Burb's Eye View: The library books an army of presidents

Any day now, Richard Nixon and Herbert Hoover will arrive at David Peterson's doorstep.

At his Burbank home they'll join the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and Thomas Jefferson — most of the presidents, really, in a collection of figurines that includes nearly every U.S. presidency since George Washington.

Peterson's collection includes dolls, caricatured sculpture, and yes, even Nixon and Hoover Bobbleheads.

Though his collection of 100 or so presidential replicas grows every year, there are a few still missing.

“Millard Fillmore and John Tyler don't tend to get a lot of good press,” Peterson said.

The unusual collection started in the mid-1980s with a gift from an ex-girlfriend. Now, all Peterson's friends know him as the history buff with the army of plastic presidents. It's a collection he'll share with the whole city at the Burbank Public Library over the next two months.

The collection will be on display on the main floor of the library and is one of several politically themed features at the library through November. A special collection of presidential biographies will also be available next month, similar to the “These United States” series that piqued Peterson's presidential interests as a youth.

“At one point in time, these people were the focal point of the U.S. government,” Peterson said. “Some are legends … and some of these people are very obscure. But at one point in time, they were all very, very important.”

Take William McKinley, a president known well in my hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., because he was shot there. Or William Henry Harrison, who delivered an 8,000-word inaugural address without a coat on in the cold of a Washington, D.C., winter and died a month later from pneumonia. And there was the prolific whiskey manufacturer known as George Washington.

But you don't have to take my word for it. You can ask him about it yourself.

At 7 p.m. on Oct. 3, Washington reenactor Frederick T. Alexander will deliver a program at the library on Washington's life in 1776 and 1783, the beginning and ending dates of the Revolutionary War.

The first half will cover the Declaration of Independence and the true meaning of its charter (“Not the holy writ which it's turned into,” he says), then he will explain how Washington retired from being the general of the army and returned to civilian life.

Though his presentation will be centered on the historical aspects of the war and not venture into political territory, Alexander will often mix it up when speaking to Republican or tea party groups about the “Destruction of the American Republic.”

“I have a program that's like stickin' a dagger in 'em,” Alexander said.

Throughout October, the library will offer booklets of presidential trivia and its presidential reading list. The booklets have evolved over the years from a few quick snippets on the nation's leaders to near biographies.

“They're just flyin' like hotcakes — everyone wants one of these little booklets about the presidents,” said Louise Paziak, head of Programs & Publicity at the library.

While Peterson, a library volunteer, has helped work on the booklets, his quirky collection should provide an air of kitsch in a season where, let's face it, it's hard to take either side too seriously most of the time.

“In the context of what they dealt with, successfully or not, you get a mini-snapshot of where things were in that point of time,” Peterson said of studying presidents throughout history. “You see the development of political parties, the issues of the day.”

And in our day, I have lived to see the creation of the presidential Pez dispenser.

BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he isn't procuring a Pez-ident, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter @818NewGuy.

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