Sunday, March 2, 2003

Happy birthday, Ohio

State celebrates 200 years at its first capital

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Confetti and balloons fly as the Bicentennial Statehood Day ceremony at the Ross County Courthouse comes to a close in Chillicothe on Saturday.
(Associated Press photos)
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CHILLICOTHE -- This city of 22,000 people became a time portal Saturday, transporting thousands of visitors back to Ohio's infancy two centuries ago.

Ohio's bicentennial birthday bash kicked off here with the celebration of Statehood Day in the first state capital, a city that has kept many of its distinctive old buildings still intact. Bedecked with patriotic bunting for the occasion, downtown Chillicothe looked historic. It felt that way, too.

"I can truly say I felt more of a sense of history here today than I have in a long time,'' said Rep. Gary Cates, R-West Chester Twp., as he stood on the steps of the Ross County Courthouse, following a special joint session of the Ohio 125th General Assembly there.

"Before today, I really did not appreciate the significance of the tremendous and awesome task those people had, creating a whole new state in the wilderness,'' he said. "But standing there in that room, signing my name on that register, on the same desk they used, it was almost overwhelming.''

Organizers estimated that 4,000 people gathered around the courthouse for the celebration. Officials dedicated a bicentennial bell, cast on-site by the Verdin Co. of Cincinnati, which is producing a commemorative bell for each of Ohio's 88 counties.

Fireworks shot from the roof of the courthouse; streamers, confetti and red, white and blue balloons burst from windows and into the crowd. Representatives from each county participated in a parade and a lineup along the front of the courthouse - believed to be the first such display in the state's history, the Ohio Bicentennial Commission said.

[photo] Members of the Camp Chase Drum and Fife lead the parade of counties to the Ross County Courthouse.
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Ray King, a Cub Scout leader from Cleves, said he couldn't help being proud of his son, John, 10, and fellow Cub Scout Jacob Luning, 9, as they held a banner and a flag representing Hamilton County.

U.S. Rep. Robert Ney read a message from President Bush, recognizing Ohio's heritage and contributions to the nation as the birthplace of numerous presidents, aerospace pioneers and the originators of powered flight, Orville and Wilbur Wright.

The state and nation are also marking the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' historic flight this year.

Jim and Donna Murphy of Colerain Township, friends of the Kings, brought their seven children, ages 3 months to 13 years, as part of a history lesson.

The Murphys home-school their children and they're planning to take a trip each Friday this year to explore Ohio history, Donna Murphy said.

"By being here, we're hoping we can show the value of Ohio history and inspire them to explore it,'' she said.

The capital was moved from Chillicothe to Zanesville in 1810, returned to Chillicothe from 1812-16, then permanently moved to Columbus because of its more central location.

During one highlight of the celebration, dignitaries including Gov. Bob Taft celebrated the reopening of the Adena State Memorial, following a $6.6 million restoration.

The home sits on a hill overlooking Mt. Logan, which served as the inspiration for the sunrise scene depicted on the Ohio state seal.

But heavy mist enshrouded the hill, making it invisible to hundreds who gathered for the home's reopening.

At Saturday's ceremony, authorities announced the site had been designated a National Historic Landmark.

Adena, whose name means "pleasure'' in Hebrew, also was the home of Thomas Worthington, considered father of Ohio's statehood. Worthington served as a state senator twice and went on to serve as governor.

Dozens of descendants of Worthington were honored guests for the events

Thomas Worthington Gross came from Japan, where he is teaching English to children, to participate. Thomas Worthington was his great-great-great-great grandfather, he said. The day's events began with some 300 people braving thick fog and temperatures in the 30s to witness the unmolding of the 250-pound bicentennial bell.

Dave Verdin of the Verdin Co. admitted he was a bit apprehensive because, "This is, in fact, the coldest that we've ever cast a bell.''

Ohio State football player and Chillicothe native Ben Hartsock swung a 16-pound golden-toned sledgehammer against the sand and metal molding material; Verdin Co. craftsmen moved in with jackhammers, then finally a crane, to reveal the bell underneath.

It was charcoal black. But within a few hours, the Verdin crew had polished the bell to a brilliant shine.

Natalie Howie, 11, and her mother, Sidney, were there for every stage of the process. Natalie was one of several dozen Ross County students who helped pass metal ingots to Verdin workers, who melted the metal that was then poured into the bell's mold.

Mrs. Howie said she was making a scrapbook of the events, beginning with the ingot-passing and ending with her daughter posing next to the finished bell as she pulled on a rope tied to its clapper and rung it.

"It's very nostalgic,'' Mrs. Howie said. "We're making this one big history weekend that we'll remember always.''


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