In its 20 years of existence, Huntington's Dan Quayle Vice Presidential Learning Center has grown to offer visitors much more than the story of a hometown boy who rose to national power.
Opening day of the Quayle Museum, June 17, 1993, found NBC, ABC and CBS live on the front steps with national media swarming through the exhibit, snapping and videotaping all the Quayle memorabilia, including his golf bag.
Fast-forward 20 years and things are much quieter. The museum has expanded its mission. Daniel Johns, the center's director, has taken what started as a museum for a hometown political hero and broadened its educational base to cover all 47 vice presidents and the governmental role of the office. He has collected artifacts on each, all the way through current Vice President Joe Biden.
The oldest piece in the collection is 224 years old, dating back to Vice President John Adams.
Johns collected the artifacts over the first eight years he was with the museum, primarily so he could use them to recount stories about the vice presidents. Many of them back up odd stories about the nation's seconds in command. Some are unique, others are old or unusual and some you don't think about.
This doesn't mean the Quayle collection is gone, Johns said. He has about 300 storage boxes from Quayle, items that he swaps in and out of the displays. He has everything from letters and documents from Quayle's political career, to Quayle's “Danny” sweat shirt and his little red truck from childhood as well as a whole cabinet of gifts Quayle received while visiting foreign countries in President George H.W. Bush's administration.
“People find his baby book fascinating,” Johns said.
Typical stories he tells visitors about Quayle focus on his family values, highlighting his life growing up in Huntington. Many people find it surprising that his childhood home is a tiny white house near downtown.
“Stories like that make him more relatable to people,” Quayle said.
Some of the stories Johns relays about other vice presidents are funny and some are a little odd, like the story of William Rufus de Vane King, the 13th vice president. He was the only vice president to take the oath of office while in a different country, Cuba. He was there because he had tuberculosis and his doctors sent him to Havana to heal. In the meantime, he was nominated as vice president and elected. He was granted special permission from Congress to take the oath of office outside the country. Johns has a document that describes that action. When King headed back to his plantation in Mobile, Ala., he died within a day of his arrival, which made him the shortest-term vice president of the United States.
By telling interesting stories like this, Johns hopes to spark his listener's interest so he or she will do more research.
Johns broadened the mission of the museum after he found a memo from Quayle's office saying, “Don't waste people's time with my baby pictures they eventually will not care, instead teach the people about the office of the vice president.”
Johns said he took that to heart and began expanding the collection and developing a school program for elementary through middle school students. During the school year, most of the visitors to the museum are from schools. For schools more than an hour away, Johns will take his lecture on the road and has traveled as far as Evansville and into Ohio. In a busy year, 10,000 students come through the museum; last year it had 5,000.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day the foot traffic picks up, attracting tourists from all over the world. Johns said the museum had a lot more visitors when it first opened, who were curiosity-seekers.
Last year Smithsonian Magazine wrote an article about the museum and it has gotten more visits since then.
The museum is privately funded through donations, grants and fundraisers. Daniels is the only full-time employee, but he has a corps of volunteers who help with school tours and sometimes run the gift shop.