By Jenna Fitzgerald | Copy Editor
From bobbleheads to Bigfoot, the office of Dr. Tony Talbert has it all.
Talbert, who is currently a professor in the School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, said his passion for collecting started when he was a child, searching for bottles and baseball cards. This interest only grew when he became a middle and high school social studies teacher in 1986, looking for political buttons and accumulating almost 2,500 in the 36 years that have passed since then.
“Particularly if you’re a social studies or history or political science teacher, you collect,” Talbert said. “Many, many, many years ago, probably when I was an undergrad, I just started going to places like garage sales, and you would find the most wonderful political buttons, and I would use them in my classroom. I started searching for more and more artifacts and more and more things that became real.”
Over time, Talbert broadened his search from political buttons to political memorabilia in general — items that can be seen all throughout his office, from his numerous bookshelves to his custom display cases. He has a variety of campaign pieces, including bobbleheads, bumper stickers, watches, beer cans, scarves and elephant and donkey whiskey decanters. One of his most prized collectibles, though, is a ticket and menu from the luncheon that former President John F. Kennedy was supposed to arrive at in Dallas before he was assassinated.
“It’s those kind of things now that I collect — something that’s not only part of a political campaign, but there’s a stamp in history,” Talbert said. “Only the thousand people were invited on that day to be in this luncheon, and of those thousand people, how many didn’t keep their ticket?”
However, Talbert doesn’t limit his collection to political things. In the corner of his office is a pot holding 13 canes or staffs. Along with the 30 to 40 others he has in his home, these canes or staffs all have a story. For example, one of them belonged to Strom Thurmond, a former governor and senator from South Carolina, and another was made by ‘Danville Dan,’ a transient he encountered in Ackerman, Miss., who signed his creation with his email.
“There was a guy who was sitting in the middle of this little courtyard, and he was just whittling,” Talbert said. “I walked over and asked him what he was doing. He said, ‘I’ve been coming through here for years,’ and he told me his story about riding trains — largely homeless but quite happy, it seemed. He told me his story of being the ‘hobo’ or the train-riding culture. I asked him if I could buy that from him. He said, ‘Sure.’”
In addition, Talbert has a variety of eccentric items. A large metal pig named ‘King Curtis’ sits below his desk — that is, when it isn’t making excursions to appear in the offices of other professors. His bookshelves and cabinets also hold various alien games and figurines, and just a few steps away, a two-foot statue of Bigfoot greets people as they walk through the door.
“My family and I, when our two sons were small, went to these [Bigfoot] festivals,” Talbert said. “We thought it was so interesting that groups of people would come together over things like Bigfoot, Sasquatches, aliens. Literally, we would go searching out just to go watch the people, and it became fascinating that people’s lives were built around Bigfoot or around aliens.”
Talbert said he always has his eyes open for collectibles, whether he’s exploring a garage sale, walking around a metal workshop or looking through an airplane catalog.
“I find things like this at garage sales, estate sales,” Talbert said. “In the case of [the Kennedy ticket], I was staying at a bed and breakfast, and my wife and I got to talking with the owner, and the owner said, ‘I want to show you something.’ She brought out this chest filled with Kennedy memorabilia. Her father had worked on the Kennedy campaign in Texas, and she gave me this chest full of lots of good things.”
While his office is chock full of political memorabilia and eccentric items, Talbert said his favorite part of his office is a folk art painting hanging on the wall. The painting depicts an older couple, who his parents knew, standing in front of their land. Even though the couple was fairly poor, they invited Talbert’s father and mother over to their home every week, showing great hospitality and care.
“They had very little, and they gave everything they had,” Talbert said. “They cared so much for those around them. They considered it a celebration when they could have this young pastor and his wife in their home. And it reminds me of how grateful I should be, just of all the wonderfulness that I’ve been given in my life. But it also reminds me that I need to constantly give back and constantly find ways to find joy in sharing.”
Ultimately, Talbert said his collection represents a way to connect with others and learn more about history. He said “other people’s junk or curiosities” cost very little yet bring a lot of joy.
“Artifacts are these wonderful connections to people — people we never have known, cultures we may not understand or have lived among, people who may have been dear to us,” Talbert said. “The conversation never ends as long as you collect and appreciate what’s left behind. You can kind of dig behind the story; you find out that so-called ‘hobos’ have email addresses, or you find out that the person who collected the Kennedy ticket on that day was perhaps even in line for a position in government.”