Historical Society honors Chase

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The Chase Manhattan Bank carries his name. He introduced national paper currency to the United States to finance the Civil War, and put his own picture on the $10,000 bill.

He was one of Abraham Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals,” according to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, championing equal rights for all as treasury secretary and Supreme Court Chief Justice.

On his way to these and other accomplishments, including terms as governor and U.S. Senator from Ohio, Salmon P. Chase exhibited courage and character, while demonstrating human foibles and fits of ego as well.

The Ohio Historical Center’s Echoes in Time Theatre will bring to life this important historical figure in “Salmon P. Chase, A Man of Complexity and Conflict,” written by interpretive education specialist Michael Follin and performed by Richard Schuricht.

“It’s not a lecture. It’s somebody up there talking about their life,” explained Follin of the 30-minute interactive performances scheduled for Jan. 17, 24 and 31.

These will be followed by “The Woman Behind the Man: The President’s First Lady,” with insights into the Harding White House, in February, and “Saints Preserve Us! The Irish in America,” in March.

The Echoes in Time program began in earnest last summer in conjunction with the historical society’s exhibit on First Ladies.

While interpreters were prevented from portraying the presidents’ wives, they could appear as people who knew the First Families, Follin said.

The presentation on Salmon Chase was planned to complement the museum’s current exhibit,  “Once Upon a Dime,” sponsored by JP Morgan Chase.

Chase scene

While the last name (if not its owner) is well-known, the first name Salmon remains odd, Follin admitted.

It was inherited from a prominent uncle and “he hated it,” commented Follin, who has spent several months researching the man through biographies and his own journals.

A strange name was only the beginning of his troubles. Chase, born in 1808 in New Hampshire, lost his father to a stroke when he was 8.

As the fifth of 11 children, Salmon was shipped off to live with his uncle, Philander Chase, in Ohio.

An Episcopal bishop (and one of the founders of Kenyon College), Uncle Philander was also a stern disciplinarian who ran a school in Worthington.

Young Salmon absorbed a high regard for education, as well as his own penchant for strict discipline, from his uncle.

When he took his entrance exam for Dartmouth College, he was admitted into the third year of study, believing he was better prepared than his peers – and some of his instructors.

He practiced law in Cincinnati, and his  defense of escaped slaves and purveyors of the Underground Railroad led to him being called “The Attorney General For Fugitive Slaves.”

He continued to act as a champion of the anti-slavery movement in the U.S. Senate, and became Ohio’s first Republican governor from 1855 to 1859.

Along the way he lost three wives and three children, according to Follin.

He continued to aim for higher office.

“His great ambition was to be president,” Follin said, but he was so zealous in his views “even his best friends were afraid of him.”

After losing the presidency to the more moderate Lincoln, Chase was among the political rivals tapped to bring their talents to the cabinet.

He was convinced that he was not only superior to the other cabinet members, but to Lincoln himself, Follin said.

He set himself to the task of financing the North’s war effort by creating a national banking and currency system (and furthering his own ambitions by putting his face on the money).

He also spoke out for equal voting rights for blacks. His frequent clashes with Lincoln led to several threats of resignation, which the president sidestepped in the interest of the nation.

“He was not afraid to share his opinions, even when it went against everyone else,” Follin observed. “He was, above all, a man of principle.”

He was also a man of politics, and continued to have his eye on the presidency in 1864.

But a Senate circular citing Lincoln’s supposed shortcomings, which ended up in Chase’s possession, backfired and resulted in another resignation letter.

Lincoln shelved the letter to keep Chase in the cabinet and out of the presidential race, only accepting it after his re-election.

But his regard for Chase remained so deep that he appointed him Supreme Court Chief Justice, where he set precedents that still stand today.

Follin’s goal with the Echoes in Time program is to make these historical facts jump to life.

“We’re trying to build for you characters, and not just a shell,” said Follin, who has been with the Ohio Historical Society since 1976. “We want depth. We want to take you back in time.”

Schuricht, of Buckeye Lake, is not a professional actor, but has participated with the Muffins 19th century base ball team and the historical society’s distance learning program.

“It’s not as much acting as first-person interpretation,” Schuricht said of his portrayal of Chase.

The performers follow the outline of the script Follin provides, and must be ready to answer questions from the audience based on their own research.

Living history

“It’s all about personal connections,” said Follin, who works from an office festooned with everything from an 1880s parlor croquet set to Mouseketeer ears.

He absorbed his own love of history while growing up in the small town of Chesterville, Ohio, where he still lives.

“The history of this town is not written in history books. It’s written in the people,” Follin discovered.

He sharpened his skills as an historical interpreter at Capital University, where he received an undergraduate degree in theatre, with a minor in cultural anthropology.

 “One is the study of man. The other is the portrayal of man,” Follin explained of the seemingly incongruous areas of study.

 After working in New York City, where he realized he did not have the passion to pursue an acting career, Follin came back to Columbus and joined the Ohio Village Singers. He also earned a master’s degree in the research and performance of American history and folklore from Ohio State University.

 He will be portraying Sean O’Shaugnessy, who tells his story of leaving Ireland with his young bride in “Saints Preserve Us! The Irish In America,” using his own family history as the basis for the play.

 With few people leaving written journals, getting history down first-hand is more important than ever, Follin said.

 He works with the Greater Columbus Arts Council to teach students how to collect oral histories.

 “I tell them, people are like first-edition books with wonderful stories inside,” Follin said. “Unfortunately, there is never a second printing.”

 

 “Salmon P. Chase, A Man of Complexity and Conflict,” will be presented Jan. 17, Jan. 24 and Jan. 31.

 For “The Woman Behind the Man: The President’s First Lady,” to be held Feb. 6, Feb. 13, Feb. 20, Feb. 27, Betty Meneer of Columbus plays Mrs. Oscar E. Bland, wife of Judge Bland, a dear friend of First Lady Florence Harding who will share her joys and concerns about President and Mrs. Harding.  

 To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Sean O’Shaugnessy tells his story of leaving Ireland with his young bride in “Saints Preserve Us! The Irish In America,” on March 5, 12, 19 and 26. Learn about their journey across the Atlantic and the reality of coming to America, the land of golden opportunity.

 Admission to the Ohio Historical Center is $7/adults, $3/students and free for OHS members and children 5 years of age and under. For more information, visit www.ohiohistory.org or call 297-2300 or 800-686-6124. The Ohio Historical Center is located at I-71 and 17th Avenue.

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