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From Place of Veneration to a Place in History: Ohio Tackles Issues of Confederate Memorials

photo of William Allen statue

Just last year, Ohio replaced one of the two statues representing the state in Congress’ Statuary Hall because of its subject’s views on slavery. The statue of Gov. William Allen, who served from 1874 to 1876, was replaced with one of Thomas Edison.

But what happened to the Allen statue? That question is especially relevant now that monuments to historical people whose views are now controversial have been the focus of debate and even vandalism.

The statue of Democratic former Gov. William Allen is in Chillicothe, the city he called home. Ross County Historical Society Director Tom Kuhn says Allen’s marble likeness has been housed in the Ross County Historical Society since its removal from Statuary Hall last fall.

“Our job is to preserve and interpret history. History comes in all shapes and sizes, including this 12,000 pound statue and so it’s an artifact now. It’s been taken down from the public square from its position of veneration and it’s now here as an historical artifact and a piece of art,” Kuhn said.

Not the highest of profiles
Like many historic statues, this one lost favor over time. Kuhn says many Ohioans who saw it in Washington D.C. didn’t know who this two-year governor was and wondered why he was chosen to represent the Buckeye State. And then there was the issue of slavery.

'It's been taken down from the public square from its position of veneration, and iit's now here as an historical artifact and a piece of art.'

“His positions, his outspoken positions, represented many in his political party at the time. And I think it’s important for people to understand the history of that alone. He was anti-war," he said. "He was known as a Northern Peace Democrat. And he also believed the civil war was not the proper way to settle the issue of slavery, given all of the hundreds of thousands of casualties that were suffered during the war.”

Recognizing history's negatives
Chillicothe, Ohio’s first capital city, is full of history. And monuments. City leaders have grappled with how to keep the history without, in any way, glorifying the negative aspects of it.

Democrat Luke Feeney is the city’s mayor.

“I think in this situation, we might be a year or two ahead on this statue of history and what’s been happening recently. I think the vote to remove it from Washington, D.C., to bring it back home did that," he said. "I think it took it from a place, if you want to call it hero worship, to a place where it is in a museum and it is respectfully placed there, not necessarily in the center of the city or in a park or somewhere like that.”

Deliberation and vandalism
Earlier this week, the statue of a Confederate soldier in Camp Chase, a Civil War era cemetery in Columbus, was vandalized. Other historical statues and paintings have been removed from public spaces by cities during the past month. And some cities have removed statues amid protests and threats, such as in Warren County when leaders recently took down a Robert E. Lee monument.

photo of Ohio History Connection logo
The Ohio History Connection says local areas have the final say on the statue controversy.

The leader of the Ohio History Connection, Burt Logan, says there are not many confederate monuments in the state. And he says when there are, like the marker noting the Confederate attack in eastern and southern Ohio known as Morgan’s Raid, the focus has been to explain the resistance. 

Still, that painting of Morgan at Salt Fork State Park lodge in Zanesville was removed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and is now in safe keeping. Burt Logan says his group stays out of decisions about locally owned monuments.

“We don’t see our role so much as trying to prescribe how local organizations choose to protect, to interpret. We encourage local organizations, local communities to do that and we work with them any way we can but again, the final decision rests at the local level,” he said.

Even some monuments on private properties, such as one in Worthington that designated a Confederate general’s home, have been removed.