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Romney joins the ranks of also-rans


NORTON -- It has been said history is written by the winners. The "They Also Ran Gallery" is for the losers, lest they be forgotten.

Willard Mitt Romney's portrait joined the 59 before him in an inaugural ceremony today at First State Bank, 105 W. Main. Romney, the Republican challenger, lost to Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama in November's election.

With Obama sworn in to office for a second term, Romney's 16-by-20 black and white portrait will hang on the wall of the bank's gallery.

William Walter Rouse, former president and owner of First State Bank, started collecting portraits of presidential losers after reading the book "They Also Ran" by Irving Stone. When the bank moved to its present location in 1965, there was a mezzanine with room to hang his portraits.

Thus was born the "They Also Ran Gallery." Rouse included a short biography with each portrait; some years, there are more than one presidential loser on the wall.

After Rouse's death in 1981, others have taken stewardship of the gallery, ensuring every four years there will be a portrait added.

Lee Ann Shearer, a bookkeeper at the bank, also is the gallery's curator.

"Back when I started at the bank, I would see people meander into the gallery, and look around without anybody talking to them," Shearer said. "So I thought they needed somebody to explain to them exactly what this was.

"I took it upon myself, and delved into the history of it, figured it out," she added. "I picked a few guys out of there that are my favorites, and I let people know about their lives."

Republican John C. Fremont, who was defeated by Democrat James Buchanan in 1856, is one of Shearer's favorites. Fremont passed through Norton in 1843, stopping at Station 15; tourists can visit a replica of the stagecoach station.

Democrat Samuel Tilden, who lost to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, is another Shearer favorite. Tilden won the popular vote after four months of counting, but Republicans refused to accept returns from four disputed states. A commission of five members of the House of Representatives, five senators, and five Supreme Court justices were chosen to pick the winner. Hayes won by one vote after a vote was switched when a judge was replaced.

One of the questions Shearer often is asked is where is Ross Perot. In 1992, Perot's third-party candidacy ensured Democratic challenger Bill Clinton would win the presidency with a plurality of votes, not a majority.

"They look for Ross Perot, because he made such a big impression in '92," Shearer said.

If the gallery added Perot, there would be just one less spot left. Romney's is the 60th portrait, and there is room for just four more, unless the gallery does some more re-arranging.

Before Shearer came on board, she heard stories about Gerald Ford's portrait. Ford, who became president after Richard Nixon resigned, lost to Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter in 1976. In real life, Ford was known for his clumsy ways.

"Back in the day, the way Gerald Ford was on the wall, he kept falling off for some reason," Shearer said. "They would make a funny remark -- he was clumsy anyhow, and he kept falling off the wall."

Each portrait tells the story of a candidate who might well be forgotten in time, if not for the gallery, which receives approximately 250 visitors per year.

The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and by special appointment on Saturday. There is free admission.

"It's something nobody else does," Shearer said. "Memories may fade fast on who had run, but Mr. Rouse thought it was important to honor them.

"We just kept that tradition alive."