The Curious Case of My Buttons

One of the themes we emphasize with our “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?” exhibit is the extremely personal nature these adornments often take with the people who wear them. Buttons can be powerful symbols of self-expression, telling markers of identity, reflections of a life. They link individuals to causes, events, places, and ideas larger than themselves, connecting the person to issues that define them or spark some of their greatest passion. When added up, the buttons one collects over the years also become sources of autobiography.

After being placed in charge of this exhibit, re-homing it at the High Falls Center and Interpretive Museum, I did some thinking about my own relationship with buttons. Then I did some rummaging around in boxes of my old stuff and unearthed a few button treasures. A funny thing happened as I sorted through the scattered relics of my past. The buttons stirred long-dormant memories, taking me back to moments and phases in my life that I hadn’t thought about in years.

I was never an avid collector of buttons, yet I seemed to pick them up here and there during significant intervals. A few examples.

To my knowledge, this is the oldest button that I have:

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It reads: “I’m a Sesame Place Ace”

Seeing it for the first time in over a decade, the button instantly transported me to a childhood trip to Sesame Place, a Pennsylvania amusement park based around the PBS show. I must have been 3 or 4 when my parents bought this for me at one of the park’s many gift shops– a sticker on the back reveals that it cost them 99 cents– as we were leaving. The button was a memento, but it was also intended to lift my spirits after a traumatic day in which I had gotten separated from my family.  The memories all came flooding back as I held the button: in a burst of over-stimulated exuberance, I had run away from my father in the water playground part of the park. What at first seemed funny to me as a small child– darting through splashy features and snaking my way through a dense crowd– turned to instant panic when I realized I was genuinely lost and alone in such a large, strange place. The button reminded me of how cold I suddenly felt in my bathing suit, how remorseful I felt at playing such mean a trick on my loving dad, and ultimately how relieved and grateful I was to be reunited with my parents, embracing them upon sight after what seemed like an eternity of running around in a daze. All of this from a small green button.

Flash forward almost twenty years. The boxes also yielded a small cache of buttons from my college days. This was a period in my life, the early and middle 2000s, when education and semi-independence awakened a new “awareness” of the larger world.

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Tokens of a youthful political consciousness.

Or at least an interest in engaging with it as I tried to shock and impress people with my anti-establishment subversiveness.

Reading books and newspapers, attending lectures, and talking to fellow students, I suddenly became very opinionated about American politics.  Through buttons, I quite literally wore my new-found progressive “edginess” on my sleeve (and backpack); I equated the simple act of pinning buttons to my belongings with taking daring stands against the status quo. If I’m being honest, in retrospect, these buttons tell me that I was striving to project a level of sophistication well beyond my actual depth.  They represented an instinctive searching for a more just and egalitarian world than I was actually capable of articulating on my own. The buttons of a would-be indignant young man.

Today, I still wear a few buttons on my backpack. Here are some of my favorites:

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Rochester Public Library buttons promoting two recent campaigns/programs since I started working in the Office of the City Historian in 2012.

Everywhere I walk throughout the city of Rochester, I have effectively become a billboard for my current great passions: the Rochester Public Library, the Office of the City Historian, and the High Falls Center and Interpretive Museum.  My buttons still reflect my sense of self and interests; they continue to narrate my ongoing autobiography.

What’s your story? Starting this weekend, the “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button Game” will be resuming in the Rochester area. Look out for the special white “I do” button to begin making return rounds in the city. Catch it, and catch our exhibit at the High Falls Center and Interpretive Museum!

Jeff Ludwig, Historical Researcher: Office of the City Historian, Rochester Public Library, and City of Rochester 

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Just When You Thought Buttons Were Out…

… We pull them back in!

That’s right, everybody’s favorite blog is being rebooted, part of a second act for the popular exhibit, “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?” The travelling button show–an informative display containing original artifacts and narrative panels, illustrates the ways Rochesterians have expressed themselves and championed various causes over the last century– has moved from Rundel Library to the High Falls Center and Interpretive Museum at 60 Browns Race (Rochester, NY 14614). If you’ve already seen it, visit again at the new location and check out the museum and historic neighborhood; if you haven’t already seen it, what are you waiting for? The High Falls Center is free and open to the public, Tuesday-Saturday, 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM. Come for the buttons, stay for the history!

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Along with the return of the button exhibit comes the return of the blog! Since the High Falls Center is now managed by the Office of the City Historian and the Rochester Public Library, the same people who bring you fresh history every week in the Democrat & Chronicle’s Retrofitting Rochester” column, you can expect similar investigations into the past from this blog. But with buttons instead of buildings! Stayed tuned for regular updates from High Falls. Better yet, come out and visit! Explore the museum and historic Brown’s Race neighborhood, take the outdoor walking tour, gaze at the majestic falls, stroll through the galleries, and talk to the live historian staffing the front desk. For more information, call at 585.325.2030, or visit online: http://www.cityofrochester.gov/highfallsmuseum/

Jeff Ludwig, Historical Researcher: Office of the City Historian, Rochester Public Library, and City of Rochester  

Read my hat!

