COLUMBUS - In a kind of semifinals as they search for a new representative in the National Statuary Hall, lawmakers yesterday heard final pitches for six historic faces of Ohio.
One by one, supporters argued that their candidates stood out from the others, better representing what Ohio was in their time and what America would become. Three of the six presentations yesterday focused on candidates with ties to northwest Ohio.
"It's going to be a very, very hard selection," said Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), a study committee member.
A Washington Court House High School student made her pitch that Toledo Congressman James M. Ashley, who wrote and worked with President Lincoln to win passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, deserves to stand in the statuary.
"Any elementary student could tell you about the accomplishments of Thomas Edison, and the sports world has elevated Jessie Owens to a glorified status, and aircrafts will forever be associated with the Wright Brothers, but James Ashley is relatively unknown," said Ashley Kimmet.
But it is those accomplishments of Milan-born Edison that should earn him a place in the statuary, his great-great grandnephew, Robert L. Wheeler, said.
"If ever the hard-hit Buckeye State needed to embrace an inspirational character who overcame adversity and deafness in youth to become a brilliant innovator with irrepressible entrepreneurial spirit, it is now," said Mr. Wheeler, president of the Edison Birthplace Association, Inc.
The committee, chaired by Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills), is charged with finding a replacement in the statuary for William Allen, a Democratic governor and congressman from Chillicothe. While popular in the late 1800s, Allen's opposition to Lincoln and his tolerance for slavery have not worn well over time.
There are no plans to replace Ohio's other representative in the statuary, assassinated Republican President James Garfield.
Mr. Wagoner noted that, ironically, Rutherford B. Hayes defeated Allen in a tight race for governor in 1875. Now the 19th president of the United States, who spent his final years in Fremont, is being touted to replace Allen in the statuary.
"I would point out that while seven presidents were born in Ohio, only one drew his last breath in Ohio, and that was Rutherford B. Hayes. He was a Buckeye to the end," said Thomas J. Culbertson, executive director of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center.
The committee also heard pitches for:
•Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president and popular Civil War general born and raised in southern Ohio.
•President Warren Harding, the Marion newspaper publisher who served as post-World War I president but died in office.
•Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose experiences during her early years in Cincinnati led her to write Uncle Tom's Cabin, the novel that helped to shape Americans' opinions on slavery.
The committee plans to meet again next week to hear more pitches. Among other names promoted are Dummy Hoy, the Cincinnati Reds player who would become the most famous deaf professional baseball player; Presidents William McKinley and William Howard Taft; Tecumseh, the Shawnee leader who fought a young United States during the War of 1812, and suffragette Harriet Taylor Upton.
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