Every four years, Americans are accustomed to seeing the swearing-in of a president on January 20 on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. However, on that same day, another inauguration of sorts has been taking place deep in the American heartland--for the candidates who came in second place.
“That‘s the day we hang the picture of the candidate who lost the election,” said Lee Ann Shearer, curator of the They Also Ran Gallery which is located on the second floor of the First State Bank which overlooks the intersection of Main and State streets in downtown Norton, Kansas (population 3,000 and 1,227 miles from the nation’s capital).
The gallery honors a select group of men (so far) in American history. “Presidential Candidates Who Were Defeated…But Not Forgotten” read the white-lettered words on the bank’s glass front door. To date, 60 men are remembered in a quiet room that has its walls and partitions lined with large black and white photos plus biographical sketches about the candidates.
More losers than presidents are here, explained Shearer because some elections saw more than one person lose the race. For example, losing to Abraham Lincoln in 1860 were Stephen A. Douglas (Democrat), John C. Bell (Union Party) and John C. Breckinridge (a member of a splinter group of the Democrats who went onto serve as a general in the army of the Confederate States of America plus its secretary of war near the end of the conflict).
“Truman won against Thomas Dewey, who was a Republican, plus Strom Thurmond, a Dixiecrat, and Henry Wallace, of the Progressive Party,” said Shearer, noting three more who bit the dust.
“Due to wall space,” added Shearer. “We stick mostly with Democrats and Republicans now not that we don’t mention other parties like the Whigs, Bull Moose and Dixiecrats.”
None of the honorees in the gallery have visited it, said Shearer. “John C. Fremont, who was the first Republican presidential candidate but he lost in 1856, came through the county some years before the presidential election he was in although he did name our Prairie Dog Creek,” said Shearer who sprinkles bits of information as she talks about the gallery. “Horace Greeley came through here in 1859 but that was also before he was a candidate. He stopped here on a stagecoach and was so close,” she said with a laugh.
Even the two Kansans who ran for president and came in second place haven’t come here--Alf Landon (who lost in 1936) and Robert Dole (ditto 60 years later).
The They Also Ran Gallery began in 1965 after William Walter Rouse, former president and owner of the bank, thought that something could be done to increase tourism in Norton in the 1960s. After reading the book, “They Also Ran,” by Irving Stone, who wrote about 19 men who had vied for the nation’s highest office, Rouse began collecting images of those men from the Library of Congress. In 1965, he moved his collection to the bank, including a 16×20-inch image of each candidate plus a short biography Rouse wrote of the man.
Not all of those honored in the gallery are losers. Some had run for the presidency and lost but chose to run again. Others lost their bids for re-election. Shearer mentioned the names in this bracket: Thomas Jefferson (who lost to John Adams), John Adams (who then lost to Jefferson), John Quincy Adams, William H. Harrison, Martin Van Buren, Richard Nixon, William Taft, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Andrew Jackson, Herbert Hoover, Grover Cleveland (who lost his re-election bid to Benjamin Harrison in 1888) and then Benjamin Harrison (who then lost to Cleveland in 1892).
Some names in the gallery are no longer well known. Do many remember Rufus King (he lost to James Monroe in 1816), Horatio Seymour (U.S. Grant beat him in 1868) or James Middleton Cox (he was bested by Warren G. Harding in 1920 although Cox’s vice presidential partner, Franklin D. Roosevelt, eventually succeeded on his own, adding some names to the gallery).
However, the names of some picture here are still recognized such as Aaron Burr (defeated by Thomas Jefferson, he nonetheless became Jefferson’s vice president, as stipulated by law then, only to be accused of traitorous activities later), explorer John C. Fremont, Barry Goldwater, George Wallace, George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey and Al Gore.
Some could have their pictures and biographies here several times although being listed here just once has been enough for most of the honorees. Henry Clay leads the pack in this category; his biography in the gallery reads, “A consistent loser from 1824 to 1848” and notes he ran as a Democrat, a National Republican and a Whig. Apparently he was persistent as well as consistent. Close behind him is Socialist Party candidate Norman Thomas who lost six times over 20 years; apparently he was persistent and consistent too. Other include Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (three times), William Jennings Bryan (two times), Thomas E. Dewey (two times) and Adlai Stevenson (who lost twice to Dwight Eisenhower--the only Kansan who got to the White House). No mention is given to 12-time presidential hopeful Harold Stassen, a Minnesotan, but then he never received the nod of his Republican party so he wasn’t an official candidate.
Although Rouse died in 1981, the tradition he started is continued by the bank and, with a presidential election every four years, there’s sure to be more honorees in the years to come. Yet Shearer isn’t so sure. “We have about four more spots,” she said. “And by then I’ll have retired so I won’t have to think about this.”
The They Also Ran Gallery is located in the First State Bank, 105 W. Main Street in Norton, Kansas. In the northwest part of the Sunflower State, Norton is at the junction of U.S. Highways 283 and 36 and is 60 miles north of Exit 128 on Interstate-70. The gallery, which is free, is open Monday - Friday, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. and Saturday by appointment. For more information, visit the gallery’s website, http://www.theyalsoran.com/visiting.asp, or phone 785-877-3341.