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Dan Quayle: a legend in his own town

In the town where he spent much of his wonder years, Dan Quayle is not just a hero, he's history.

And that history is about to find a home. On Thursday, the 44th vice president of the United States will get his own museum.

This, townsfolk say, is not a joke.

"Quayle was well-respected except for the funny boys," says Mayor Gene Snowden. "They made him look like a little imp. . . . Dan has lots of excellent qualities that were never realized."

The Dan Quayle Center and Museum will offer testament to those qualities, but curator Thomas Mehl says it will offer more.

"This man has a story to tell and what better way to tell it?" he asked. "We're not here to propagandize his life. We're not here to brush all these jokes and these . . . cartoons aside and say, "Here's the real Dan Quayle.' It's for people who tour the museum to interpret that themselves."

Huntington, about 100 miles northeast of Indianapolis, already has paid tribute to its No. 1 son with a Quayle Run, Quayle subdivision, Quayle burger (at Nick's Kitchen, his favorite diner) and Quayle trail, a 10-stop tour of former Quayle homes and haunts marked with quail plaques.

When an exhibit of Quayle memorabilia in the public library drew more than 16,500 people over two years _ some of them from as far as Israel and Kenya _ the idea of a museum took root. Some call it a weed.

"I suppose it would be a little more interesting than an Ed McMahon museum," jokes Harrison Ullmann, editor and columnist at NUVO, an alternative newsweekly in Indianapolis. "If it were a commercial venture, I don't think I'd invest in it."

But Huntington librarian Kathy Holst insists Quayle's Everyman appeal will draw people who "come to see somebody who is very much like they are. They'll bring their kids and say, "Look, Johnny, if you work hard, YOU can become vice president. This person came from a small town just like you did.' "

Though James Danforth Quayle was born into a world of privilege _ his maternal grandfather, Eugene C. Pulliam, was a self-made millionaire who founded a publishing dynasty that included the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News _ his family homes in Huntington were quite modest.

Photos of those homes, the family and letters along with other memorabilia depict a conventional, middle-class world of Jaycees and YMCAs.

Among the Quayle-under-glass mementos: a 100-year-old family Bible that Quayle used to take his vice presidential oath and an assortment of Happy Days-era, circa 1960s souvenirs: a dreamy-eyed yearbook photo, a high school letter sweater for golf (an ever-present passion) and an adolescent's poem to his dad.

"Sometimes he acts as if he has been disturbed,

But other times he is as cheerful as a bird . . ."

There's more: a law diploma partly chewed by Barnaby, the dog; a picture of said offender, a black Labrador; a Quayle & Quayle, husband-and-wife law shingle; the chair he stood on at Nick's to announce his first congressional candidacy; and the flotsam and jetsam _ bumper stickers, buttons _ of a 16-year political career, videos of speeches, and home movies.

The collection of thousands of items is drawn from donations from Quayle himself, as well as family members and others, and from the National Archives.

The Dan Quayle Commemorative Foundation, according to president David Brewer, has raised about $100,000 in private donations and $75,000 in services and materials to establish the museum.

Jean Nelson, the foundation's executive director, said the goal isn't to sway minds. The museum just wants to tell Quayle's story.

"His part in history is already assured," she said. "We want to keep that history in Huntington. This is about a local boy who made good."