Museum docent June Hannon, the one in charge of gathering all the material, gave me a personal tour last Friday. June, who was raised in Oakland and moved to Contra Costa County in 1962, is well-known as an enthusiastic Republican, but where the exhibit is concerned she's strictly nonpartisan.
The room off the main entrance holds information on the 20th-century presidents. June tried to display informal photographs of each one: Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir are shown hiking in Yosemite; Woodrow Wilson is tossing out a baseball to open the season, the president who began this tradition. Calvin Coolidge stands next to a car, since he was the first president to campaign by car; President Truman poses with the Chicago Daily Tribune declaring "Dewey Defeats Truman." Richard Nixon is escorting his daughter Tricia as a bride in the White House; Ronald Reagan is on a horse.
Gen. Eisenhower is shown speaking to troops about to launch the D-Day invasion. "Dwight David Eisenhower was more proud of being a general than of being president," said June. She was an "I Like Ike" girl, and a mannequin displays her "I like Ike" dress, which she wore along with a group of girls to campaign all over Alameda County on the back of a flatbed truck. "There were thousands of 'I like Ike' girls around the United States," she told me.
Another wall shows the First Ladies in the formal portraits they themselves chose to hang in the White House. We had fun chatting about why each First Lady chose to portray herself as she did; we agreed that Eleanor Roosevelt's was the nicest. Edith (Mrs. Woodrow) Wilson chose to show herself at a tea party.
Jack Hamel, whose father was a state senator in Ohio, did some of the displays. He recalled that as a boy he'd always wanted to go inside a voting booth so he managed to borrow one from the 1930s-40s. He also came up with the idea of kids voting for their favorite ice cream, made the ballots, and put up campaign signs reading "Kids love strawberry!" and "Vote for change, vote rocky road." When County Clerk Steve Weir visited the exhibit he noted that campaign signs weren't allowed that close to the polls - but in this case he made an exception.
The exhibit in the main room has a table setting from the Sacramento governor's mansion, which was vacated by the Reagans and is now the Governor's Mansion Museum. After much finagling it loaned our Museum the place setting. Perhaps it helped that the china had been made in a factory owned by June's father, Frank Ransom, who made it for Gov. Goodwin Knight in 1958.
The display includes details of Danville and San Ramon's many attempts at incorporation. It also highlights our early Congressman John Baldwin, who was born and raised in Danville, and displays a gown worn by his wife to a White House dinner honoring the Shah of Iran in 1962. Some fun photos show local folks with former presidents, including a young and dapper looking Danville Councilman Mike Doyle with JFK. A 1904 Contra Costa County Index to Voters shows an array of names we recognize as our major streets; these voters were, needless to say, all men.
As June said, "Politics is in the air - and at the museum." The display comes down Sept. 28 the Indians of the Valley exhibit that gets visited by every fourth-grade class in the school district. So hurry down to the Museum (in the old train depot, on the corner of Railroad Avenue and Prospect in Danville) to learn about the history of politics locally, statewide and nationally - in a nonpartisan way.
-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.
This story contains 688 words.
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