bubble gum cigars. Older items such as postcards and stereographs are also presented along with an LBJ photo advertisement instructing how to vote.
Public reception to the exhibit has been very positive so far and has attracted curiosity what with the presidential election on everyone’s minds. Some passers-by have left their lasting impressions describing it as “really informative” and “absolutely lovely”. Most viewers have enjoyed looking at the button display, commenting on their button addiction, how jealous they are, and how much they enjoy the politics. In regards to one McCain-Palin 2012 button, one viewer jokingly commented “I wonder who the pit bulls with lipstick will support this year!”