Smithsonian curators hunt for museum-quality Obama artifacts





WASHINGTON –- Gone are the huge crowds for President Barack Obama's inauguration. Left behind is political junk fit for a museum.

Larry Bird and Harry Rubenstein, two curators from the National Museum of American History, collected dozens of objects, from hats and homemade signs to buttons and other paraphernalia, to tell the story of the first black president to future generations.

"You really felt that you were part of something that was bigger than yourself," said Bird. He ventured out Tuesday and combed through the million-plus crowd to find unique items the museum could use.

People wrapped themselves in Obama blankets. Vendors sold every Obama button imaginable. It's a moment that curators might need to capture someday in an exhibit, so they've been working to collect as many as 100 different Obama items...

Official items from inaugural organizers will also join objects the museum has collected in recent weeks, such as the Obama action figure and an Obama periscope to help people get a glimpse of the president from the massive crowd. They will be added to a collection of about 90,000 political history objects that includes a sign from Thomas Jefferson's inauguration that reads "John Adams is no more" and Abraham Lincoln's top hat worn when he was assassinated.

"The rule of thumb that we use is anything that's made to be a collectible isn't," Bird said.

So the museum focuses on collecting things that people make and wear. And it takes some guess work as to what will be historically significant years later.

"To be able to get it at that moment, to say it came from this spot, this moment, this place in time — that's what we want," Bird said.

The first few Obama items will go on view this weekend in the museum's "The American Presidency" exhibit — perhaps a novelty Obama license plate or a toy train in the exhibit's inauguration case, Rubenstein said.


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