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Roger Dangel's replica Oval Office holds historical artifacts that transcend time


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: For many Americans during the pandemic, the home office has seen a lot of activity.

But as Maya Trabulsi of station KPBS reports, one San Diego man dedicated his home's workspace to his passion, American history.

It's part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Maya Trabulsi: When Roger Dangel walks inside his house, he takes a step into another place and time.

Robert Dangel, Collector: Welcome to the Oval Office.

Maya Trabulsi: He's been collecting historical artifacts for more than 20 years. The room is now flanked by history-making documents signed by the most famous men in American history, the men that made a country.

Robert Dangel: I guess, if you're going to have a theme room, you might as well have the biggest theme room you can have.

Maya Trabulsi: When Roger and his wife rebuilt what was once his parents' home, they designed this room to bear the famous oval shape, just like the real thing.

Robert Dangel: It's a functional desk. It's a functional office. I use it all the time.

Maya Trabulsi: And the size of the desk was also taken into consideration, a replica of the Resolute Desk, originally a gift from Queen Victoria to then-president Rutherford B. Hayes, and used by many American presidents.

Robert Dangel: The most famous one, of course, is John F. Kennedy, with John-John coming out of the little door in the front. And this one has that same door in the front that you can open up as well.

Maya Trabulsi: But beyond the wainscotting, scalloped doorway molds, and other small thoughtful details, this room holds treasures that transcend time, like this lieutenant colonel's Union uniform worn during the Civil War with a small handwritten clue as to the person who wore it.

Robert Dangel: This was found, actually, in the pocket. And it does say that it did belong to Elijah Hunt Rhodes of Rhode Island. And that's kind of cool.

I'm kind of an equal-opportunity presidential collector, as I have every president to date, except for Joe Biden, which is so new right now that I don't have a presidential document from him, because he's still in office.

Maya Trabulsi: Some smaller pieces give us a glimpse of the personalities behind the decision-makers of yesteryear.

Robert Dangel: Doodles. These are original sketches by Ronald Reagan when he was doodling as governor.

Maya Trabulsi: And while this original doodle sits casually on this desk in La Jolla, the Reagan Library sells copies for museum visitors.

Robert Dangel: Do you see which way the head is pointed? The head is always pointed to the olive branches, with the exception of one president.

The eagle turned its head to the arrows during World War II, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt after they attacked Pearl Harbor. And when Harry Truman became president, the eagle's head turned the head back over to the olive branches, and it's remained that way ever since.

Maya Trabulsi: As guardian of this treasure, Roger wants these things to be accessible and, more importantly, interactive.

Robert Dangel: This would contain your laudanum, which is opium.

Maya Trabulsi: He says history should be touched.

Robert Dangel: And this is something they won't let you do at the Smithsonian, but we do here. And that is an actual document signed twice by Abraham Lincoln.

Maya Trabulsi: Abraham Lincoln signed it right here and right here, August 17, 1863.

And less than two years:

Robert Dangel: These glasses were reportedly found at Ford's Theatre the night that Abraham Lincoln was shot, and was dropped by a patron there, a captain. If these glasses could only talk, they could tell a story.

Maya Trabulsi: And it is the story behind the land deed, the pardon, the court-martial, or even the Civil War bullet lodged in a piece of wood that draws Roger to these items.

Robert Dangel: I'm just holding these pieces of history in my hand for a short period of time, until it can be passed on to someone else.

Maya Trabulsi: And for lovers of history, these are reminders, of how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go.

Maya Trabulsi: For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Maya Trabulsi in San Diego.

Judy Woodruff: What a remarkable collection. That's a treat.

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