It's no joke as Quayle town honours its favourite son: An Indiana museum will commemorate the former vice-president's career, reports David Usborne

THINGS YOU never knew about Dan Quayle and never really cared to: he had surprisingly large feet at birth; as a schoolboy he was occasionally over-boisterous; in this town, at least, he is a figure of reverence, not ridicule.

This last piece of news is not altogether surprising. Huntington, a medium-sized town in north-eastern Indiana, was where the former vice- president grew up and started his political career. And such is the love for him here, a small museum is about to be opened in memory of his Washington years.

To the pleasure, and almost touching puzzlement, of the volunteers behind it, the project is attracting nation-wide attention. While all presidents can expect to have libraries and museums established in their names when they leave office - one is planned for George Bush in Houston, Texas - no such honour has ever been bestowed on a still-living ex-vice-president.

Much of the interest arises, of course, from the enduring image of Mr Quayle as fodder for the late- night television joke. And the building of the museum is already producing a new crop. Like this from Jay Leno of the Tonight Show: 'They're actually going to call it the 'Dan Quayle Museum'. I guess they have to - the name 'Air and Space Museum' is already taken.'

For visitors still disposed to poke fun, the exhibits should provide ample material. Apart from the smudged footprint of J Danforth Quayle taken by the hospital immediately after his birth, there are scores of yukky family photographs of him in nappies, on horseback as a boy and even as a grown-up relaxing in his garden in matching flowered Hawaiian shorts and shirt.

But special attention is bound to be paid to the yellowed and fading school reports. Has Quayle, the man who told a boy on national television last year that the way to spell potato was with an 'e' on the end, been a dunce all his life? Apparently not. According to the two report- cards to be displayed, he was an exemplary student. With a few exceptions. In fifth grade he got a terrible mark for geography and two minus marks under the heading 'Use of Self-Control'. Teacher's comment: 'Talks at table]'

How will the museum handle this side of the Quayle legacy? Jean Nelson, executive director of the Dan Quayle Commemorative Foundation, smarts at suggestions such as selling potatoes in perspex in the gift shop or showing re-runs of the Murphy Brown (aka Candice Bergen) television episode to which Mr Quayle took such offence last year, when she delivered her out-of-wedlock infant.

'All that is part of Dan Quayle's history and we're committed to telling the whole story,' she explains tentatively. 'It's part of what happened, and we can't alter that.' But she hopes that it will be enough simply to give over one display to old newspaper cartoons lampooning the vice-president in his unhappiest moments.

For Mrs Nelson, who otherwise runs a pick-your-own farm with her husband, the museum is a serious endeavour. The Foundation was created even while Mr Quayle and George Bush were barely halfway through their term in 1990. 'We just felt we had the opportunity to do something while history was being made by a person from our town. It was really about preserving that point in history and collecting any artefacts while they were available.'

No thought was given originally to anything so grand as a museum. But the potential for something permanent became obvious after a small exhibit of Quayle bits and pieces in the local library drew 10,000 visitors in two summers (many more, for instance, than visit the Gerald Ford Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan). 'Somehow it has just snowballed and the whole project has become breathtaking for us,' Mrs Nelson admits. Funding has come from private donations and from free work provided by building contractors.

Provided conversion work on a defunct Christian Science church that will be home to the museum is finished on time, the doors should open on 17 June. A grand dedication is planned for mid-September at which Mr Quayle, who recently joined a legal and political think- tank in Indianopolis, and his wife, Marilyn, will be the star guests.

Serious devotees will be able to do more than visit the museum. Brass plaques embossed with a quail rampant adorn landmarks around town of significance to the ex-veep's past, like his former home and school. Most popular is likely to be Nick's Kitchen, allegedly Dan's favourite eating spot still today. Featured on its menu: a Quayle Burger topped with tomato and lettuce (and pretty flaccid it is too).

The restaurant, with its tenderloin beef 'world-famous since 1908', is itself a mini-photo gallery of precious Quayle moments. 'People here today are still very supportive of Dan Quayle - of Dan Quayle himself, not necessarily of his career,' says the owner, Jean Ann Drabenstot, who hopes the Quayle Burger will mean big business once the museum opens. But visitors intent on laughing at the local hero will not be welcome. 'If they come to do that, they'll surely be disappointed,' she says.

One thought - perhaps fantasy - everybody shares but dares not voice: that in 1996, former vice-president Quayle will be elected President Quayle. Then the little museum on Tipton Street, Huntington, would have a grand future indeed.

(Photograph omitted)

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