Ohio History Journal

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Research Professor of English, Miami University

The past is a short word with a long meaning. Once a tropic

ocean covered Ohio, and now the limestone ledges of our rivers

are crusted with sea shells, skeletons of fish, and stems of coral

from the profuse life of that ancient sea. Three times a continental

glacier crept over Ohio, covering as much as three-fourths of the

state with a vast carpet of ice. Once a race of men raised burial

mounds beside the rivers; they shaped giant effigies in the earth

and heaped up earthen platforms, perhaps to celebrate occasions

like a sesquicentennial. These people vanished from the land, and

new tribes marked out hunting trails from the Ohio River to

Lake Erie. And still our history had not begun.

How long is 150 years? Seen against the deep past of the ancient

earth and waters, a century is but a moment; it may have taken

many times that long for the last retreating glacier to move from

Columbus to Worthington. But this is our time on the Ohio earth.

Our drama is unfolding, and we bring a different measure. Already

we have long memories in the land.

Change comes quickly in America; it came dramatically in Ohio.

Every spring Ohio farmers turn up arrowheads in their fields. A

man holds in his hand that little wedge of flint and for a moment

he thinks of the savage life that held the Ohio stage before us.

Just beneath our strenuous and complex civilization is the elemental

wilderness. With a flake of flint found in our flower garden we

can look back to the beginnings. That is one of the unique aspects

of America.

Two centuries ago Ohio was nine-tenths forest, with scattered

tribes camped beside the streams. If its Indians had all been brought

together they would have made a town not larger than Middletown

or Mansfield. Since then it has become a complex commonwealth,


* An address delivered before the annual dinner of the Ohio State Archaeological

and Historical Society, April 10, 1953, at which there was a special observance of

the sesquicentennial of Ohio's statehood.