At 2 a.m. while the world around him sleeps, Dalton Stevens of Bishopville, S.C. (pop. 3,670), brushes a button with glue and sticks it on a grandfather clock. Then he glues another button and another, slowly adding to his collection of nearly 900,000 buttons that adorn everything from his cars to commodes.
Stevens’ passion for buttons began on a sleepless night 24 years ago when he passed the time by fancying up a denim suit.
“I’d sit at my eating table and I’d sew 25 buttons at a time,” Stevens says. “I sewed for two years and 10 months.” By the time he knotted the thread on the last button, his suit weighed 16 pounds and shimmered with 16,333 buttons.
Stevens, 76, did the next obvious thing—shoes to match.
“At first, I didn’t know what to think about it,” his wife, Ruby, 73, says about the middle-of-the-night button art, “but he was quiet. Now I think it’s wonderful.”
Along with a magnificent hobby, Stevens found fame—and a bonanza of buttons—as he told his story for newspapers and national television, including The Late Show with David Letterman, and people across America emptied their button jars and sent the buttons his way. In 1990, Guinness World Records certified that Stevens owned the world’s largest collection of buttons without duplicates—439,900 of them.
“You don’t give up on life because something bad happens to you,” Stevens says, referring to his insomnia that led to early retirement from DuPont in nearby Camden (pop. 6,682). “I sleep an hour, then get up, and then go back to bed. I’m up and down all night.”
But when he’s up, “The Button King” is picking through piles of buttons—all shapes and sizes, solids and swirls, plastics and pearls. Using contact cement, he gussied up his piano with 35,000 buttons, an ’81 Chevrolet Chevette with 149,000 buttons and perked up his ’68 Pontiac hearse with a whopping 600,000 buttons.
Two years ago, Stevens opened his free Button Museum next to his home to display his splendid creations, including a button-encrusted outhouse, a bathtub and his own casket.
Cartwheeling for charity
Don Claps, 41, of Broomfield, Colo. (pop. 38,272), keeps his Guinness World Record memorabilia on a shelf in his office: a pair of worn garden gloves padded with carpet scraps and a hand counter stopped on 1,293.
Claps performed 1,293 cartwheels in one hour to set a world record during a Live with Regis and Kelly TV show last September.
The head-over-heels adventure for the real estate agent began in 2004 when he auditioned for a role on the TV show Survivor and needed something dramatic on his audition tape. His 17-year-old daughter, Tia, suggested that he revive his cartwheeling skills from his high school gymnast days and also use them for the Bolder Boulder, an annual Memorial Day 10K race.
“You need to be pretty mean and lean,” Claps says, while cartwheeling across his living room floor, “because the bottom line is you have to hold all your body weight on one hand.” He’s a wiry 150 pounds and 5 foot, 10 inches.
After weeks of practicing and conditioning, Claps cartwheeled the Boulder race, survived and set his sights on a Guinness World Record. He founded a charity, Cartwheels for Kids, last year and raised $500 for toys for The Children’s Hospital in Broomfield.
Claps set his first world record of 1,076 cartwheels in one hour in 2005, then broke the record in 2006 on Live with Regis and Kelly, cartwheeling 1,293 times on the sidewalk outside the studio. His wife, Cindy, handed him water in a paper cup during his record-breaking feat.
“I’d pop it in my mouth and throw down my hands. Hold the water in my mouth and swallow on the next cartwheel,” says Claps, who describes the event as “disorienting.”
Cindy is proud of her husband’s “world’s best” title. “I do joke about him with our friends that he’s in his midlife crisis,” she says.
Cartwheeling brings back happy childhood memories for everyone, Claps says. He can’t resist turning a few—or a thousand—and seeing people smile.
“I’m a bit of a ham,” he says.
A sole obsession
At home in Romoland, Calif. (pop. 2,764), Darlene Flynn makes phone calls by dialing a red stiletto high heel, reads by a leopard-print shoe lamp, eats from shoe-decorated plates in a kitchen steeped with 100 shoe-themed teapots and 200 shoe-shaped salt and pepper shakers. Clocks, umbrellas, purses, rugs, soap, wind chimes, perfume bottles and rows of backyard planters—every household object is either shaped like a shoe or adorned with one.
“The shoes not only make me happy, but make other people happy,” says Flynn, 51, who was honored by Guinness World Records last October for owning the world’s largest collection of shoe-related items—7,765 pieces. She spent six months photographing and documenting each one.
Flynn, who owns her own bookkeeping and tax service, has spent more than $150,000 on her shoe obsession, which she began following a divorce in 2001.
“My ex-husband is to blame—or to thank,” Flynn jokes.
Although she spends every spare cent on shoes, her favorite was free—a leather high-top boot worn by her grandmother on her wedding day. She owns “only” 120 pairs of shoes for her own size 8 feet, which are extra wide and hard to fit.
Flynn’s son, Shawn, 31, shakes his head and takes his mother’s collection in stride. “If she could live in a shoe, she would,” he says. “Her dog is even named Shoesy-Q.”
Stacking the decks
In 2004, professional card stacker Bryan Berg spent 24 long days at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., building a replica of Cinderella’s Castle, complete with turrets and tunnels.
“It took a lot of perseverance,” says Berg, 32. “It had to be designed for high winds because I built it under a tent. There was only one close call. A squirrel got into the tent while I was gone and eroded one wall.”
The completed 3,000-deck, 450-pound castle earned Berg a Guinness World Record for the “largest” card structure, standing 14 feet square and 14 feet at its highest.
The Santa Fe, N.M. (pop. 62,203), resident has parlayed his passion into a profession by building replicas of grand structures—state capitols, stadiums, city skylines with landmark buildings—for state fairs, trade conventions and corporations.
Berg doesn’t glue or bend the cards, but uses a basic four-card block that resembles a pinwheel with a square in the middle. He combines the blocks into grids to strengthen his structures.
Although he has a degree in architecture from the Iowa State University at Ames (pop. 50,731) and a master’s degree in design from Harvard University, Berg’s future was in the cards as a young boy, recalls his grandfather Ray Trojahn, 85, of Clear Lake, Iowa (pop. 8,161). During breaks in family card games, Bryan would sit on his lap and stack cards as tall as he could, Trojahn says. “He was probably 3 or 4.”
His mother, Becky, learned to dust around card creations at the family home in Spirit Lake, Iowa (pop. 4,261). “As a parent, you don’t want to squelch your child’s creativity,” she says.
At 17, Berg set his first Guinness World Record by building the world’s tallest card structure, a tower that stood 14 feet, 6 inches, for a math project in the auditorium at Spirit Lake High School. He got an “A.” He later broke that record in 1999 with a 25-foot, 3-inch tower that required 2,400 decks of playing cards.
Although Berg loves building the card skyscrapers, he also loves demolishing them with a leaf blower so he can see how many walls, floors and columns must fall before the structure collapses.
“I actually learn more by tearing down, than by building,” he says, “and I always learn something.”