$1M sought to place Edison in U.S. Capitol

Inventor to succeed Ohio ex-governor


COLUMBUS — Consider Gov. William Allen to be the ultimate lame duck.

The 31st Ohio governor’s days are numbered as one of two Buckeye State representatives standing in the National Statuary Hall. Six months ago, state leaders officially determined that prolific inventor Thomas Alva Edison, born in Milan, Ohio, better represents what Ohio prefers to be, rather than what it was 125 years ago when its likeness of Governor Allen, then recently deceased, was sent to the U.S. Capitol.

But Washington may have to wait two more years for an Edison in marble or bronze. Efforts to raise about $1 million to pay for the statue’s creation, its transport to the Capitol, and the return of Mr. Allen’s statue to Ohio are expected to kick off on Feb. 9, two days before the 166th anniversary of Mr. Edison’s birth.

“I sometimes think that people believe once a statue is approved, it’s just going to appear,” said Don Gfell, owner of the Sights and Sounds of Edison store in Milan. “I don’t think people realize that this takes a year or two to put in place. I’ve been pleased to hear from a couple of my friends that have visited the Statuary Hall more recently that, when the tour guide found out they were from Ohio, he mentioned that Allen’s statue will be replaced by Thomas Edison.”

A nonprofit commission created under the law that formally named Edison to the hall not only will raise the funds but also will decide what image of Edison the statue should present, who will carve it, and even the medium — marble or bronze under National Statuary rules — in which it will be cast.

No tax dollars will be used in the process.

“We’ve got to get a group assembled to represent the state broadly so that we’ll be successful in fund-raising,” said Elizabeth Pierce, a spokesman for the Cincinnati Museum Center. Her boss, Doug McDonald, chief executive officer of the center, is chairman of the commission.

“There is educational awareness that goes along with it,” Ms. Pierce said. “The commission will hit the ground running come the first of the year, and then there’s still an 18-month to two-year process before it is installed in the Capitol.

“Ohio has an embarrassment of riches,” she said. “When you look at the 10 people on the Ohio ballot, there were incredible people who were not selected who had great impact. … Case Western, the Ohio Historical Society, and the Cincinnati Museum Center have been partners all along with this whole process. This is a statewide process celebrating the history of Ohio.”

A 2010 informal vote of visitors to Ohio historic sites nominated Mr. Edison, but it would be roughly two more years before legislation would survive lobbying by Wright Brothers enthusiasts and clear Gov. John Kasich’s desk.

That left the task of raising the roughly $1 million in private donations needed to create the Edison statue, transport it to Washington, erect it, and pack up Mr. Allen’s statue for his return trip home to Ohio.

Mr. Allen — a mid-1800s Democratic governor, congressman, and U.S. senator — was selected by his contemporaries soon after his death to stand for Ohio in Statuary Hall. In part, his selection was a partisan counterweight to Ohio’s other marble representative, assassinated Republican President James Garfield. Mr. Garfield’s statue will remain in the Capitol Rotunda.

Like many Democrats of his day, “Earthquake Allen” tolerated slavery to appease the South, opposed Republican President Abraham Lincoln, and opposed the Civil War. But now, at a time when Mr. Lincoln is considered by many to be the greatest president the nation has known and his effort to abolish slavery is the stuff not only of history but also of big movies, Mr. Allen has not worn well over time.

The Feb. 9 event will coincide with a Milan Chamber of Commerce awards dinner to bring attention to the fund-raising effort. More information is at www.tomedison.org.

One of the awards that night will go to state Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills), who pushed the legislation through the General Assembly. After several false starts, he ultimately inserted the language into the state budget.

Senator Wagoner will be citizen Wagoner by that time, having opted not to seek re-election.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.