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Christie's

Here's Your Chance to Own a Piece of Reagan-Era History

Christie's
Christie's

Conspicuous consumption was a theme of the Reagan era, so it wouldn’t be surprising to find an auction of Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s personal effects littered with high-status, high-glitter items in keeping with 1980s excess. But while the auction of Reaganobilia taking place at Christie’s later this month does feature some glitzy high points—like a diamond, sapphire, and ruby Bulgari American flag ring Nancy used when pledging allegiance—it’s more notable for its humble touches, like the horse-shaped jar of jellybeans than once sat on Reagan’s desk or the linen dinner napkins he favored, embroidered with the phrase “Mr. President.”

Bess Lovejoy

The auction includes plenty of glimpses of Reagan the man, including a set of doodles he penciled on White House stationery around 1982. Alongside cartoon characters with a Western theme, they feature two self-portraits: one of Reagan dressed up as a cowboy, and another of him in a suit. In keeping with the former president's love of Western themes, the auction also features a pair of Tony Lama-designed cowboy boots made of ostrich, cowhide, and bullfrog skin, embossed with the Great Seal of the United States in 14k gold.

Another doodle in the same set, of a football player, reflects one of Reagan’s most famous film roles, when he played the gifted but doomed Notre Dame player George Gipp in the 1940 film Knute Rockne, All American. That role is also commemorated by another item in the collection, an official NFL Wilson football Reagan inscribed “win one for the Gipper”—a line Reagan uttered both in the film and at the 1988 Republican National Convention (when he directed it at George W. Bush).

Christie's

Aside from repeated uses of the phrase “president” (“first place president” is engraved on one punch bowl), the football is one of the few items with obvious political overtones. However, there’s also a fine needlepoint pillow decorated with the line “you ain’t seen nothing yet,” and depicting all the states Reagan carried in the 1984 election (all but Walter Mondale’s home state of Minnesota). The 1984 election is also echoed in a Tiffany marine chronometer Frank Sinatra gave Reagan as a 1981 inauguration gift, which includes an inscribed plaque that reads “Good morning Mr. President.” (That “morning” theme, of course, is reminiscent of the TV ad campaign that propelled Reagan to his second term: “It’s morning again in America.”)

Politics also shows up in a more humorous vein in the couple’s collection of 27 elephant figurines, which were once strewn (alongside several bald eagles) around the couple's Bel Air home at 668 St. Cloud Road. According to the auction catalog, the original address was 666, before Nancy Reagan made them change it.

Bess Lovejoy

But perhaps the most humble item of all is the most significant—a chunk of graffitied concrete to which Reagan added his name in black felt-tip marker. The 25-inch slab of the Berlin Wall recalls another of the 40th president’s famous moments, on June 12, 1987, when he stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate and implored “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

For those interested in owning a piece of presidential history, the auction runs live at Christie’s in New York, September 21-22 (public previews run until September 20) and online September 19-27. While there are plenty of items with lower estimates—you can have napkins that once graced presidential lips for only a few hundred dollars—the auction in total is expected to raise over $2 million for the Ronald Reagan Foundation and Institute.

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Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
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The POW Olympics of World War II
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism

With the outbreak of World War II prompting a somber and divisive mood across the globe, it seemed impossible civility could be introduced in time for the 1940 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan to be held.

So they weren’t. Neither were the 1944 Games, which were scheduled for London. But one Polish Prisoner of War camp was determined to keep the tradition alive. The Woldenberg Olympics were made up entirely of war captives who wanted—and needed—to feel a sense of camaraderie and normalcy in their most desperate hours.

In a 2004 NBC mini-documentary that aired during their broadcast of the Games, it was reported that Polish officers under German control in the Oflag II-C camp wanted to maintain their physical conditioning as a tribute to Polish athlete Janusz Kusocinski. Unlike another Polish POW camp that held unofficial Games under a veil of secrecy in 1940, the guards of Woldenberg allowed the ’44 event to proceed with the provision that no fencing, archery, javelin, or pole-vaulting competitions took place. (Perhaps the temptation to impale their captors would have proven too much for the men.)

Music, art, and sculptures were put on display. Detainees were also granted permission to make their own program and even commemorative postage stamps of the event courtesy of the camp’s homegrown “post office.” An Olympic flag was crafted out of spare bed sheets, which the German officers, in a show of contagious sportsman’s spirit, actually saluted.

The hand-made Olympic flag from Woldenberg.

Roughly 369 of the 7000 prisoners participated. Most of the men competed in multiple contests, which ranged from handball and basketball to chess. Boxing was included—but owing to the fragile state of prisoners, broken bones resulted in a premature end to the combat.

Almost simultaneously, another Polish POW camp in Gross Born (pop: 3000) was holding their own ceremony. Winners received medals made of cardboard. Both were Oflag sites, which were primarily for officers; it’s been speculated the Games were allowed because German forces had respect for prisoners who held military titles.

A gymnastics demonstration in the camp.

The grass-roots Olympics in both camps took place in July and August 1944. By January 1945, prisoners from each were evacuated. An unknown number perished during these “death marches,” but one of the flags remained in the possession of survivor Antoni Grzesik. The Lieutenant donated it to the Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism in 1974, where it joined a flag recovered from the 1940 Games. Both remain there today—symbols of a sporting life that kept hope alive for thousands of men who, for a brief time, could celebrate life instead of lamenting its loss.

Additional Sources: “The Olympic Idea Transcending War [PDF],” Olympic Review, 1996; “The Olympic Movement Remembered in the Polish Prisoner of War Camps in 1944 [PDF],” Journal of Olympic History, Spring 1995; "Olympics Behind Barbed Wire," Journal of Olympic History, March 2014.

 All images courtesy of Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism. 

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President John Tyler's Grandsons Are Still Alive
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Getty Images

Here's the most amazing thing you'll ever read about our 10th president:

John Tyler was born in 1790. He took office in 1841, after William Henry Harrison died. And he has two living grandchildren.

Not great-great-great-grandchildren. Their dad was Tyler’s son.

How is this possible?

The Tyler men have a habit of having kids very late in life. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, one of President Tyler’s 15 kids, was born in 1853. He fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. in 1924, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler in 1928.

We placed a somewhat awkward call to the Charles City County History Center in Virginia to check in on the Tylers.

After we shared this fact on Twitter in 2012, Dan Amira interviewed Harrison Tyler for New York Magazine. Lyon Tyler spoke to the Daughters of the American Revolution a while back. They were profiled by The Times of London. And Snopes is also in on the fact.

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