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Collector Says Memorabilia Helps Americans Remember Political History

  • Siri Nyrop

Technology has changed the way presidential candidates campaign for the White House. But their goal is the same as it has been since America's first presidential election: attracting voters to choose one particular candidate. VOA's Siri Nyrop recently visited a man who collects political memorabilia from past elections featuring memorable - and not so memorable - presidential candidates.

One of America's best-known political symbols - "Uncle Sam" - greets visitors at The McGinn Group in Virginia. The walls transform the offices into a museum of presidential campaign history.

The objects on display and the head of the consulting firm, Dan McGinn, share an important characteristic, he says, "What they have most in common [It is a passion! This is about commitment: the commitment of a person, of a campaign team, of a cause, so as you walk through my office, you see the passions that played out."

Sometimes the names alone were enough to reach the voters. Among the memoabilia is a gift handkerchief that presidential nominee Woodrow Wilson gave to supporters, and another that marked his election to the highest office in the land.

There is a collection of commemorative plates, including one of James Garfield, who died within months of becoming president in 1881. There are posters rallying support for causes, and mementos from long forgotten people who once aspired to greatness.

"I want something with a story. So I have items from inaugurations, from failed campaigns. I also want to reflect the breadth of American politics. What I have doesn't reflect my own views, I'm not trying to show a partisan view, I want to show how diverse American politics has been, how nasty it has been in the past, even if we think it's only today. I want stories of the major events and turns in American history. Those are the qualities I look for," McGinn said.

This ballot box was used in the 1940 election with the names of voters neatly written.

Some of McGinn's memorabilia demonstrates candidates' efforts to connect with voters - a tradition this year's presidential candidates continue. "This is a very good campaign for a lot of reasons," McGinn said.

“The first serious African-American candidate who could win the nomination, the first woman who could win the nomination, the first Mormon. This campaign broke all kinds of barriers - the first candidate who lost 100 pounds, the first one over the age of 70. So for some items, there will be a lot of collection value this season,” he added.

Dan McGinn looks forward to adding new political mementos from this latest chapter of American political history.

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