ANN ARBOR -- Doug Kelley admits telling one lie in his life: In 1944, as a 15-year-old growing up in Chicago, he added a year to his age to qualify for a job. "Page at the Democratic National Convention," he said, standing amid perhaps the greatest collection of Democratic presidential campaign items in the nation.
Being at that convention and seeing Franklin Roosevelt nominated one final time changed Mr. Kelley's life. "I came home with an armful of collectibles," he said. Buttons, banners, you name it.
Today, that material has mushroomed into the most astonishing collection of political artifacts I've seen: thousands of items housed in a large, stand-alone building he calls, simply, "the Democratic archive."
Walk into his private museum, and be prepared to see letters, T-shirts, primitive art, and fine art representing every Democratic campaign, starting with Thomas Jefferson's in 1796.
Posters, paintings, photographs, and murals depict every one of the party's nominees. Winners get prominent display, naturally.
But there is also a huge "wall of losers" that includes not only the hapless Mike Dukakis and Walter Mondale, but now nearly forgotten men such as Al Smith and John W. Davis. There is also a wall dedicated to the "Tragic Year -- 1968."
On a poster, the soon-to-be assassinated Robert Kennedy stares ahead with haunted eyes; posters that refer to Vietnam stir haunted memories. There also are several enormous posters of Richard Nixon, looking sneaky or worse. "Would you buy a used car from this man?" one asks.
An even more wicked one shows a disgusted, very pregnant, black woman wearing a campaign button. "Nixon's the One," it says.
One other Republican is more reverently displayed: Abraham Lincoln. "I decided to make him an honorary Democrat," Mr. Kelley says. So far, none of the other men in the collection, not even Stephen Douglas, the Democrat Lincoln beat in 1860, has objected.
Ironically, the man behind all this came from a Republican family. Mr. Kelley is a Lansing native; his father moved the family to Chicago after the Democrats took power during the New Deal and he lost a political patronage job.
Two years after he served as a convention page, young Kelley participated in a program called Encampment for Citizenship, where he met Eleanor Roosevelt. Those two experiences defined the course of his life.
"I decided to become an activist, to try to make the world a better place," he says. "Lots of us did, but 66 years later, I'm still at it."
His activist credentials are impressive. He served as the Peace Corps' first national community relations director, and later was the Corps' first volunteer leader in Cameroon.
Mr. Kelley came home to crusade for civil rights. He was beaten bloody by "bottle-wielding racists" in Mississippi, where he was trying to establish a multiracial training program.
Later, he earned a doctorate from the University of Michigan, and eventually retired as director of community education for UM's Flint campus. And he kept collecting.
He fell in love with Mary Corsi when they were undergraduates together at tiny Berea College in Kentucky. He proposed to her in 1951. She said no.
Instead, he married another woman who agreed to hitchhike with him to India. That marriage fizzled. Doug ran into Mary in Ann Arbor, and again asked her to marry him in 1978. This time, she said yes.
She was a successful social worker and author. The marriage is good, but asked whether she shares her husband's love of political artifacts, she doesn't hesitate. "No" she said, with a faint smile.
Not too many brides want to see Hubert Humphrey posters first thing in the morning. "So a dozen years ago, she started saying: 'You need a building to put all this stuff in,' " Mr. Kelley says. "Then a year later, she added: 'And I'll pay for it.' "
So the giant two-story building went up next to their home in a middle-class section of Ann Arbor.
Sadly perhaps, the collection isn't open to the public except by special arrangement. Mr. Kelley fears sticky fingers, or vandalism.
Some of this stuff is clearly priceless. Remember the famous Chicago Tribune headline: "Dewey Defeats Truman"? He has a copy. And he has the even rarer second edition: "GOP Wins White House." As every Democrat knows, both editions were gloriously wrong.
Mr. Kelley is 83 now, and doesn't have many campaigns left. Gradually, he is starting to donate some things.
He recently gave 200 Thomas Jefferson items to Monticello. The University of Michigan is looking over his collection of artifacts from the career of former Michigan Territory governor and U.S. senator Lewis Cass. He is taking some rare Jimmy Carter items down to Plains, Ga.
I thought the most stunning thing in the Democratic archive was a complete voting booth from the infamous 2000 presidential election in Palm Beach, Fla. It comes complete with a "butterfly ballot" and ready-to-be-hanging chads.
I found myself wishing the Democratic Party, or the Smithsonian, would buy this collection and put it somewhere scholars could use it and the world could see it.
Does Doug Kelley have any regrets? Maybe just one.
"I gave Barack Obama bad advice," he said. "I met him at a rope line in Chicago and told him: 'I hope you'll strongly consider putting John Edwards on the ticket.' He gave me a look as if he was thinking: 'I know something that you didn't know.' "
Nobody may ever know whether he really did.
Jack Lessenberry, a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and The Blade's ombudsman, writes on issues and people in Michigan.
Contact him at: email@example.com