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Published: Thursday, 7/8/2010

Edison the winner in Statuary Hall vote

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - And the winner is … Thomas Alva Edison.

The innovators were separated by about 900 ballots, the Ohio Historical Society reported Wednesday with numbers that were updated later.

The trio demonstrated the most star power among the contenders, with Edison garnering 30 percent of the total vote cast and Orville and Wilbur Wright following as a team with nearly 29 percent, leaving the rest to scramble for the scraps.

The final recommendation will be made by a legislative panel this summer, but its chairman, Sen.

Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills), has said the public vote should be the dominant factor in the outcome. The Ohio Senate and House would have to ratify the decision.

The announcement of the vote results coincided with Edison, light bulb in hand, appearing on the cover of Time magazine's ninth annual history issue.

"And he got a Grammy [Special Merit Award] this year. This is good, another great year for Edison," said Robert K.L. Wheeler, president of the Edison Birthplace Association Inc. and the inventor's great-great grandnephew.

"It's nice to see him getting the recognition," he said. "He'd kind of faded for a while. I think Ohio recognizes that we need innovation, and that's what he stands for."

He said Edison's birthplace in Milan saw an increase in visitors and interest while the vote and debate were taking place; many realized for the first time that Edison was Ohio-bred.

"How appropriate that Milan's favorite son would now represent the entire state in the Capitol," said U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo). "His inventions symbolize the spirit of innovation that made Ohio a great state and will lead Ohio back to greatness."

The vote took place at 36 selected museums and historical society sites across the state, as well as via mail and e-mail.

The state intends to replace its statue of William Allen in the U.S. Capitol hall. The Democratic governor and congressman from Chillicothe was recently deceased and still highly popular among Ohioans when he was selected in the late 1800s as one of the state's two statues in the hall.

But lawmakers no longer believe that his tolerance of slavery and opposition to the Civil War and policies of President Lincoln adequately reflect Ohio.

The second statue, commemorating assassinated Republican President James Garfield, will stay.

"The notion that kids and families were out visiting historical sites and museums and learning more about Ohio's many contributions to our nation's history is exciting to those of us who have been involved in this process," Mr. Wagoner said. "Any one of the 10 candidates could have represented our state well. That's why getting input from the general public was so important to us."

Coming in third in the voting was Jesse Owens, the black Ohio State University track star whose Olympic gold in Hitler-era Berlin served as a thumb in the eye to Nazi propaganda of Aryan superiority. Owens was the focus of a campus-led campaign to add him to the statuary hall.

One of the more modern contenders on the list of 10 finalists, civil rights leader and congressman William McCulloch of Holmesville, placed fourth. He died in 1980.

Despite a campaign to get a woman into the hall - a rarity - the highest female vote-getter was suffragist Harriet Taylor Upton in sixth place.

James Mitchell Ashley, the Toledo congressman who helped Lincoln get the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery through Congress, ranked last among the 10 finalists submitted to voters. His inclusion was championed by a high school class in Washington Court House, 180 miles south of Toledo.

The final vote:

•Edison, 14,261 votes.

•The Wright Brothers, 13,363.

•Owens, 4,921.

•McCulloch, 3,749.

•Ulysses S. Grant, president and Civil War general, 3,066.

•Harriet Taylor Upton, women's suffragist, 2,254.

•Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, 2,241.

•Judith A. Resnik, Challenger astronaut, 1,453.

•Albert A. Sabin, oral polio vaccine inventor, 729.

•Ashley, 506.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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