May 28: Monroeville to Huntington, Indiana - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

May 28: Monroeville to Huntington, Indiana

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OF MANY THINGS is America made glorious. The glories of the Rockies and the national parks, the museums and art galleries, the great orchestras... and the Dan Quayle Vice-Presidential Museum.

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Dan Quayle was vice-president when the first George Bush, the patrician one, was top man. He was born in Huntington, Indiana, and he announced his run for national election in a cafe in the town's shopping streets. His loyalty doesn't seem to have extended beyond there because as soon as his spell in the White House was over, he and his family left for Phoenix, Arizona.

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In Europe he was never much known. If he's recalled at all it's because he couldn't spell tomato. Or was it potato? But then what's a vice-president for, anyway, and how crucial to the job is the spelling of fruits and root crops?

"The only things the constitution demands of a vice-president," said the quiet but enthusiastic curator, "are, one, that he breathes and, two, that he presides over the Senate and votes if there's a tie. Other than that, the job is whatever the president cares to make it, so some vice-presidents have done very little - originally they didn't even have to live in Washington and it's only in relatively recent times that he's had a residence there - and some have done a lot."

Much of the job seems to be attending foreign funerals and looking solemn at the graveside of world leaders on whom the president himself hasn't declared recent war.

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The Dan Quayle museum has its roots in an exhibition in the city library. More people showed an interest than expected and the idea grew of keeping exhibits on show and adding to them. A Christian Scientist church near the centre of town was down to its last eight regulars and it gave up the holy ghost and gave its building to make a museum.

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"Mr Quayle said 'Don't go filling it with my baby pictures because no one's interested in that' and he suggested a museum dedicated to all vice-presidents."

Indiana has had a surprising number of them.

Originally the vice-president was whoever came second in the election. If a Republican won then the Democrat got the runner-up job, or the other way round, or whatever the parties were back then. That was of little inconvenience to the president when his deputy was unlikely to show up in Washington anyway, but it grew inconvenient and so Americans began voting for a president and a vice-president at the same time, as they still do.

The museum is surprisingly interesting. You'd think it'd be on the scale of a museum of short-legged basketball players but you'd be wrong. We were impressed. There are exhibits, newspaper cuttings and explanations for every vice-president the country has had. There are campaign hats and buttons, a vinyl LP called "Spiro Agnew Speaks - Collectors' Edition", the last two words a give-away that nobody expected it to sell much. There are Al Gore's books and front pages of events that led vice-presidents to take the top job, such as the death of John Kennedy and the resignation of Richard Nixon.

"When I came here," the curator said, "I resolved to turn it into an educational centre. We got perhaps 1,500 casual visitors but they were all between Memorial Day and Labor Day [the start and end of summer]. That left the rest of the year. So we went out to the schools and now we have 10,000 students a year pass through. And I've extended that to going on tours of schools in this state and in others."

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I gather that originally there was more space for the local lad. Now he is one of many, although he has more coverage than anyone else. There is much in storage that was on display and will eventually be on show again, and there are boxes and boxes of papers that Quayle has given, maybe because they were filling up his house down in Arizona. Some former vice-presidents have been helpful, others have barely wanted to know.

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It sounds a joke of a place to visit and that's what we thought it would be. Nobody else came in all the time we were there but that just made our enjoyment all the better. I've no idea if Dan Quayle was a good vice-president or not but I'm sure there were plenty who were worse. And the museum taught us a lot.

Tomorrow: more cultural excitement as we visit the world's largest outdoor privy museum.


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