Where is Madison’s Hydroplane Museum?

You saw it in the movie ‘Madison,’
but it doesn’t really exist

By Duane Herin
Special to RoundAbout

(June 24, 2005) – This seems to be a frequently asked question since the April 2005 release of the movie “Madison.” Many downtown businesses and the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau have been answering this question.
One store owner replied, “There isn’t one here in Madison,” and the person countered, ”I know there is. We saw it in the movie!”

Madison Train Station

Photo by Don Ward

The Madison Train Station really
exists as a museum but not
for hydroplane racing.

The owner had to explain that the hydroplane museum was only a set for the movie. The movie crew used the Madison Railroad Depot on First Street and stocked it with several hydroplane items from local collectors to create a unique Hydroplane Museum. I would peek through the window to just get a glimpse.
During the 1999 Madison Chautauqua, the Jefferson County Historical Society opened it to the public for a small admission fee. As you can guess, our family spent some time viewing the museum. It made me wonder, with all of the race boat history we have in this town, why Madison doesn’t have a race boat museum? Later, the Historical Society did have some hydroplane and Regatta memorabilia on display in the museum for a short time.
Having a Regatta & Race Boat Museum in downtown Madison is not a new idea. Many people through the years have tried to get a museum started. The late Bob Snelling tried to get one going and was willing to donate his large Regatta and hydroplane memorabilia collection to it.
He later approached me and said, “Herin, are you still interested in my collection? The Regatta is still dragging their feet about getting a museum started, so I guess I’ll just have to sell it to you.”
As Bob showed me his collection, he spent several hours telling me stories about each piece in his collection. Graham Taylor has written articles in the past of people trying to get a museum started. He, along with Dave Taylor, Denny Jackson, John Knoebel, Wilbur Heitz and Dan Carter, looked at a location for the museum but decided it wasn’t close enough to the river. Tony Steinhardt, who had a part in the creation of the movie museum, has looked into the possibility of a museum in this town.
If these people can’t get a museum started, why do I think that there is any chance of pulling it off. It goes back to the movie “Madison.” The scene had the fictional character “Travis” taking a group of children through the museum as Jim McCormick (played by actor Jim Caviezel) watched from across the street.
With excitement in his voice, Travis tells the children the history about Madison, hydroplane racing and the Miss Madison. Then he says, “Isn’t that something – all that history in this little bitty town?”
The children agree as he continues, “This is important for you all to remember this stuff, because we have a responsibility to keep this stuff going.”
Every year, my family helps me set up our booth during the Madison Regatta so we can display items from past race teams and Regattas for purchase. We enjoy the excitement of seeing people looking at the memorabilia and hearing their stories of past Regattas and their favorite thunderboats. We plan to be moving from this area, and it may be our last time setting up at the Regatta. It would be great to be able to see a museum when we come back to visit.
If not, I guess, I’ll always have my personal museum in our home located in a small village in Northwest Illinois. Please stop by our booth in the parking lot of Tugboat’s Eatery and tell me your thoughts about a Race Boat Museum.
I will have a signup sheet for those people interested in making this a reality, and I will try to get it into the right hands.
I daydream a lot about a Hydroplane Museum located a block up from the pit ramp and a block down from the City Hall, where people can drop in to see many displays from past Regattas and a place to restore and display the Miss Madison hulls and boats that won here in Madison. As you can tell, I have a certain building in mind, but it may not be an option. The museum would have ties with the City of Madison, the Madison Regatta and Miss Madison Inc., but would be its own nonprofit organization.
Yes, it would take a lot of grants, donations and volunteers to pull it all together. Wouldn’t it be great, when people ask, “Where’s the Hydroplane Museum?” We can show them. I can see it happening and, as Travis said, “We have the responsibility to keep this stuff going.”

• Duane Herin owns Herin’s Collectibles in Madison, Ind. He wrote this column for RoundAbout.

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