By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Last year, more than 2 million people celebrated Ohio's 200th birthday at fairs and festivals, classrooms and church halls, craft shows and hayrides, concerts and fish fries, bell-castings and historical re-enactments.
maker Tim Verdin works on Hamilton County's newly cast Bicentennial
Bell, which was cast during the Tall Stacks celebration in October.
Verdin cast bells in all 88 Ohio counties during 2003.
(Cincinnati Enquirer file)
from Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy Otto Armleder Education Center
help cast Hamilton County's bell. From lefT: Drew Sanders, 8, Carmen
Brown, 8, and Amber England, 9, Verdin's traveling foundry often
enlisted children in the process.
(Cincinnati Enquirer file)
For history buffs in each of Ohio's 88 counties, it was a chance to drum up interest in the historical projects of a thousand towns, villages and counties.
For Grover and Garnet Casto, a retired couple from the Akron suburb of Stow, it was an excuse to indulge in their love for county fairs by spending the summer driving 20,000 miles to visit all 88 county fairs.
For Dave Verdin of Cincinnati's Verdin Bell Co., it was a chance to do something that no one in the bell-making business had done since the Middle Ages - cast bells on the road. He did it for every Ohio county, thanks to a specially designed "foundry on wheels."
"This celebration will leave a trail behind it that will last for many years to come," said state Rep. Nancy Hollister, R-Marietta, who chaired the Ohio Bicentennial Commission from its inception six years ago. "Millions of people will take away a lot of good memories."
It was a January-through-October statewide celebration that was almost inescapable, even for Ohioans in the tiniest of hamlets. More than 1,250 events took place that had an Ohio bicentennial tie-in - everything from quilting bees to re-enactments of Ohio's founding to dozens of arts projects for children.
Ohio's bicentennial celebration has come and gone, but its
impact is likely to last a long time. Highlights:
An estimated 2 million people visited official bicentennial events.
Cincinnati's Tall Stacks festival, one of
the Ohio Bicentennial Commission's five "signature events," drew 800,000,
including about 60,000 children who participated in history exhibits and
Nearly 850 bicentennial projects were undertaken.
Nearly 900 Ohio Historical Markers now stand, more than double the
number that existed statewide when bicentennial planning began in 1998.
Cincinnati's Verdin Bell Co. designed a mobile bell foundry that
traveled over 35,000 miles casting bicentennial bells for each of Ohio's
One legacy of Ohio's 200th birthday that is likely to last at least until the state turns 300: the 500-plus new Ohio Historical Markers that dot the highways and byways.
Fifty-two new markers were erected in the Cincinnati area alone, telling the story of everything from the Cincinnati Reds' place in baseball history to Hebrew Union College and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
The showiest parts of the Ohio Bicentennial were the five official "signature events" - including Cincinnati's Tall Stacks tribute to steamboat heritage that drew about 800,000.
Bicentennial organizers banked on those events to draw large crowds from throughout the Midwest. And they did:
"Inventing Flight'' attracted 650,000 people to Dayton in July for an air show, an international blimp meet, and events honoring Wilbur and Orville Wright on the 100th anniversary of their 1903 flight.
"Tall Ships,'' the July Lake Erie heritage festival, drew 18 sailing ships from around the world and stopped at Lake Erie ports from Cleveland to Toledo.
About 2,500 Ohioans traveled parts of the Bicentennial Wagon Train in June and July, recreating the path of the early pioneers on U.S. Route 40, known as "The National Trail.''
Hundreds of thousands attended "Columbus Celebrates Ohio's Bicentennial,'' a July series of fireworks displays, street festivals, parades and concerts.
It is almost impossible to gauge the economic impact those events had, Hollister said.
Tourism has been a significant factor in Ohio's economy, generating about $27 billion a year and providing about 700,000 Ohioans with jobs, according to the Ohio Department of Development.
Professional sports franchises in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus, amusement parks like Paramount's Kings Island and Cedar Point, and popular tourist getaway destinations like the Lake Erie Islands and the Hocking Hills of southeast Ohio usually lead the way when it comes to generating travel and tourism dollars.
The Ohio Bicentennial, Hollister said, "was icing on the cake."
No one knows how many Tall Stacks visitors came to Cincinnati because of its designation as a Bicentennial signature event, according to the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"But having things like Tall Stacks, a new ball park and the opening of the Cincinnati Wing of the art museum in the bicentennial year created a buzz that had to help,'' said Lisa Haller, chamber chief executive officer.
The commission will submit a final report on the Bicentennial to Gov. Bob Taft later this year, Hollister said. But figuring out the economic impact - aside from toting up the money brought in from Bicentennial merchandising - will be difficult.
About 100 companies around the state were given licenses by the commission to produce and sell Ohio Bicentennial merchandise - lapel pins, key chains, hats, T-shirts, sweatshirts, books and a host of other souvenirs.
The real impact of the Bicentennial, Hollister said, can't be measured in dollars and cents.
"We wanted to touch as many people as possible,'' she said. "We wanted to make our history real to everybody. I think we succeeded."
Hollister became an Ohio history "show-and-tell'' project for her granddaughter, when she went to her first-grade class in Marietta to talk to the children about her own connection to Ohio history.
She was, for 11 days in December 1998 and January 1999, Ohio's first and only woman governor, serving between George Voinovich and Taft. She also is a descendent of Rufus Putnam, one of 48 settlers who arrived in 1788 to establish Marietta, the first organized settlement of the Northwest Territory.
"One little boy wanted to know if I was 200 years old, too,'' Hollister said.
A role for everyone
Allowing young people to participate in history-making events was a goal of the commission's Bicentennial Bell project, in which the Verdin Co.'s mobile foundry cast bells for crowds at county fairs, community festivals and other events.
In the process of casting a bell for each Ohio county, about 4,000 children helped the Verdin crew by passing the bronze ingots that went into the foundry furnace, which sat on the back of a flatbed trailer.
"It was the most amazing thing I've ever been involved in," said Dave Verdin, vice president of the family business that goes back five generations. "I miss it already."
For Kay Fisher of Wilmington, the president of the Clinton County Historical Society, the Ohio Bicentennial was a way to hook her neighbors on local history as well.
"It made a lot of people who don't ordinarily think about their history want to know more,'' Fisher said.
The county, she said, had numerous bicentennial events - an Ohio birthday party at Cowan Lake, the bell casting at Wilmington's annual Corn Festival, a play in the local schools about angels in heaven discussing Ohio and its past.
"We're starting to plan for Clinton County's bicentennial in 2010,'' Fisher said.
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