Barack Obama has taken over two rooms of Carl Peterson’s Yelm home.
Not the president himself, of course. But stuff with his image on it – everything from a Barack Obama lava lamp to a “Spiderman Meets the President” comic book.
If the president’s picture is on it, Peterson probably has it. Or wishes he did.
He’s never counted the number of items in his collection of Obama artifacts. But the stuff now covers his dining room table, living room floor and couch, and Peterson is starting to get worried.
“I need to get my home back,” Peterson says. “I want to ask (News Tribune) readers if they have any suggestions on how to preserve the paper products, and how to display (the collection) without packing it away.”
Like many Americans, Peterson sat up and took notice of Obama after watching him speak at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Afterward, Obama made the cover of Jet Magazine, which has been chronicling black America since 1951. Peterson bought the Obama issue.
“I held onto it because he was so electrifying,” says Peterson. He sensed that this politician from Illinois was going places. He just wasn’t sure where.
Peterson started stopping by bookstores, and whenever he saw Obama on a magazine cover, he bought it.
He isn’t sure how much he’s spent on Obama objects during the past five years, but he estimates it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of $800.
His collection includes predictable items: magazines, more than 40 campaign buttons, posters, mugs and hats. And then there are the tabloids with headlines that scream about the “Obama love child scandal” or the president’s “ruthless wife.”
Peterson saved newspapers that covered the presidential election debates, Election Day, Inauguration Day and more.
Peterson has Obama trading cards and playing cards, T-shirts, watches, candy, a calendar, clock, jigsaw puzzle, Halloween mask, and even a talking Obama doll that speaks with the president’s recorded voice.
Peterson remembers buying his Obama sneakers from a vendor in Seattle, and he got the cupcake with the president’s picture on it from a bakery there.
The former educator, who retired in 2004 as assistant principal at Bethel High School, has always been a collector. He has about 80 African-American Santa Claus statues stacked in one corner of his home, and a complete collection of state quarters – plus coins for Guam and the District of Columbia – on a green velvet display board in a frame.
“Once you start collecting, people start giving you things,” he says.
That’s the way it’s been with his Obama collection, too.
An artist gave him a caricature he drew of the president. Friends bought him Obama soap, hats and other items.
Two friends gave him Obama condoms. They come in a package stamped with the president’s picture and the admonition to “Use good judgment.”
Peterson is certain his accumulation of Obama objects will one day have historical value, since they are connected to the nation’s first black president.
Peterson, who describes himself as “60ish,” says black people of his generation had given up on the idea of seeing an African-American president.
“Not in my lifetime,” was the typical comment.
“We had gotten into the habit (of dismissing the possibility) without even thinking,” Peterson says.
Peterson has never met Obama, although he did attend a monster campaign rally in Portland that drew an estimated 75,000 people in May 2008. He had to walk forever just to get to the end of the line.
“The energy in the crowd was just amazing,” Peterson remembers. “Good feelings. And warmth.”
Peterson loves to share his collection with friends and neighbors – even though he knows some are not Obama fans.
“When I have guests, I keep it nonpolitical,” he says. “I just tell them to enjoy it.”
He says he’s had to referee at least one marital disagreement, after his collection inspired a wife to reveal her vote for Obama to an unpleasantly surprised husband.
Peterson would like to put his collection on display for the public, at least once. He especially would love for students to be able to see the small bit of history he’s amassed.
Peterson obviously is a fan of the man in the White House. He’s worried that the president has lost some of his momentum this summer over the debate on health care, but he’s confident Obama’s confidence will return.
“People need to give him a chance,” Peterson says.
“He’s the president of the United States of America. My wish is that he stays safe, and that all the country accepts him.”
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635