Prized possessions

Huntington collection popular
with visitors during Bicentennial

Souvenirs of Madison chronicle
the city’s history, character

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(July 2009) – It all started with a love for his community and a fascination with an old oil can. Now more than 30 years later, Al Huntington, a former Madison, Ind., mayor, has amassed a treasure trove of Madison memorabilia.

Al Huntington

Photos by Konnie McCollum

Al Huntington poses with
his memorabilia collection that
was on display during the
Madison Bicentennial.

Huntington Collection

Many of the items were displayed at the Seifert-Short Museum and Learning Center, 301 Broadway St., during the Madison Bicentennial Celebration’s 200-hour party. The exhibit, sponsored by the Madison Rotary Club, will open periodically prior to major events in the city. Details have yet to be finalized.
“I had a few items that my parents and other relatives gave me when I was younger,” said Huntington. “I really started collecting heavily in 1978 when I found the oil can.”
That oil can was made by Madden Motor Co.
Huntington, former owner of Madison’s Valley Industrial Supply Co., looks for many of his items at auctions, antique shops and online. Now that word has gotten around about his collection, he said people are simply giving him items because they know how fond he is of anything that has “Madison” written on it. “If it said Madison on it, I bought it,” he said.
He enjoys doing the research about each item he collects, such as the Pepsi Co., bottle with the city’s name on it. ‘I couldn’t figure out why Madison would be written on a Pepsi bottle,” he said. “But I found out it was actually bottled here briefly in 1952-1953 through Sunkist Bottling.”
Huntington has a large collection of rare bottles that were produced in Madison, many of which were on display in the exhibit.
Another favorite item of his is the 1901 prescription book that belonged to Frank Harper, who owned an apothecary in town. The book holds formulas from doctors, and patients could come in and he would look up the prescriptions to mix the medicines. “This is quite a treasure,” said Huntington.
Not only are there souvenirs from a variety of Madison businesses, but there are school photos and mementos, calendars, letters, documents and even the 1901 original incorporation paper for the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art and the 1871 County Directory.
There is an album of trading cards that had business information on one side and artwork on the other, key chains, badges, boxes, and many other keepsake items from area businesses and industries. Photographs of historic businesses and factories help highlight the artifacts.
I find new things all the time from businesses I never knew about,” said Huntington, who believes the exhibit “creates a warm spirit of the community.”
Jefferson County Historical Society archivists Ron and Jackie Grimes were instrumental in helping Huntington display the items. “They certainly didn’t look like this when I brought them in here,” he said. “The Grimes are experts at displaying exhibits; they did a fantastic job of organizing and setting this up.”
“The collection is fascinating,” said Ron Grimes. “It was such a pleasure to work with Al Huntington because he has a real knowledge and love for Madison.”
Part of the exhibit featured glass and tin plates of photographs dating back to the late 1800s. When he first bought them at an auction, Huntington wasn’t sure if they were salvageable. He took them to Grimes, who made photos off of them. Several of those photos, including one of the Walnut Street Saloon, were on display.
Jackie Grimes did the research on the plates to try to identify the saloon and discovered there were actually 52 saloons in the town at one time. The Grimes actually drove through the city looking to see if the building still existed and found it. Today, though, it does not have the “Wild West” swinging saloon doors that it used to have.
Huntington donated the collection of photographic plates to the Jefferson County Historical Society. “Don’t throw anything away – take it down to the historical society,” he said.
Eventually, Huntington would love to leave his massive collection to an organization that will keep continue to show it. For now, however, he plans to keep collecting. “Things pop up all the time,” he said.

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