Dan Quayle Vice Presidential Museum
Much less celebrates the Vice President (unless he later served as Commander in Chief). There are no conspiracy theories about their assassins, no candy bars named after their daughters.
So what does one expect upon arriving at the Dan Quayle Center and United States Vice Presidential Museum, located in Quayle's hometown of Huntington, Indiana? The museum's slogan is "Second To One," but can any display or artifact disprove the notion that the Veep is the vestigial organ of national politics? Especially when the only museum dedicated to them shares space with a center dedicated to one of the most controversial (in a funny, "lighter side" way) Vice Presidents in recent memory.
For those too young to remember, James Danforth Quayle served as George Bush 41's Vice President for one term (1989-93). The pair failed to get reelected, Quayle fell from the spotlight, and a brief attempt to secure the Republican presidential nomination in 2000 ended quickly.
As a young Vice President, he became famous for misspelling "potato," getting into a dustup with the fictional characters from the TV sit-com Murphy Brown, and was branded an unengaged pro-life frat-boy (An image that another Republican subsequently used to secure national office).
We enter the old Christian Science Church that houses the museum, and the curator, a nice guy, greets us. He leads us around the exhibits, though when we ask to see Quayle's dog-chewed law degree, you can see him thinking, "Another group of wiseacres to deal with."
The first floor is dedicated to all who have served as Vice President. Each one gets his own display column, featuring political cartoons, letters, and other memorabilia. Much of the material has been purchased from eBay, including Millard Fillmore's hat, which is given special treatment. While Dan Quayle has donated more than 400 boxes of personal papers, many others have not.
Particular attention is given to the six Vice Presidents (and the three losing Vice Presidential candidates) from Indiana. At one time Indiana was a swing state, and Hoosiers like Schuyler Colfax, Thomas Hendricks, and Charles Fairbanks help secure it. Indiana State Highway 9, which runs through town, is known as The Vice Presidential Highway, connecting the homes of Quayle, Hendricks, and Woodrow Wilson's VP, Thomas Marshall.
Upstairs focuses on the life of Dan Quayle. Displayed are items like the "Danny" sweater he wore as a child and the sweater in which he played golf as Vice President. His hometown little league uniform and other items from Huntington are shown.
The dog-chewed law degree is clearly displayed, with photos of the offending pooch, Barnaby.
There are artifacts from his time as a Congressman and Senator, such as the desk item reading, "In appreciation of your continuing support of cruise missile programs." Gifts from foreign visits and foreign visitors are a staple here, as at many Presidential museums. Marilyn Quayle's inaugural gown is presented. So is the Bible he was sworn in on and his Vice Presidential hand-painted golf bag. The Quayle - Murphy Brown debate is chronicled, as is his short 2000 Presidential run.
The gift shop is a treasure trove. There are "Quayle 2000" buttons, and autographed copies of his books. We came away with Vice Presidential American flag lapel pins and Dick Cheney inaugural medallions. Gift shop proceeds contribute 10 percent of the Museum's operating budget (vs. 5 percent in most historical societies).
But the big fundraiser is the annual Quayle Center golf tournament, held at a local country club and often attended by the former Vice President himself. Quayle currently lives in Arizona, where, according to the curator, he is an "an investment broker and is doing international banking type things."
We found him listed as a director of sporting goods maker, K2 Inc., which says he is the chairman of Cerberus Global Investments (though we cannot find a listing for such a firm).
When the Dan Quayle Commemorative Foundation opened the museum in June 1993, it believed, as it says in the Center's current literature, "There was a huge desire to know more about Dan, coming from people all over the country." But it is very, very quiet here. The displays are new and well dusted, so it doesn't look old (on the inside), but we were the only ones there for the entire time we were visiting.
The current curator championed the idea of adding a Vice Presidential museum, and says "I think the past few years the image has changed, with the focus on the Vice Presidency."
He's trying to make a go of it with his rare veep items, but seems to be facing the same headwinds as the National First Ladies Library in Canton, Ohio, and the Gallery of Presidential Also-Rans in Norton, Kansas. We are here on a weekend, so maybe that explains the silence. The curator says that they get 150 people a week, and that school kids are bussed in. But if there's one 30-kid bus per weekday, then the rest of the time it's pretty quiet.
Dan Quayle took a lot of guff from people during his term of office, for gaffes both real and apocryphal. But he didn't tell Senators to "F*ck off!," or operate out of a secret hiding place. And one thing that you wonder after visiting this museum is, "Was he really any worse than these other guys?" The men you conjure when you think of great Presidents -- Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy, Reagan -- were never Vice President. And when you look at artifacts like a Spiro Agnew trash can or a Dick Cheney inaugural medallion, you find yourself thinking, "You know, maybe that happy-go-lucky golfer-son-of-a-gun wasn't so bad after all."