Remodel reveals old political poster

Posted: Friday, March 29, 2002

ANCHORGE (AP) -- A piece of Anchorage history was unearthed Thursday when workers removed siding on a Midtown building and discovered a billboard-sized poster from the 1960 presidential campaign.

''Vote Nixon-Lodge. Experience Counts!'' reads the sign which features photos of the two candidates.

Two smaller posters beside the large one urge a vote for Lee L. ''Doc'' McKinley for U.S. Senate and Ron Rettig for Congress.

The signs were hung on what used to be an outside wall of the building currently occupied by Recreational Equipment Inc., the outdoor gear retailer. The siding was removed because the building is undergoing renovation.

In fall 1960, that portion of the strip mall was the last to be finished, and was waiting to be rented, said former Alaska Gov. Wally Hickel, whose company, Hickel Investment Co., developed the property and has owned it since.

That explains why the poster was pasted directly to unfinished plywood. Eventually the wall was covered, and a department store known as Caribou's moved in. It was occupied a few years later by Montgomery Ward. At some point, a new roof covered the old wall.

The Nixon-Lodge sign quickly drew interest from shoppers, history buffs and at least one politician.

Former Anchorage Mayor Rick Mystrom drove to the site just to see the poster after his son told him about it.

''I think it's great,'' Mystrom said. ''It's a little like political archaeology. You're pulling away the present and getting the past.''

And like more traditional archaeological treasures, this one acquired instant value. The store received four offers Thursday from people who want to buy the relic, including a businessman's bid of $2,000, said Mike Herzog, REI's general manager.

REI, however, has no interest at the moment in selling the sign, Herzog said.

''We're going to try and offer it to a nonprofit, like a historical society,'' he said. ''We also want to make sure it's OK with the Hickels.''

Herzog admitted the possibility that REI may not have a right to the sign. But Hickel, who once served as Nixon's secretary of the Interior until Nixon fired him for defending anti-war protesters, was indifferent about it.

''He said, That's good. You guys do what you want,' '' Herzog said.

Nixon lost the 1960 election to John F. Kennedy. But he ran again in 1968 and won. He won re-election in 1972 but, two years later, became the only U.S. president to resign, overtaken by the Watergate scandal.

Nixon's face in the poster is youthful and doesn't have the telltale five o'clock shadow commonly found on later caricatures of him. The portrait was egged at some point. Dull yellow splotches and drip lines mar his forehead and chin.

The 1960 national election came not long after Alaska became a state and was the first in which Alaskans voted for president. Nixon, then the vice president, visited the state in the waning days of the campaign.

Herzog, who was a history major, said Republicans later faulted Nixon for wasting his time on a state with a minimum of electoral votes while the race for a key state like Illinois was up for grabs. Nixon won Alaska but lost Illinois.

''A lot of people blame (Nixon's election defeat) on his trip here,'' Herzog said.

The sign inspired a wave of memory for Mystrom, who was in his last year of high school in Colorado in November 1960.

''That was the first election that was significant to my generation,'' said Mystrom, 58. ''I was idealistic, a liberal like many of us were at that time.''

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