Niles teenager collects presidential memorabilia

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple Mason St. Clair, 15, of Niles holds a bust of President Richard Nixon, which is part of his presidential memorabilia collection.

NILES — Despite being a student at Niles McKinley High School, Mason St. Clair’s favorite president is not the school’s namesake, William McKinley.

That honor belongs to Jimmy Carter, who Mason recently met in Georgia.

Mason, 15, a sophomore, has amassed a collection of 4,500 to 5,000 different political items. The collection started in 2014 when his mother gave the teen a campaign button from the 1992 presidential campaign of Ross Perot.

Three years later, and after countless trips to garage sales, auctions, flea markets and antique stores, the collection has grown so large that an extra bedroom in the family’s home has been turned into show and storage space for the memorabilia.

“It is amazing that that’s what started it,” said Karren St. Clair of the Perot pin. “I think I was just cleaning out a little jar I had, some odds and ends. He was right there and thought it was cool.”

Mason said he liked the graphics on the Perot button and decided he wanted more.

Once he finds a 1904 Teddy Roosevelt pin and a 1924 John W. Davis pin, Mason will have one button for every candidate from every presidential election since 1896, when campaign buttons really came into vogue.

Mason’s items have a special spot inside the family’s home — a bedroom has been converted into his political collection room.

Cardboard cutouts of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and President George W. Bush stand at the entrance of the room smiling at all who enter. His buttons are all categorized by election year and each candidate has his / her own case. Political posters, pictures and even political record albums line the walls, while shelves are packed with other items, including figurines, glass jars and Easter eggs from the White House.

Some objects one would never know they have a political meaning.

Karren, whose family has always had an interest in antiques, said they were out one day looking for items when Mason found a small rocking chair pin. She said he knew it was connected to President John F. Kennedy.

“It was supposed to be for his re-election, but he was assassinated before he could,” Mason said. “It was because he had back pain and the rocking chair soothed it.”

Another item Mason has is a 1973 “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” themed candle of President Richard Nixon.

“I looked it up and it was on Pawn Stars and they offered him $500,” Mason said.

Mason’s favorite and oldest item is a William Henry Harrison button from 1840. But he also enjoys any item relating to Niles native William McKinley or President Jimmy Carter, who is his favorite president.

Mason recently met Carter in Plains, Ga., at the church where he teaches Sunday school. Mason also has met Hillary and President Bill Clinton.

Karren said her son’s interest has taken them places she would have never imagined, but she marvels at what he has learned.

“I just think the main thing for me is what he has learned, that is what is amazing to me,” she said. “He’s just learned so much.”

Looking toward the future, Mason plans to attend college and become a history teacher. As for his political collection, he plans to continue collecting and maybe one day open his own museum to display his items.