Kerry joins the also-ran club

Kansas is home to its share of obscure attractions and museums: The world's largest ball of twine in Cawker City. The Oz Museum in Wamego. The official site of Little House on the Prairie near Independence, with a replica log cabin painstakingly reconstructed to author Laura Ingalls Wilder's description.

And about this time every four years, one quirky local attraction suddenly becomes more relevant.

Located on the mezzanine of the First State Bank in Norton, the Gallery of Also-Rans may seem better suited to the nation's capital than a town in northwestern Kansas with a population of 3,012. Lining three walls are carefully hung photographs honoring those presidential candidates who didn't quite make it to office. Soon, Sen. John Kerry will take his place beside last time's presidential loser, Al Gore, and 56 also-rans (sometimes including independent candidates) who came before him.

Aside from the wood-framed black and white portraits - and a slightly sinister, donated sculpture of a bald eagle perched on a table in the center - the room is empty, even a bit austere.

It could be months before Senator Kerry's entry is ready, explains Diana Mcgee, the bank's secretary and receptionist, who doubles as gallery curator, the fourth person to hold this position.

She's been on vacation and has yet to secure an acceptable photograph of Kerry.

In keeping with the other photos, it must be black and white, bust-style, and of museum quality. Ms. Mcgee must also pen a brief bio to accompany the portrait.

When W.W. Rouse, the bank's former owner and president, first conceived of the idea in 1965, he wanted to draw tourists to his small town as much as recognize the often forgotten men who came so close to leading this country.

The concept may seem unusual - more lampoon than historical legacy. But Beverly Hurley, who works with the state's tourism office, describes it as "history summed up on three walls of a bank. It's people who but for a few votes could have been president."

"It sounds like a funny gallery," admits Mcgee. "But these are famous people, too."

Mr. Rouse took the idea from the Irving Stone novel "They Also Ran," about defeated presidential candidates.

Horace Greeley, who lost handily to Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, is said to have made a campaign stop in Norton.

But as far as Mcgee knows, no one honored on the gallery walls has ever visited it.

Each year, between 50 and 100 people - more in election years - visit the exhibit, which is open during banking hours. (The ball of twine attracts more than 150 weekly.) A few are bank customers. Many simply love history and politics.

One high school teacher from Colorado spent three days at the gallery, taking copious notes for his class at home.

Not much has changed in the 39 years since the gallery opened. "It's gotten bigger," says Ann Hazlett, Rouse's daughter, who tended the exhibit after him. "And it had strange lights before - now it's nicely lit."

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