Sunday, February 11, 2001

Ohio's bash big for bicentennial

State plans educational 'legacy'

By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The birthday party is planned. The guest list includes more than 11 million people. Visitors are welcome.

        But Ohio's 2003 bicentennial will offer more than a good time. It will leave a lasting mark on communities across the state.

        “We're trying to stress legacies,” said Stephen C. George, executive director of the Ohio Bicentennial Commission. “We want people to come out of this with a greater sense of pride. Legacy and education are not only important themes, they are central goals.”

        Unifying people across 40,953 square miles of urban, suburban and rural areas is not likely to be easy.

        “That's why we want to reach out to every community,” Mr. George said.

        “We want people to end up learning more about the state and accomplishments of Ohioans. We want the bicentennial to fire up people about all things Ohio — what it means to live here and what this great and diverse state is all about.”

        Ohio's bicentennial starts March 1, 2003. Events will be held locally and regionally through October that year.

        Planners promise it will be one of the country's best 200th birthday bashes. To pull it off, millions will be needed. So far, Ohio's officials have been willing to provide the cash.

        This month, Gov. Bob Taft recommended the Bicentennial Commission receive $14 million for 2002 and $16 million in 2003.

        “We want our bicentennial to not only inspire Ohioans but to reach beyond the state's borders to the rest of the country and the world,” he said.

        Mr. George said the Smithsonian Institution will honor Ohio at a fireworks festival in July 2003. “It will take us onto the nation's front lawn,” he said.

        So far, proposals include:

        • Casting miniature Liberty Bell replicas in communities, poured from liquid bronze in the middle of each town.

        “This is the first time this kind of thing has happened in North America,” Mr. George said. “It happened in Europe 500 years ago. The bells will serve as a uniting symbol and allow people to come together.”

        It's too early to say how many bells will be cast, he said.

        • Erecting markers to honor Ohioans' contributions in areas including sports, literature and the presidency. The markers, to be determined by the commission's 21 advisory councils, “will underscore that Ohio has had remarkable accomplishments,” Mr. George said.

        • Starting a major educational program, underpinned by an Ohio documentary made for television.

        “It will bring children's textbooks to life and invigorate history,” Mr. George said. “It will be linked to classroom activities and packaged for sale for the home.

        “It will be tied to bicentennial moments - brief moments in history for television.”

        • Conducting a series of special events around the state.

        “Think of them as candles on the cake,” he said.

        “We hope these events earn us some media attention from outside Ohio. We want the country to know that we are an important state.”

        That's what Tennessee tried to achieve in 1996 when it built the $62 million Bicentennial Capitol Mall Park on 19 acres downtown. It includes a 380-foot granite map depicting every community in the state, 31 fountains and a granite history wall.

        “Our celebration was nice,” said Thurman Mullins, the park's manager. “A special bicentennial train ran across the state and on Statehood Day stopped at the new park — the Capitol's front lawn. This project was the premier thing we did. It will last.”

        Ohio's Bicentennial Commission will make specific plans when it learns exactly how much money it will receive, said Lee Yoakum, a commission spokesman.

        “We need to start some programs by the fall,” he said. “Obviously, some of the big events won't start until 2003.”

        The commission's salary budget for new employees would increase from $1.2 million this year to $3.8 million in 2003 under Mr. Taft's plan. Sixteen people currently are on the staff.

        “We've put up 200 markers already — that's 50 percent of what's been put up in Ohio,” Mr. George said. “We'll have to grow to keep up with all the things we hope to do.”
       Special events
       Signature events will show what Ohio is about during the bicentennial year.
        Though plans are tentative, the Bicentennial Commission hopes to help finance some existing and new events.
        They include:
        • Tall Stacks in Cincinnati, which brings together dozens of steamboats on the Ohio River.
        • Tall Ships in Cleveland. The event takes Lake Erie back to the days of sail-powered vessels.
        • A wagon train that would run across the state in summer.


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