Are Those Real Donuts?

By Brenna R. McMahon

Tip's Office

Tip O'Neill Exhibit
Photo by Kevin Tringale

Without a doubt, the most noted pieces in the Thomas P."Tip" O'Neill Exhibit are not former President Grover Cleveland's massive desk (used by Tip while he was Speaker of the House), photographs with world leaders, constituents, and the nine U.S. presidents with whom he worked, or the memorabilia from past Democratic conventions. Although these items give visitors a good taste of O'Neill's life and of that old-fashioned"how can we help you" politics that Tip O'Neill was famous for, it is the odder pieces that fill out visitors' sense of the man, particularly his lighter side.

Judging from the thank you notes I have received from the 5th and 6th graders who have visited the exhibit, what sticks in their minds above all is Tip O'Neill's love of honey glazed donuts. Sitting on the card table in the"Campaign Headquarters" portion of the exhibit are a plate of honey glazed donuts, two cups of coffee, and a cigar (because no campaign is complete without coffee and donuts). After two years of working at the exhibit, the most frequent question I receive is:"Are those donuts real?" One 5th grader wrote:"My favorite thing was seeing his desk that he kept fancy when presidents or ambassadors came to have a meeting or a very important talk. I wanted to eat those donuts they looked delicious mmm."

Food is, in fact, a subtle but consistent theme in the Tip O'Neill Exhibit. From pictures of Tip eating cake on Air Force One with Jimmy Carter to pictures of a contented Tip at the Capitol Hill ice cream party, one gets the sense that Tip O'Neill enjoyed his sweets. Perhaps the most amusing piece in the exhibit-and certainly the most viewed exhibit video clip of all time-is the Giant Green Bagel video. In it, we witness Tip receiving with due gravitas his annual giant green bagel from Lender's Bagel Company in celebration of St. Patrick's Day. Nothing else in the exhibit gives one a better sense of Tip's diplomatic talents than hearing him say,"This is the world's largest bagel and I am honored and proud to receive it," in his deep baritone voice.

Tip's Office

Brenna McMahon, tour guide of the Tip O'Neill Exhibition
Photo by Kevin Tringale

In front of Tip O'Neill's massive ceremonial desk, visitors can also marvel at Tip's famous miniature donkey collection. According to David Horn, head librarian for the Tip O'Neill Collection in the Burns Library (and the person to contact if you would like to explore the papers of Tip O'Neill), the Burns archives have enough miniature donkeys to replace the twenty-odd donkeys in the case each week for a year. Given the fact that Tip O'Neill served the longest, continuous term as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and the fact that it was well known that he collected donkeys, the breadth of his collection is perhaps less surprising. However, when combined with his collection of gavels - one of which resembles a club and is entitled"vote persuader" - one gets the sense that Tip O'Neill was a political man with a healthy sense of humor.

Thomas P."Tip" O'Neill was a great man and a great statesman. From his achievements in education and the environment, to those in Medicare, Medicaid, and social security, his accomplishments were notable and his oft-repeated phrase,"All politics is local," will go down in history. There are few, if any, political men today with Tip's devotion to serving the people in his district, whether it was through jobs, social services, or simply acting in accordance with his conscience. For that reason alone, it is worth taking a few minutes to visit the Exhibit to learn more about his life and work. Tip's donkey collection, his diplomatic reception of odd gifts, and his love of honey glazed donuts, only help to fill out a picture of a man who was not afraid to be proud to call himself a politician.

The Thomas P."Tip" O'Neill Exhibit is located on Level 2 of the O'Neill Library and is open 11:00am to 3:00pm, Monday through Saturday.

Brenna R. McMahon, GSAS, 2013, Political Science
Brenna has worked in the Thomas P."Tip" O'Neill Exhibit for 2 1/2 years