It may have come with some embarrassment to now retired Hailey attorney John Chapman, 75, when the man who provided his ticket to the 1956 Democratic National Convention in Chicago to be a page lost the nomination to presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. The man was Sun Valley Resort founder William Averell Harriman, and Chapman was an 18-year-old bellboy at the Sun Valley Lodge. He got the opportunity to attend the convention through connections made by his father and uncle, who had both “read the law” in Hailey, became accomplished trial attorneys in the Magic Valley and were politically active. Stevenson lost the election to his Republican rival, Dwight D. Eisenhower, but Chapman got to carry the Democratic banner and gained a hobby of collecting political buttons with the experience.
“When my father died I found a tin full of political buttons,” Chapman said in an interview at his ranch on the Big Wood River just north of Hailey. “I was a DNC committeeman from 1974 to 1984. Every four years I collect buttons. I get really excited getting buttons from friends who don’t collect.”
Much of Chapman’s collection is now on display at the Sun Valley Ski and Heritage Museum in Ketchum for the election season. Chapman has been involved with the Democratic Party all his adult life. As a result, he traveled often to help with committee business such as writing platforms. As a member of his party’s executive committee representing 11 Western cities, he got to meet with Bill Clinton, who was representing the governor’s conference, and Nancy Pelosi, who was representing Congress during the Jimmy Carter years. As a result of all his political activity over the years, Chapman has had access to many interesting buttons, including his favorites, “jugates,” which feature a complete ticket with presidential and vice-presidential candidates pictured together on the same button.
Chapman has buttons featuring John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, Hubert Humphrey, and Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro, to name a few.
“It makes them more expensive,” Chapman said.
But he said he has paid for very few buttons over the years. People trade buttons at political events, which adds to those he has collected through friends. A cousin visiting from California just delivered some new buttons, including a Romney and Ryan jugate. Yes, Chapman has collected buttons from both sides of the aisle.
“We are a democracy, and both parties are important to a successful democracy,” he said. “I like to represent both. I make a point of being bipartisan. It is the only way to approach collecting.”
Visitors to the museum, like the students Chapman hopes will take away a history lesson about U.S. presidents from his collection, may have already seen Hailey founding father Joe Fuld’s collection of buttons at the Blaine County Museum in Hailey, but Chapman insists that there is not much duplication between the collections.
Chapman has some unique buttons to share, including one that simply says, “No Third Term Roosevelt.” One of Chapman’s buttons that won’t be in the Heritage Museum on display is a picture of candidate Abraham Lincoln in 1860 when he won the Republican nomination and the presidency. That one will be left in a safe deposit box for a future generation to appreciate when studying the political struggles of the 16th president of the United States.