CHILLICOTHE, Ohio - For Thomas Worthington Gross, the journey from Japan to Ohio was more than a marathon plane ride.
It was a journey back into the late 1700s and early 1800s, when his great-great-great-great grandfather, Thomas Worthington, was one of Ohio's founding fathers.
Amidst fog, chill, ringing bells, fireworks, and speeches, Ohio yesterday kicked off a yearlong celebration of its 200th birthday.
Along with nearly 50 other descendants of Worthington, the 23-year-old Mr. Gross took part in the reopening of Adena, Worthington's stone mansion, and several other events. Born in 1771 in Virginia, Worthington served as one of the U.S. senators representing Ohio from 1803-1807 and 1811-1814. He also was Ohio's sixth governor.
“I was lucky to know about my family heritage from my grandmother at an early age, and history and genealogy always have been fascinating to me because it is our connection to the past,” said Mr. Gross, a graduate of the College of William and Mary who teaches English in Japan.
And it is a connection to a pioneering, individualistic, revolutionary spirit that Ohioans sometimes forget, said Andrew R.L. Cayton, a history professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
“It was, we need to remind ourselves, an experiment in democratic government; a relatively new and untried way of doing things for people used to deferring to the authority of kings and aristocrats,” Dr. Cayton told state legislators, meeting on the same site where the first Ohio General Assembly gathered 200 years ago.
“Democracy is something we tend to take for granted in 2003. But it was something new under the sun in 1803. And the people of Ohio treasured their opportunity to try it. They had what we sometimes have lost - a wonderfully exhilarating sense of the possibilities of popular governance,” Dr. Cayton added.
The highlight yesterday was the reopening of Adena, the Hebrew word for “places remarkable for the delightfulness of their situations” that Mr. Worthington chose for his mansion.
It is said that when the men who wrote Ohio's first constitution finished work early one morning, they walked outside to see the sun rising over Mount Logan and the Scioto River and it inspired them to make the scene the seal of Ohio once it became a state.
The $6.6 million, state-funded project was the first major renovation of Adena since 1953, said Gary Ness, director of the Ohio Historical Society, which operates the site that the federal government last week made a National Historic Landmark.
The newly constructed museum and education center does not try to whitewash historical controversies.
Tim Verdin lifts the Ross County bicentennial bell from its mold at Chillicothe. Four hours later it was cleaned and given a gleaming finish.
One exhibit, titled “Could you have voted in Ohio 200 years ago?” has the symbol for “no” over “black men any age” and “women any age or ethnicity.”
Referring to the constitutional convention of 1802, an exhibit says: “Delegates debated whether blacks should vote. Some delegates said yes. The majority, like Worthington, said no.”
Jack Simmons is a descendant of Thomas Worthington's oldest daughter, Mary.
After marrying a man her father didn't approve of, she was ostracized and died in poverty in Texas.
A businessman who lives in Farmington Hills, Mich., Mr. Simmons, 56, said about 25 years ago he donated a needlepoint fire screen that Mary Worthington had made to Adena.
The renovation has breathed new life into Adena and the museum and education center will capture the interest of children, he said.
Outside the Ross County courthouse, the site of the Ohio legislature's first meeting on March 1, 1803, Glen Kimbler clutched a bicentennial bell he bought for $60.
He said yesterday's celebration - which attracted about 4,000 people - was the biggest thing to hit Chillicothe since the flood of 1959. Banners proclaiming Ohio's first capital waved in the wind.
“It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. It's like one big family affair, and you don't run into that very often,” Mr. Kimbler said.
Raising Old Glory in Chillicothe are members of the Ohio County Militia, Civil War historical re-enactors.
The only reminder that white settlers drove Indians off the land could be found on the edge of the celebration, where Dave Musser sat on a horse in the middle of Paint Street. Mr. Musser, 39, re-enacts historical scenes at First Capital Village in Chillicothe.
Yesterday, with his head painted black and red and feathers sewn into his hair, he portrayed Bad Fish, a Wyandot warrior.
He said Indian history in the Northwest Territory and Ohio does not get enough attention, in part because Indians didn't write their stories because they were too busy fighting white settlers.
Mr. Musser said he felt bittersweet about yesterday's celebration.
“We're really celebrating the white man's history. It's a great thing to celebrate, too. But there are very few things that celebrate the Native American history in this state,” he said.
One of the men celebrated yesterday played a key role in ensuring that Ohio's constitution prohibited slavery.
Edward Tiffin - who was Thomas Worthington's brother-in-law - was a member of the Northwest Territory legislature, presided at the constitutional convention of 1802, worked with President Thomas Jefferson to ensure that Ohio became the nation's 17th state, and became Ohio's first governor in 1803.
“Invoking a language of love, he envisioned Ohio as the home of people whose strongest connection was affection for each other,” Dr. Cayton wrote in his 2002 book, Ohio: The History of a People.
Eudora Orr, an 81-year-old Chillicothe resident, is among Mr. Tiffin's descendants.
As she walked out of the Ross County Courthouse after watching the legislature approve resolutions in honor of Statehood Day - without even a whiff of partisanship - she smiled.
“I imagine Edward Tiffin is in his grave, grinning,” she said.