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Published March 08, 2011, 03:06 PM

Museum to Feature Ohio's Old Electric Chair

Ohio's old electric chair will be on public view for the first time in 80 years as part of a small exhibit at the state's history museum that will spotlight artifacts from the more provocative side of Ohio history.

By: Doug Whiteman, Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio's old electric chair will be on public view for the first time in 80 years as part of a small exhibit at the state's history museum that will spotlight artifacts from the more provocative side of Ohio history.

"History definitely isn't always pretty," exhibit curator Sharon Dean said Tuesday in announcing "Controversy: Pieces You Don't Normally See," opening April 1 at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus.

"The more we can stare some of things that aren't so pretty in the face, I think the more we can have honest, open discussions and start really working through some issues that, to date, have been fairly difficult," Dean said.

Other pieces in the display, scheduled to run through Nov. 20, are: a 1920s Ku Klux Klan robe and hood; a 150-year-old sheepskin condom found in the diary of a steamboat captain; an aluminum mitt used in the early 20th century to stop children from sucking their thumbs; and a wooden cage used on state mental patients in the late 1800s.

"It's a cage that was used for humans," Dean said. "The proper term was a crib-bed, and even at that time they found that it was a difficult restraint to use on people."

Children under 18 will be barred from visiting the exhibit unless accompanied by an adult. The items will be displayed with bare-bones identifying labels in a small room fitting not more than 20 people — to let the objects speak for themselves and to encourage visitors to talk about them, museum officials said.

"We think this is one of the attributes of this exhibit, to generate conversations about complex issues in Ohio's history," said Burt Logan, executive director of the Ohio Historical Society, which oversees the historical center.

The electric chair — nicknamed "Old Sparky" — was used to execute 312 and three women between 1897 and 1963.

"If you look closely, it does show signs of wear on it, that a lot of people have, in fact, sat in it. But it's been maintained very well," Dean said.

Ohio now carries out the death penalty through lethal injection. The last time members of the general public could see the chair was when the old Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus offered tours, which ended in the early 1930s.

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