CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State officials opened three days of Sesquicentennial celebrations Thursday the same way that Gov. Arthur Boreman closed the 1863 special session establishing the state: By giving three cheers for West Virginia.
During a brisk 40-minute ceremony on the south steps of the Capitol, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared it a great day to be a West Virginian.
"We are part of something special, something unique," Tomblin said, addressing a crowd that filled about two-thirds of the seats on the Capitol's south plaza.
Tomblin noted that the founding of West Virginia is an important date not just in state history, but in American history. In the battleground between North and South, West Virginia's statehood was an important symbolic victory for the Union at a crucial point in the Civil War, he said.
Tomblin said he has vivid memories of being 11 years old during the state's Centennial celebration in 1963.
"What I remember most about the Centennial is how proud it made me feel to be a West Virginian," he said. "Today, 50 years later, I feel the same way."
As the 35th governor of the 35th state, Tomblin envisioned that there's a youngster somewhere today who will occupy the role for the state's Bicentennial.
"I am incredibly proud to be a West Virginian today and every day," Tomblin said. "I am profoundly thankful that I was blessed to be born in these hills that I love with all my heart."
Tomblin and members of the West Virginia National Guard ceremoniously rang the bell from the USS West Virginia 35 times.
The opening ceremonies were somewhat abbreviated, since two of the scheduled speakers -- Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va. -- were stuck in Washington for Senate votes on immigration legislation.