Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ham with Fetish on Wry, Please

The magazine Antiques & Collecting has a regular feature that profiles readers of the magazine and their unusual collections. The June issue profiled Mr. Steve Jenne, who collects the half-eaten sandwiches of celebrities.

Jenne started his collection while a member of a boy scout troop when Richard Nixon came to visit his small town in 1960.

"Our community is famous for raising bison, and bison barbeque is a staple in the area," Jenne explained. "When Nixon arrived, he was given a paper plate and a bison barbeque sandwich. He sat down at a picnic table with his wife and a lot of other community leaders . . . took a few bites from his sandwich, mumbled his approval, and then got up to make his speech. When he did, almost everyone at the table left with him."

Jenne and the other Scouts were left to keep the public away from the table, and were alone with Nixon's sandwich. Since no one was near, he picked up the sandwich and plate and took it home to his mother, who wrapped it in plastic and put it in the family's freezer. Jenne's odyssey of collecting half-eaten sandwiches had begun.

"Pretty soon, the local newspaper was calling me to write a story about the sandwich and what I had done to get it," he said. Each campaign year for the next several years, the local newspaper featured stories about Jenne and his sandwich, until 1988, when the newspaper in nearby Decatur, Illinois picked up the story.

"The story in the Decatur newspaper led to the story being placed on the newswire," Jenne said. "That's when things really got rolling. I started getting calls from all over the country with reporters wanting to write stories and disc jockeys wanting on-air interviews."

There was even a feature in a coffee table book titled, Weird Illinois, showing Jenne proudly displaying his sandwich in all of its full-page glossy splendor.

In 1988, USA Today also featured Steve Jenne and his sandwich in a story, which promptly landed in the lap of a producer from The Tonight Show in Burbank, California. On December 2, 1988, Jenne and his sandwich were honored guests along with Steve Martin, on Johnny Carson's show.

"They treated us—me and my sandwich—like royalty," Jenne said. "I told them that as long as I had a freezer handy for my sandwich, I'd do whatever they wanted. My sandwich and I were chauffeured in a limousine, and we stayed at the best hotel. Neither me or my sandwich has ever lived so well prior to or since."

Unbeknownst to Jenne, Johnny Carson would put his own stamp on the legacy of the Nixon sandwich. "I had a great time. It was a lot of fun, but what I didn't know at the time was that backstage, they had prepared another barbeque sandwich, which they brought out and put in front of Johnny Carson while we were on the air. Carson promptly took a few bites out of it, then presented me with the remainder."

In other words, he managed to parlay a half-eaten sandwich into appearances in newspapers, a book, and a TV show, and it wasn't until the late 1980s that it even started to become a collection. How impressive is that?

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