The Land of Family Values is also a bountiful land of bargains, whether you're looking for cheap laughs, cheap eats, cheap lodgings, or cheap vintage furniture (you might consider bringing a U-Haul). Shoot down U.S. 30 through northern Indiana to the town of Larwill, about 140 miles from Chicago, and turn south on winding, hilly State Road 5. Go 20 miles and you're in Huntington, hometown of the 44th vice president.
Then head for Smith's Used Furniture at Franklin and Warren streets (9 to 5 Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, 9 to 4 Saturday; 219-356-2224). The place is jam-packed with dreck, but you'll be surprised to find that the crap generally costs more than the good stuff. Be sure to ask to see what's upstairs, not otherwise open to the public, as they often seem to split sets up. Once when I was up there I found the matching table and chairs to an elegant mahogany buffet being sold separately downstairs at $129. Next to the buffet sat a cheesy, Formica-clad hutch of mid-1960s vintage and discount-store provenance that cost $149. Occasionally you'll also run across undervalued pieces by Dunbar, a high-end manufacturer in a nearby town.
For cheap vintage clothing, check out the Community Thrift Shop (416 N. Warren, 10 to 4 Monday through Friday, 219-358-0702), a bargain basement for the indigent. You may have to sift through malodorous heaps, but it's worth it: suits and overcoats are four for a dollar, and occasionally you can find barely worn, far-out items from the 40s, 50s, and 60s.
After all of this trolling, you'll be primed for the new Dan Quayle Center and Museum (at the corner of Warren and Tipton; it's scheduled to open June 17; hours are 10 to 4 Thursday through Saturday, 1 to 4 Sunday through June 20; call 219-356-6356 for hours after that date; admission is free). Here you can pick up the Dan Quayle Commemorative Foundation's "Quayle Trail" brochure, which lists nine points (rather devoid) of interest. Among these are Quayle's childhood home (a nondescript tract house at 1317 Polk) and the Huntington County Republican Headquarters (201 W. State, 219-356-8222, hours irregular), where you can buy oodles of Quayle souvenirs with the Dan Quayle registered trademark: buttons, golf towels, T-shirts, postcards, lapel pins, key chains, ties, and scarves. The museum, of course, also has a gift shop.
The museum's grand opening is set to coincide with Huntington's annual Heritage Festival (June 17-20; info at the chamber of commerce, 219-356-5300). At about this time every year people come here to contemplate this area's rich history, though many evidently come to forget--the obligatory beer tent is probably the biggest draw. There's also a parade, a flea market, a rubber-ducky race on the Wabash River, and other exciting nonevents. But the historical sites are certainly worth a look.
On West Park Drive at the edge of town you can see Huntington's unique Sunken Gardens, a former limestone quarry made into a public park in the 1920s. Overlooking this park is the "slave house" where Lambdin P. Milligan held runaway slaves until he colected the bounties on them. Milligan was sentenced to death by a military tribunal for his southern sympathies in 1865, but his life was saved by the U.S. Supreme Court (the famous Ex Parte Milligan case) in 1866. The flagstone building, moved to its current location a few years ago from a spot near the river, has 22-inch-thick walls. You may want to pay close attention to what's said by your guide (you have to call the parks department to get inside, 219-358-2323; admission is free). In a phone conversation a local historical-society curator erroneously described Milligan as an abolitionist and the building as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Farther west, past the modest Quayle Ridge housing subdivision, sits the Richardville House (3000 U.S. 24), a modest 1829 wood home built by Jean de Baptiste Richardville, the half-French chief of the Miami Indian nation who, until his death in 1841, was reputedly the wealthiest man in Indiana. One local historian says that when construction of the Wabash & Erie Canal threatened this house in 1836, Richardville used his considerable influence to change the canal's course. A recent road-widening project, however, forced the house to decamp from its original location to a spot across the road, roughly where the long-gone canal used to be. The subject of Richardville's wealth might also be only delicately touched on by local historians. According to John Ankenbruck's 20th Century History of Fort Wayne, he and his heirs profited handsomely from treaties with the American government covering the land inhabited by the Miami Indian nation, whose remaining members were rounded up by "removal officers" in 1846 and deported on flatboats to Kansas, where virtually all perished in a winter storm. The house will not be open during the festival but will reopen permanently sometime later this year (219-356-4899).
