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Published: Wednesday, 2/24/2010

Edison tops list of Ohio nominees for D.C. hall

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Congressman James M. Ashley of Toledo wrote he 13th Amendment that abolished slavery. He's on the top 10 list of nominees. Congressman James M. Ashley of Toledo wrote he 13th Amendment that abolished slavery. He's on the top 10 list of nominees.
JEREMY WADSWORTH / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

COLUMBUS — With a portrait of Ulysses S. Grant looking down, it should come as no surprise that the Civil War general and president Tuesday made the list of 10 historical finalists vying for a place representing Ohio in the National Statuary Hall in Washington.

Inventor Thomas Edison, Toledo abolitionist James M. Ashley, Uncle Tom's Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Olympic great Jesse Owens are also still in the running. Even the Wright Brothers remain in contention — despite statuary rules that require each statue to be of one person.

Other well-known names like U.S. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, comedian Bob Hope, and even Wendy's founder Dave Thomas were among the 83 on the broader list who did not make the final cut.

The top pick for Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills), chairman of the search committee, was Edison, and not because his birthplace of Milan is located in Mr. Wagoner's district.

“He was Life magazine's Man of the Millennium,” he said. “If you look at the breadth of what Thomas Edison invented, it changed the world. It has a lasting impact that you still see. One of the things that stuck out for me was when Thomas Edison was asked what was the greatest invention he'd ever seen, he said a child's mind.”

Edison appeared on the top 10 list of all six members of the search committee, appearing no lower than sixth.

After a series of hearings across the state, the committee is closing in on a replacement in the statuary hall for William Allen, a Democratic governor and congressman from Chillicothe who was popular in the late 1800s when Ohio's original two statues were selected. While Allen may have represented the views of many Ohioans in his time, his opposition to Lincoln and the Civil War and his tolerance for slavery have not worn well over the years.

The other Ohio representative in the statuary hall is assassinated Republican President James Garfield. His statue will remain in the hall.

The committee will now turn to the general public to weigh in on their favorites from the list of finalists. Beginning March 20, history buffs will be able to vote in person at Ohio historical sites, museums, and the Statehouse. For those who can't do it in person, there will be an opportunity to vote via the Internet.

Voting will continue through June 12, and the committee is expected to make a final recommendation to the Ohio House and Senate late this fall. The public vote is not binding on committee members, but Mr. Wagoner said he believes the result will be the single-most important factor in the final decision.

Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), a committee member, ranked Stowe at the top of her list. Stowe's early years in Cincinnati on the border between the North and South played a role in her later writing of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

“She played a significant role in influencing the United States on the issue of slavery,” Ms. Fedor said. “With human-trafficking, modern-day abolition is important to me, so I connect with her passion.”

Ashley, who wrote the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery and worked closely with President Lincoln to ensure its passage, came in at number three on the lists of Ms. Fedor and Rep. Connie Pillich (D., Cincinnati) and at number four on Mr. Wagoner's list.

A Washington Court House High School class some 180 miles away from Toledo has championed Ashley's inclusion in the statuary hall.

Each committee member was asked to rank their 10 preferences as finalists. The top vote-getters made the finalist list.

Sen. Karen Gillmor (R., Tiffin) said she ultimately could settle only eight that she believed should make the final cut. Her top pick was Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th president who spent his final days in Fremont.

Ms. Gillmor's vote was the only one he received, although First Lady Lucy Hayes also received a single vote on a separate ballot.

“For me personally, I decided that I wanted to select for my number one person, someone who had many qualities that were not only indicative of their history and their time, but also universal qualities that I think of when I think of Ohioans,” Ms. Gillmor said.

Ms. Gillmor said she looked for someone who had a broader impact beyond a single mission or accomplishment.

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



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