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Campaigns run forever for collector of memorabilia
The Rev. Dan Bremer shows off some of his collection of campaign memorabilia. - photo by For The Times

It seems like the 2008 election campaign already has lasted a decade, but it's just getting started.
We've been exposed to the presidential candidates, but whoever is nominated by the parties won't be the only ones on the ballot. State and local elections will soon try to elbow their way into the campaign landscape.

The Rev. Dan Bremer, a Hall County Baptist minister, is a collector of many things, but political campaign material is his forte. He can spread out buttons, banners, posters, brochures and other items from elections from Ulysses Grant's time to today's.

Before television, candidates might have relied more on catchy campaign slogans plastered on signs, buttons or other media. These would be handed out by the armload at rallies, barbecues or other campaign stops. Many remain in somebody's dresser drawer, a cardboard box in the attic, or in Bremer's case, in his basement or garage. He has no idea how many campaign buttons, for instance, he has, nor does he know the value of the entire collection.

Bremer doesn't discriminate among parties or politicians. He's got posters from Cynthia McKinney, former Georgia congresswoman, and David Duke, the white supremacist who ran for president. One of Duke's buttons read, "Vote for David Duke - It's the White Thing To Do." And another: "If you liked Hitler, you'll love David Duke."

"I'm not trying to promote any agenda," Bremer says. "It's history."

Jesse Jackson's campaign material in his runs for president also is in the collection. He has various political plunder from most of the recent presidential and Georgia gubernatorial campaigns.

Eugene Talmadge memorabilia is among the most popular among Georgia collectors because it is among the rarest. Bremer has some from Talmadge's last campaign in 1940, including a dinner plate. He bought never-played vinyl recordings of Talmadge's victory speeches in the 1940s, along with son Herman and his campaign songs from the Leta Braselton estate. She was secretary for both Eugene and Herman Talmadge for many years.

Bremer is most proud of a button marking President Franklin Roosevelt's dedication of what was then called Gainesville's Civic Center in March 1938, not to be confused with the same-named building adjacent to City Park. The civic center at that time comprised the city hall and courthouse rebuilt after the 1936 tornado in line with the Federal Building, built earlier.

Hoyt Perdue, who owned Perdue's Newsstand, gave the button to him. It displays a reproduction of the plaque that is on a monument in Roosevelt Square in downtown Gainesville.

Matchbooks promoting candidates once were popular, but rare in today's nearly nonsmoking environment. Matchbook covers from campaigns past are rare, too, but Bremer has his share of them.

Today's candidates give out emery boards, thimbles, pencils, pens, T-shirts, letter openers, refrigerator magnets, bumper stickers and even golf balls to prospective voters.

Bremer's collection includes a rare watch fob from one of Teddy Roosevelt's campaigns. "Flicker" buttons, which show a different image or message by turning them a certain way, include those from George Wallace, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson.

He organizes and frames some of his buttons, such as a Georgia section that features local and state candidates. In Ohio, he bought a frame full of "Hustle for Russell" buttons, referring to the late U.S. Sen. Richard Russell. He has a Herbert Hoover tie pin and a rare 1902 Old Copperhead Party pin made from an Indian head penny.

His Lester Maddox collection includes an autographed ax handle, for which the former governor became famous trying to defend his segregated Atlanta restaurant.

Al Smith, Bo Callaway, Newt Gingrich, Independent Party candidate Tom McCrary of Gainesville, Wendell Wilkie, Al Gore, Carl Sanders, Bo Ginn, Bert Lance, Zell Miller, Sam Nunn, Hal Suit and Spiro Agnew are among the numerous other names from the past that adorn campaign literature and memorabilia that fill Bremer's home.

This year's campaign probably will have him looking for an unoccupied corner to store a brand new season of campaign clutter that might be valuable in years to come.

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Correction: Margaret Wilson, daughter of President Woodrow Wilson, was born in the Warren Brown home on Gainesville's South Bradford Street. Another daughter, Jessie, was born in the Piedmont Hotel, according to the Longstreet Society, which named a room for her in the restored building.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on First published March 16, 2008.