OHIO’s Famous People

OHIO’s Famous People

Ellen Clark

Shrines throughout the Buckeye State honor those who became luminaries on the national stage

Ohio always struck me as an unassuming and quietly pretty state. Not so much a state of extremes, as a solid, predictable place built on the pioneer principles of hard work and family values. But when it comes to the state’s luminaries, there is nothing predictable or ordinary. Ohio’s famous sons and daughters range from movie stars to aviators, from presidents to titans of industry, and Ohio has sites to celebrate each and every one.

First of all, there are the presidents. Six United States chief executives with connections to the Buckeye State are in some way remembered.

Rutherford B. Hayes was the nation’s 19th president and the first honored with a presidential library/museum. Besides a memorial building containing family mementos, a library, and Hayes’ papers and books, the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont includes Hayes’ 25-acre estate and Victorian mansion. Furnishings in the 31-room brick house are original to the five generations of Hayeses who lived there, and President Hayes and his wife are buried on the grounds.

The porch of the Warren G. Harding home near Marion is perhaps the most famous part of the house. It was from this porch that Harding launched his 1920 presidential “Front Porch Campaign.” The house has been authentically restored, and the adjacent former campaign press building now has a museum chronicling the Harding administration.

Nearby, the Harding Memorial, an impressive circular structure of white marble, contains the remains of the former president and his wife.

Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president and Civil War general, was born in Point Pleasant in a one-story, three-room cottage that sat next to the tannery where Grant’s father worked. The house, which was once loaded on a river barge for a tour of the United States, has been restored and furnished with period items. The one-room schoolhouse Grant attended is open to visitors in nearby Georgetown.

Artifacts relating to our 25th president, William McKinley, are on display at the McKinley Museum, near Canton. Also on the property is the McKinley National Memorial, where McKinley, his wife, and two children are buried.

William Howard Taft, the nation’s 27th president and 10th chief justice, was born in Cincinnati. His birthplace and boyhood home is part of the William Howard Taft National Historic Site. One of its most popular features is an animatronic young Charlie Taft (his son) who tells stories about the family.

In Mentor, the James A. Garfield National Historic Site includes the house where Garfield lived, which was nicknamed “Lawnfield” by journalists who camped out on the front lawn during Garfield’s presidential campaign. Recently restored, down to reproduced wallpapers just like the originals, the house includes a memorial library started by Garfield’s widow. The 20th president was assassinated shortly after taking office in 1881.

If you think only the presidents are remembered in Ohio, think again. The women behind the men are honored at Ida McKinley’s home in Canton. The Saxton McKinley House became, in 1998, the National First Ladies’ Library and the first central repository of information on first ladies.

Ohio has also had its share of literary notables. Zanesville was home to Zane Grey, “Father of the Adult Western.” Tales of Western daring-do, such as Riders of the Purple Sage, sold by the millions and are still read today. At the National Road/Zane Grey Museum in Norwich, fans can check out the author’s recreated study as well as look at manuscripts and other memorabilia.

Mid-20th century author and humorist James Thurber was a native of Ohio. The Thurber House in Columbus, Thurber’s home during his years at Ohio State University, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a literary center that includes a bookstore and a museum of Thurber materials.

Cincinnati was home to Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the landmark book on slavery, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The Stowe House, where Stowe lived with her father, serves as an African-American cultural and historical center and includes exhibits on the Beecher family, the abolitionist movement, and the history of African-Americans.

Paul Laurence Dunbar, the first African-American poet to gain national acclaim, was raised in Dayton, where he was a classmate of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Though he only lived to be 33 years old, he produced over 400 published works chronicling the African-American experience. He’s remembered at the Paul Laurence Dunbar State Memorial at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.

Also honored at the Dayton site are two of Ohio’s most famous inventors. What a different world it would be today had it not been for the Wright Brothers. Though their most famous flight took off from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, their first successful airplane design was created in Dayton, which will observe the centennial of the invention of powered flight in 2003. The Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park has three attractions celebrating the famous brothers, including the building used by Orville and Wilbur for their bicycle business from 1895 to 1897, now a museum about their time in Dayton. The 1905 Wright Flyer III and Huffman Prairie Flying Field also belong to the park.

Often referred to as the “World’s Greatest Inventor,” Thomas Alva Edison was best known as inventor of the incandescent light bulb. But Ohio-born Edison held 1,092 other American patents as well, including ones for the phonograph and motion picture camera. The three-story house in Milan where Edison was born in 1847 was planned by his father and now houses the Edison Birthplace Museum, which contains many of his early inventions, documents, and family mementos.

Ohio’s captains of industry are also celebrated. In Akron, Stan Hywet Hall was the home of Goodyear Rubber & Tire Company co-founder F.A. Seiberling and his family. The 65-room manor is one of the finest examples of Tudor Revival architecture in America. Decorated with treasures from around the world, the house sits on 70 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds that include an English garden, Japanese garden, lagoons, and a rose garden.

Even the lowly vacuum cleaner gets celebrity status in Ohio at the Hoover Historical Center in North Canton. The Victorian farmhouse where Hoover vacuum cleaner founder William H. Hoover spent his boyhood now contains the only known vacuum cleaner museum in the world. Besides the most extensive display of cleaning devices anywhere, the museum includes vintage advertisements and Hoover songs from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’50s.

The Neil Armstrong Air & Space Museum is in Wapakoneta, the birthplace (in 1930) of the first man to walk on the moon. On view are model airplanes, a space shuttle landing simulator, a Jupiter rocket engine, and the Gemini 8 capsule in which Armstrong completed the first spacecraft docking in orbit. A dome-shaped theater creates the impression of a trip to the moon.

Seemingly light years away from Hollywood, Ohio was the birthplace of one of the Silver Screen’s most romantic leading men. Dedicated to preserving the memory of the “King of Hollywood,” Clark Gable, the Clark Gable Foundation, Inc. has reconstructed Gable’s birthplace on its original site in Cadiz. Furnished in the style popular at the turn of the century, when Gable was born, the house features a photographic history of the star’s life and career as well as some of his belongings, including a 1954 Cadillac.

For information on Ohio, contact Ohio Tourism, (800) BUCKEYE; www.ohiotourism.com.

COPYRIGHT 2001 World Publishing, Co. (Illinois)

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group