The remains of the Wabash & Erie Canal are another point of historical interest. Ankenbruck's book claims that one man died for every six feet of the canal completed in Indiana--of malaria, cholera, and internecine combat between the "fiery combination of Cork and Ulster Irish" who built the waterway, many of whom settled in Huntington in the 1830s. Those who died did so for nought; the canal was superseded by the railroads almost as soon as it was completed in 1848 and quickly fell into ruin. The best remnants may be seen in a public park on the east edge of the small town of Lagro, ten miles west of Huntington on U.S. 24, where you can walk through the surprisingly narrow canal bed and a set of canal locks.
If all this sightseeing makes you hungry enough to eat a Quayle burger, head over to Nick's Kitchen, Dan's favorite hometown restaurant--it bills itself the "unofficial Quayle headquarters." (506 N. Jefferson, open 5:30 AM to 3 PM Monday through Saturday, 219-356-6618). The specialty of the house is the $4 half-pound monster that bears his name.
For something a little different, try Grandma Bertha's Elbow Bender (411 N. Jefferson; 11:30 to 9 Monday through Thursday, 3 to 11 Friday and Saturday, 3 to 9 Sunday; 219-358-0800), where you can get pizza, subs, "unique" salads, and various ice cream concoctions. The house specialty is the "Elbow Bender," a well-topped $12.77 pizza that supposedly makes people fight over the last piece. Despite the name, visitors wanting to booze it up will find only beer and wine.
For more upscale dining you may want to try the Silver Moon Saloon (32 N. Jefferson, 4 PM to 3:30 AM Monday through Saturday, 219-356-9995), an 1890s tavern overlooking the river that's currently undergoing historic restoration. The building has been pressed into numerous uses over the years, but the owners have brought back its original name and hope to bring back its original appearance. The saloon offers a limited fresh-seafood menu with prices from $6.95 to $13.90. During the festival it will host a jazz and chamber-music benefit concert for Huntington Alert, a local historic-preservation group.
If you're too tired to drive home, the town's best guest quarters are at the Purviance House (326 S. Jefferson; $35 to $45 for a single, $40 to $55 for a double; 219-356-4218), an elegant bed-and-breakfast in an 1859 Greek Revival-Italianate home with period furnishings, original interior shutters, and well-preserved ornate plasterwork.
Other lodgings include the L&K Inn (2929 W. Park; $38 for a single, $46 for a double, $50 for a triple; 219-356-0030) and, for those with a sense of adventure, the Hoosier Motel, a Bates Motel sort of place overlooking a functioning drive-in (2000 Old U.S. 24, $27.95 plus $2 for each additional occupant, 219-356-5326).
You may just want to head 20 miles northeast to the city of Fort Wayne, where you'll find innumerable other choices. Here you can also visit an exhibit that pays tribute to the region's other most notable personality, Myrtle Young, who's now something of an international celebrity, having just toured the British talk-show circuit. She worked in a potato-chip factory picking defective brown and green nasties out of the batches, and takes those that resemble Ronald Reagan, Bob Hope, Mr. Magoo, and Tweetie Bird on TV shows like Late Night With David Letterman. Part of her collection of 400 "finds" may be viewed Tuesday through Thursday at Seyfert's Potato Chips (1001 Paramount Road: take U.S. 24 east from Huntington to Interstate 69 northbound; take exit 111A and follow Indiana 3 south to Paramount). There's one free tour in the morning, one or two in the afternoon; times vary. Parties of more than 30 are discouraged, and they recommend that you call in advance: 219-483-9521.
If you want to see a more serious presidential museum, the Abraham Lincoln Museum and Library is considered the largest and best Lincoln exhibit in the nation (1300 S. Clinton, in the Lincoln National Corporation headquarters). Hours are 9 to 5 Monday through Friday, 10 to 5 Saturday, and 1 to 5 Sunday; 219-455-3864. Admission is free.