I love expressing myself with buttons, you can learn a lot about me just by reading my hats! Buttons are a great way to show what you like (I have a large section of Harry Potter buttons on the front of the hat I wear more often) and a good conversation starter.
I’ve found a hat is a very safe and high-visibility way not to lose buttons; I’ve only lost a few whereas keeping them on a bag, I lost almost all. Sadly the few I lost were limited editions.

Hoping to come visit the exhibit!

Stephani Dudrak

That Button “Thingy”

My name is Penn and I am a fifth grader at French Road Elementary School, and I participated in your Button, Button project.  Personally I thought it was pretty cool.  I got one question about the button.  It was “Hey, what’s that one for?” and I responded “Oh, it’s a thing for the Rochester Public Library.”

I have several other buttons at home.  I have four DC Comics buttons: one Batman, one Superman, one Nightwing and one of the DC Comics logo.  I also have a Buffy the Vampire Slayer button that says ‘I heart Buffy’.  The buttons have sentimental value because I got them at Fan Expo in Toronto, Canada (it’s a Comic Con sort of thing).

Thank you for having me participate in your project thingy.

Penn Kress Davis, age 10

“What’s Up with the Button?”

Look for this button throughout the community!

I wore the button on Friday. It rained really hard in the morning and was humid in the afternoon.

Anyway, several people asked about the button. Most of them said something to the effect of “What’s up with the button?” When I told them there is an exhibit on buttons at the Library and there is a floating button and a blog connected to the project, they would nod to show they understood. A couple said, “That’s cool. I should go see it.” I don’t think they will, though. They didn’t sound very committed. One woman even said, “I miss the days when people wore political buttons.” She’s younger than me and I don’t remember the days when people wore political buttons. I think her memory is better than mine. One guy gave me a blank stare and said I should write about people giving me blank stares. There.

I think the next time I wear a button, it should have a cool spiral design that forces people to look deeper and deeper into it until they fall into a deep trance. That would be an interesting blog.

Patrick Flanigan, New Media Editor, City of Rochester

My Day with the Button

My day with The Button began at a staff meeting at the library early in the day on August 8. I clipped The Button to my ID badge and wore it for the rest of the day. While no one specifically commented on The Button, it did witness a typically busy day with me.

After my staff meeting, The Button accompanied me to the dentist, where, among the activities one expects at a dentist office, it listened to the dental assistant talk about vacations, craft shows, jewelry making, Raggedy Ann dolls, and Princess Crowns. After that, The Button sat idle while I answered multiple emails and phone calls regarding water being shut off at the Ryan Community Center. That excitement was followed by attendance at City Council committee meetings, where amendments to the library budget were moved and added to the Council agenda for August 13. All in all, The Button had a rather unexciting day.

I was pleased to be asked to participate in this blogging event because I have collected pins and buttons for many years. My mother used to give me cute little holiday pins when I was in school. I still have at least one of those buttons, and it holds fond memories of my mom, who died of cancer in 1984. Buttons were also a popular commodity during my high school and college years. I have a pin that expressed the theme of my class at Nazareth Academy, as well hundreds of pins associated with music, which accurately document my listening preferences through my teens and 20’s. There is my punk phase, illustrated with “Anarchy in the UK,” “White Dopes on Punk,” and multiple “Clash” buttons; my New Wave & Ska period with “Split Enz,” “The Police,” and “Madness” pins; and my classic rock phase with pins of The Beatles, Jim Morrison, The Who, Springsteen, and The Stones. In addition, buttons and pins signify important events in my life – for example, I have a pin announcing the birth of my nephew Steven in 1983. His birth was a joyous event for our family because my mother was very sick and dying of cancer at the time. He was a super-happy baby, and he brought so much joy to my mother and all of my family that he made a difficult time somewhat easier. Steven is now getting ready to welcome his own child, a baby girl who will be called Zoe, this week!

My daughter has appropriated my button collection and has spent some time organizing and displaying it. She is also adding to it regularly. I think she will have some fun in the future looking back at how the pins she adds to the collection will tell a story about her life.

Patricia Uttaro, Director
Rochester Public Library & Monroe County Library System

Got cola?

I wore the Button for a day at work and it was a really quiet day. I did not receive any comments. It was just a quiet experience for me and there were moments I forgot I was even wearing it, especially when the day got busy. I have worn buttons before, when I was young; some of them I remember I really liked, especially those for advertisements like “Coca Cola.”

Gabriela Conti
Health Project Specialist
Center for Community Health
Cancer Services Program of Monroe County