OU Southern to bring history to life at county fair

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 6, 2003

Take a stroll through the Lawrence County Fairgrounds this week and you may stumble into history - literally.

As Ohio celebrates its 200th birthday in 2003, an Ironton native and history professor at Ohio University Southern wants to bring a little of that history to life. And for four nights this week, four historic Ohioans will teach the history they once lived.

That's right, this week at the fair you can meet the founder of Ironton John Campbell, legendary sharpshooter and Ohio native, Annie Oakley, the wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes and Harriet Tubman, who helped thousands cross into freedom with the Underground Railroad.

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At 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday performers will don period costumes to portray "Lessons in Ohio History," a series of short presentations followed by brief question and answer periods.

The characters who will perform at the OU booth (beneath the shelter at the fair) include:

4TUESDAY: Annie Oakley (performed by Jean Butler of Ironton).

4WEDNESDAY: John Campbell (performed by Bob Leith of Ironton, history instructor at OUS).

4THURSDAY: Lucy Ware Webb Hayes (performed by Jean Butler of Ironton).

4FRIDAY: Harriet Tubman (performed by Marie Saunders Hope of Columbus).

"We thought since this was the bicentennial, and we won't be around for the tri-centennial, and it's the Lawrence County Fair, we wanted to do something special," said Bob Leith, OUS history instructor.

"We wanted to take some history of the past in Ohio and make it available to the public. This will help to tie the bicentennial to the fair theme

and to help make history come to life."

Stephanie Burcham, director of OUS's Proctorville Center and coordinator of OUS's fair participation, said Leith was the brainchild for the performances.

"His enthusiasm and love about this area really shows. He had a million ideas," Burcham said. "We funneled them down to what we could do best.

"We've always had a booth, and we've always shared information," Burcham said. "But we thought this was a great opportunity to share about our history."

For Leith, an instructor at OUS since 1980, the special performances are yet another way to try to make history more interesting to the masses.

"It's a different approach," he said. "You can stand there in the booth and yell at them and hand them things, but it's hard to get their attention.

"You try to get people to talk about going to college and coming to Ironton," Leith said. " Ohio history is a very interesting history. Perhaps this can further enrich the fair itself."

The approach is similar to the one Leith and Dr. Steve Call use when they produce the "Learning on Location" lessons with OUS. The programs take college students on the road to visit and study history at the historic sites rather than simply reading about the history from a book.

Leith said if the event is successful, he can take no credit for it.

"This is all through the support and push of Stephanie Burcham," he said.

In addition to the nightly performances, OUS will also have a number of other staff members in period costumes at the fair to help promote the bicentennial theme of the fair.

"It's sort of a lure to the booth, but it's also another opportunity to share information," Burcham said.

Burcham said the university's booth also will feature an electronic Ohio trivia game, created by Jim Crawford with the university's center for development.

Editor's note: Additional information about each historic character being portrayed this week will appear in subsequent issues of The Tribune.