Smithsonian Curators Scout for Obama Artifacts

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — As crowds descended and the inauguration unfolded, a few museum curators in Washington kept watch for symbols and messages that would make history.

    The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture will open during President Barack Obama‘s second term, and one section will feature a large display about the first black president. Curators have been working since 2008 to gather objects, documents and images that capture his place in history.

    Curator William Pretzer ventured into the crowd Monday, mostly looking for memorabilia that had a personal touch — beyond the T-shirts and buttons hawked by vendors. Pretzer was most interested in handmade items, but he didn’t find much.

    “There’s so much commercially produced stuff that people don’t go to the trouble anymore,” he said. “It’s the personal expression, as opposed to the commercial” that the museum most wants to display.

    Among the masses of people, Ollie Parham, 55, and her fellow travelers stood out in their bright yellow Alabama NAACP sweatshirts. She rode all night in a tour bus, nearly 19 hours from Huntsville, Ala., to witness Obama’s oath-taking.

    Pretzer told her about the museum’s collection effort and asked whether Parham might donate any memorabilia later. She said she would think about it; she had another all-night drive home to get through first.

    Shortly afterward, the curator stopped Larry Holmes, 56, of Washington, who was waving an American flag with an inauguration seal imprinted on the stripes. Holmes bought a similar souvenir flag at Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Pretzer took Holmes’ picture and handed him a donation card, in case he might donate the flags later.

    When Peggy Shamley Christian, a retired teacher from Chesapeake, Va., heard about the collection effort, she dug through her purse to find an Obama magnet. Pretzer gladly accepted the tiny gift.

    Christian said she worked to mobilize voters for Obama’s re-election and was thrilled to celebrate the inaugural.

    “It just makes me feel like I’m a part of something wonderful,” she said.

    “Instead of being considered a second-class citizen, we all have it going on now,” added Christian, who is black. “We all can stand up and be proud.”

    Keeping an eye out for the unusual, Pretzer spotted a man pulling two life-sized cutouts of the president and first lady on a cart through the crowd. He flagged down Ian Davis, 43, of Baltimore and asked whether he might donate the cutouts later.

    Davis had been allowing visitors to take pictures with the “Obamas” for a donation.

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