Thursday, June 14, 2012

Raccoons in politics?

As I was selecting artifacts to supplement the traveling exhibition Campaigns & Cartoons, I came across a beverage set with the image of a raccoon on the pitcher and glasses.  The database said "used during the 1896 campaign of William McKinley."

The database included a photo of the set.  From the image, I could only see the raccoon.  I assumed it said "McKinley" or "Sound Money" or something else familiar on the back.  Went I went to storage to pull it for the exhibit, I realized it had no words on it.  Just the image of a raccoon, thumbing its nose.  Strange.

I started to do some research about raccoons and politics, but didn't find anything in a quick search.  We were in the middle of field trip season, so I put it aside and continued working on the exhibit in between greeting schools and helping them get from place to place throughout the day.

Several weeks later, Chris was working on a video for me to put in the exhibit.  I wanted to show more campaign and inauguration photos than I could fit on the panels I was making.  He had some images scanned from our collection for his outreach programs that I didn't have, so I told him to use both sets of photos to make the video.

He called me over to his office to view the finished product.  As I watched the images go by, I saw one of a campaign pin with McKinley's name on it AND that same raccoon!

I was knee-deep in exhibit prep by then, so I asked Chris to look into it for me.  I had a space in one of the cases where I needed something big, so I was really hoping he could find something about what this raccoon was doing on McKinley-related artifacts.

He found enough information for me to write the following label:

Raccoons in Politics

By McKinley’s 1896 campaign, the image of a raccoon thumbing its nose at the opposition had become a well-known symbol of the Republican party.  It was first used in the 1840s in reference to Henry Clay as “That Same Old Coon.”  It was last used in 1964 on a Barry Goldwater pin.

These raccoon artifacts are currently on display in the Keller Gallery.  The exhibit closes September 30, so come in and see it this summer!

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