Remembering Presidential Runners-Up

History, On the Road, Traditions, Travel Destinations
on October 26, 2008
David Mudd Curator Lee Ann Shearer ponders the next inductee into the They Also Ran Gallery.

When the winner of the U.S. presidential election moves into the White House in January, the loser will get a place of honor in the They Also Ran Gallery, in Norton, Kan. (pop. 3,012).

Theyre all very important men, curator Lee Ann Shearer, 34, says about the 58 unsuccessful presidential candidates enshrined in the one-room photo gallery inside First State Bank. William Walter Rouse, the banks former president, created the gallery in 1965 after reading Irving Stones book, They Also Ran, about the nations presidential runners-up.

Dad was interested in history and education and read that Horace Greeley had stopped in town, says Rouses daughter Ann Hazlett, 76, of Norton.

Greeley, a 1872 presidential hopeful who founded the New York Tribune and editorialized on the Go West, young man theme, already was famous for staying overnight at the stagecoach stop in Norton during a westward journey. Rouse decided that a museum devoted to presidential also-rans like Greeley could be a boon for his town.

At the free museum, every major-party presidential wannabe from Thomas Jefferson to John Kerry is saluted with a wood-framed 16-by-20-inch official Library of Congress portrait and a 300-word biography. Minor-party candidates have been excluded since 1980 because of dwindling wall space.

Gerald Fords photo was double-bolted and attached like the others to the wall, but it kept falling off, Shearer says, with a laugh. He was kind of a klutz, you know.

While the names and faces of inductees such as Samuel J. Tilden, Horatio Seymour, Winfield Scott Hancock and Rufus King may not ring a bell, others, like Jefferson, Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bushwho both won and lost presidential campaignsare quite familiar.

Henry Clay holds the distinction of being the biggest presidential loseror the most determined to win Americas highest political post. Clay ran as a candidate for three parties and lost three times: in 1824 as a Democratic-Republican, in 1832 as a National Republican, and in 1844 as a Whig.

Ive always been more interested in why people lost instead of why people won, says Chris Bettell, 26, of Gothenburg, Neb. (pop. 3,619), who spent more than an hour reading the biographical sketches of the gallerys inductees.

Though they didnt win the Oval Office, many politicians in the hall of losers, as Shearer affectionately calls the museum, nonetheless were quite successful men. Henry A. Wallace, for example, the 1948 Progressive Party candidate who lost to Harry S. Truman, served as vice president to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and helped organize the New Deal programs.

Shearers favorite inductee is Greeley because of his fleeting ties with Norton. Shearer also likes Greeleys casual appearance and friendly face in his portrait. Ive read that his wife was a slipshod housekeeper and he would exit the house in a rumpled coat with his hair messed and those neck whiskers, Shearer says. But he loved his country.

A desire to serve their nation is a common trait of all of the museums honorees.

Theyre all good men. They just didnt win the vote, says visitor Goldie Anderson, 97, of Caldwell, Idaho (pop. 25,967), who has voted in every presidential election since 1932. Im not a Democrat or a Republican, she adds. Im just an American and uphold the one I think is best for our nation.

On Nov. 4, when voters send one presidential candidate to the White House, Shearer will hang a portrait of the loser next to John Kerry, ensuring that the latest also-ran wont soon be forgotten in Norton.