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10 things to consider if you are considering a trip to Columbus

By Marc Kovac | Dix Communications Published: April 2, 2014 9:00 AM
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COLUMBUS — Want to visit Civil War soldiers camped out and prepared for battle?

Or watch some state lawmakers don some old-old-school baseball uniforms for a game?

Or are you hoping to catch of glimpse or maybe shake the hand of a dignitary or potential 2016 presidential candidate?

You can do all of those things, plus attend a session of the state legislature, listen to lengthy hearings on proposed law changes and try your hand at reading a past governor's speeches from behind a podium with a trip to the Ohio Statehouse.

Those opportunities and many others are all available without charge most days of the week (holidays excluded).

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Here are 10 things you should know about the Ohio Statehouse that might entice you to consider a quick trip to Columbus:

1. Doors Open: The People's House, built over a period of more than 20 years in the mid-1800s and completed in 1861, is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors can park in the Statehouse garage, at a cost of up to $13 for a full day.

2. Visitors: Stop in a the Statehouse during busy legislative days (generally Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday), and you'll see lawmakers, lobbyists and others who are shaping public policy and public debate.

According to Luke Stedke, spokesman for the Capitol Review and Advisory Board, some 325,000 people visit the Statehouse annually, including school tours, special events and state business. That total includes nearly 73,000 schoolchildren, who frequent Capitol Square on field trips.

3. Tours: Guided tours of the Statehouse are offered daily, free of charge, starting from a desk near the gift store and an oversized state of Ohio map, with all 88 counties noted.

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There's no need for reservations. Just show up Monday through Friday at 10 or 11 a.m., noon, or 1, 2 or 3 p.m. or on Saturday or Sunday at between noon and 3, on the hour.

If your schedule doesn't allow for a guided tour, the Statehouse offers self-guided and audio wand tours of the premises. Stop at the gift store for a special device that will guide you through the highlights of Capitol Square.

4. Museum: A Statehouse museum opened to the public five years ago and has proved a popular stop for visitors.

There are sections devoted to the three branches of Ohio government — the legislature, the governor and the Supreme Court. There are lots of interactive displays and computer touch screens to keep inquiring minds occupied.

5. Statutes: If you are interested in current lawmaker activities, you should visit the Statehouse when the Ohio House and Senate are in session.

The two chambers generally schedule committee hearings and floor sessions two or three days a week, when they’re not in recess.

Schedules are posted online each week (www.legislature.state.oh.us) that list the times, room numbers and bills to be discussed.

If you happen to be in the building during a voting session, track down your local lawmaker and let them know before the gavel. You might get your name read aloud and receive a formal welcome before the legislature delves into its official business of the day.

6. Statues: There's a lot to see outside the Statehouse on the surrounding grounds, too, including statues of notable Ohioans and memorials to the state's military men and women.

On the west side of the building, along High Street, there's a statue of President William McKinley, the nation's 25th president who was assassinated in office.

Not too far away, there's a fountain of sorts topped by a statue of Christopher Columbus, the namesake of Ohio’s capital city. There are also statues of civil war leaders and Civil War-era cannons.

The Ohio Veterans Plaza has two walls with passages from letters written by military men and women during the Second World War.

7. New Feature: Work is under way on a new memorial to honor the millions of Jews who were killed during the Holocaust of World War II.

The new feature was prompted by comments made by Gov. John Kasich several years ago during an annual Holocaust commemoration.

"We need to have remembrance in this Statehouse," the governor said at the time. "And I call on the Jewish community along with our brothers in faith to develop some sort of a memorial that members of our Legislature and members of the public ... will be able to understand not just the history of a time when people wouldn't stand but the fact that it's today we must stand against evil."

8. Events: There's a lengthy list of event scheduled through the end of the year. You can read it online at www.ohiostatehouse.org.

Among the most popular draws is an annual Civil War encampment on the Statehouse grounds, scheduled for May 9 and 10 on the west lawn.

Historical re-enactors will be on site, dressed in period garb and demonstrating cooking, medical and other practices of the mid-1800s.

On May 20, lawmakers and the Ohio Village Historical Muffins will gather at 5:30 for a special exhibition baseball game, capped with a cannon firing.

From June through August, free lunchtime concerts are offered on the west side steps.

9. Gifts and Food: The Statehouse Museum Shop is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Saturdays from May 30-Sept. 6 from 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. It offers a variety of Ohio-made gifts and Ohio-centric souvenirs. You can get a preview of some of the wares at www.statehouseshop.com.

If you're hungry during your weekday visit, you can grab a bite to eat at Milo's Capitol Cafe. It's open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m.-3 p.m.

10. Security: It may take you a few extra minutes to get into the Statehouse, thanks to extra security features that have been added in recent months.

You'll have to enter at designated doors, and members of the State Highway Patrol will take a quick peek into your bags. And you'll have to exit at those same doors to avoid triggering alarms connected to others.

"People should know that the Statehouse is still open and safe," Stedke said. "As I say, 'It's still an open door, just a more secure door.' All security upgrades are in the interest of public safety and were approved by the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board. The public should know that bags and packages are subject to search upon entering the Statehouse."


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