There is absolutely no reason to go to the Ken Gray Presidential Museum.
However, if you are there, you go.
It's free, for one thing. It's also in a mall. In this case,the Illinois Centre mall in Marion, Illinois. The town of Marion (about 20,000 people near Carbondale, Illinois and Paducah, Kentucky) is actually in pretty good shape, but the mall itself always resembled Dawn of the Dead, really from the time it opened its doors. The current incarnation of the mall has a few token stores you would expect, but is largely inhabited by local shops selling country knicknacks.
But it's also home of Gray's Museum. It would be a ripoff if it cost anymore than free, but it's easy to justify it's existence. Gray had two long term stints in congress which lasted from Ike to HW Bush. It means he has picked up some cool stuff along the way. It means when Carter came to Southern Illinois to tour a mine in the 1970s, and Clinton made trips in the 90s, Gray was in the entourage.
Gray passed away earlier this month, so I don't want to speak ill of the dead, but I am here to praise him not bury him. He was a larger-than-life character and the type of politician that could have only existed in the second half of the 20th Century. The man was the first guy to wear a pink suit to Congress. Even at 89, he was a pimp.
Gray was called the "Prince of pork" but he loved it. He lavished in it. It's hard to imagine such a thing now in the days where the Tea Party runs wild. In 2014, you can't even be Thad Cochran. I get it. You want to vote for someone who won't raise taxes. But you're wrong.
What you really want is someone who brings that money and puts it in your local economy, and Gray certainly did that. In 24 years in Congress, he brought $7 Billion to his district.
Gray was as over the top as his suits, so I don't know that I believe half of what he says. Gray was a pall bearer at JFK's funeral, and claims that JFK told him that he (JFK) would serve eight years in the White House and Gray would be up next (we will never know). Gray claims he introduced the bill to add "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance which Eisenhower signed. Wiki doesn't give Gray the credit (it was probably a group of Congressmen), but it should be noted that it was a Democrat who introduced that particular bill.
Gray also was involved in a scandal which alleges that he hired Elizabeth Ray (she, the famous ex Miss Virginia who became an aide to Rep Wayne Hayes and her quote "I can't type. I can't file. I can't even pickup the phone) and supposedly (unproven) told her to have sex with Mike Gravel to get his support for a bill).
Gray's museum is low rent, but I bring it up for two reasons. I don't bring it up for the interesting bits and pieces collected from visits with JFK, Carter, and Clinton; or even the Barbie dolls and accessories meant to portray historical figures.
I bring it up because Gray had dozens of autographed pictures that made to the museum. Like any politco of his era, he took full advantage of photo ops. So along with letters from Clinton and an ink pen that signed legislation from JFK, there's Gray with Bob Hope, the St. Louis football Cardinals, Barbara Mandrell, and Donna Douglas. Still, of note, to me was the display of two pro wrestlers- Nikita Koloff and Lex Luger (Wait, wasn' Koloff a commie? Maybe this was after his change of heart). Thanks random internet guy for capturing a pic.
My second reason was picked up in this picture of Gray at the museum that featured in HuffPo's obituary.
This gives you a good shot of the museum and it's unique
junk exhibits, like the cut outs of the Clintons in front of an umbrella. You might miss what I am referencing, but the museum has pictures of the Presidents with blurbs underneath.
For example, what John Adams might look like.
I suppose that's no worse than assuming Adams looks like Paul Giamatti (Ok, it probably is worse) or anything that you can find in history lessons on The Blaze.
So, it certainly was a kick. The Washington Post did a nice obituary which captured a lot of the stuff I had in mind for this article