On Saturday 26 September 2009, Newark teacher Mary Borgia along with her 5th grade class, planted a tree at the Great Circle to honor the late Dr. William Laidlaw, former director of the Ohio Historical Society, for his extraordinary work on behalf of the Newark Earthworks.

I have heard more than one colleague here at OHS wonder aloud why Bill was so committed to the Newark Earthworks. OHS has many sites and Bill had many responsibilities, so why was he so personally obsessed with Newark? Mary spoke at the dedication ceremony and remarked upon the fact that she received many calls from Bill thanking her for her work and offering whatever assistance he could.

Some folks, such as Dick Shiels, Director of the Newark Earthworks Center at Ohio State University, are kind enough to suggest that Bill’s passion for the site came from listening to my presentations on the wonders of Newark’s ancient legacy, but I think that misses the point.

Bill heard me speak about the Newark Earthworks on a number of occasions, but many people have heard me talk about Newark and few others have made protecting and promoting this site their mission. Bill was special because he GOT IT. He saw immediately that this place embodied the mission of the OHS to preserve and educate the public about Ohio’s unique and incredible heritage. And he saw that the Newark Earthworks were special because they spoke, not just about Ohio’s heritage, or even the nation’s heritage, but it was a world-class site that deserved a place on the United Nations’ World Heritage List. And unlike Fort Ancient, Seip Mound, and Serpent Mound, the other three OHS sites to be nominated for World Heritage inscription, the Newark Earthworks had issues that Bill felt he was in a unique position to help resolve.

So his passion for the site came from within him — from the connection that he made with the earthworks after experiencing their magic for himself. Planting this tree at the Great Circle was, in my opinion, a perfect tribute to Bill and his efforts on behalf of the Newark Earthworks.

When the Newark Earthworks eventually are inscribed on the World Heritage List, I will recall the words of Walt Whitman’s poem, written after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln:

“O Captain my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won.
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.”

No, my captain will not be here to share in the celebration, but if he was, he would recognize that just getting on the List is not an end in itself, but the means to an end. It will be a new beginning to an on-going process of bringing the wonderful achievements of these ancient Ohioans to the world.

A new beginning — like planting a tree recognizing that we won’t be the ones to benefit from the shade this tree will cast.

Thank you, Bill, for your vision and commitment to Ohio’s heritage and especially for your efforts on behalf of the Newark Earthworks.

Posted September 28, 2009
Topics: Archaeology

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