MOUNT VERNON — In looking at his collection of close to 400 presidential campaign pins — one is 152 years old — Pat McLatchy can’t help but share the memories the pins bring to mind.
As he looked at a Harry S. Truman pin from 1948, McLatchy recalled that as a young man he heard Truman speak at a rally.
“He ranted and raved, blew me away,” McLatchy said. “I thought ‘This guy’s a president ... so what’s he doing being a Democrat?’”
The oldest pin in McLatchy’s collection, from 1864, is a small pin for Andrew Johnson when Johnson was Abraham Lincoln’s running mate. Johnson became president after Lincoln was assassinated, and became the first president to be impeached.
Candidates from both political parties are represented, as well as some prominent third-party candidates such Ross Perot, and presidential hopefuls such as Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz.
McLatchy, who taught American history for 25 years at Skagit Valley College, has his collection on display in the college’s gym through Wednesday.
McLatchy started the collection as a child in 1940 with friend Donnelly Smith. The two would find pins at the dump in their hometown of Helena, Montana.
Though the two friends were separated when Smith’s family moved to Spokane, they kept their collection going.
“His parents were Democrats. Mine were Republicans,” McLatchy said. “So we ended up getting (pins) from both sides.”
In 1951, Smith left to fight in the Korean War, where he was killed.
“I consider this (collection) to be, as far as I know, his only memorial,” McLatchy said.
After his friend’s death, McLatchy said he continued to solicit pins from friends and party offices.
However, the pins were largely left in boxes, unorganized, until the 1960s, when McLatchy married his wife Esther. She’s the one who framed and organized the pins by year, he said.
“After I got married, I started doing it right,” he said. “It’s as much her collection at this point as it is mine.”
McLatchy said he found each pin himself or they were given to him by friends. He said buying ready-made collections online doesn’t feel authentic.
“I call this a blue-collar collection,” he said. “(Some collectors) probably spend more on a single pin than I have on my whole collection.”
Every four years while McLatchy was teaching, the college would display his collection in its gallery, said Steve Epperson, athletic director at the college.
This year, though, when the gallery didn’t have space, Epperson volunteered a trophy case in the gym.
“I think this is interesting for people to see,” he said.