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Residents, officials mark state's 150th birthday

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The opening ceremony for West Virginia's 150th birthday began with the ringing of a bell and ended with three loud "hip-hip hooray" cheers.

"We are a state born of tumult and strife," Kay Goodwin, secretary of Education and the Arts, said in her opening remarks.

"One hundred fifty years ago today, it wasn't a foregone conclusion our state would last through the Civil War or the tumultuous years that followed."

Goodwin said the resolve of West Virginians carried the state through, and would continue to drive the state forward.

"Today's events all over our great state launch us into the next chapter of our state's history," she said.

Hundreds of people gathered on the Capitol's south plaza for the ceremony, which began at 1:50 p.m. on Thursday, West Virginia Day. Many sat in the sun, cooling themselves with special "Happy 150th Birthday, West Virginia" hand fans. Others found shade under the trees on the Capitol lawn.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the 35th chief executive of the 35th state, opened the ceremony by ringing a bell from the U.S.S. West Virginia submarine 35 times.

Tomblin, a self-professed history buff, said West Virginia's formation three years into the Civil War pointed the way to the bloody conflict's end.

"It was the darkest chapter in our nation's history, but out of that darkness came a light," he said.

Tomblin also spoke of the state's centennial celebration 50 years ago. He was 1 year old at the time, and recalled the events and activities commemorating West Virginia's 100th birthday.

"I was just a boy but I knew even then I was part of something special," he said.

Although he has since traveled all over the United States and overseas, Tomblin said he has never found a place like West Virginia.

"There's no place else with a spirit like ours."

He asked all West Virginians to take part in celebrations around the state this weekend.

"It's not just a piece of history, it's a celebration of a place we all love. I'm absolutely certain our next 150 years will be better than the first 150," he said.

Thursday's program also included music from the 249th West Virginia Army National Guard Band and the Cabell Midland High School Show Choir, as well as an original poem by Marc Harshman, West Virginia's poet laureate.

Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller were scheduled to speak at Thursday's event, but did not make it to Charleston. Rockefeller spokesman Andrew Beckner said the senators remained in Washington to vote on an immigration bill currently before the Senate.

Following Tomblin's remarks, Thomas Marshall, executive vice present of the U.S. Postal Service, unveiled a new Forever Stamp commemorating the state's sesquicentennial year.

Marshall noted the state's unique topography and the many accomplishments of its people, from the first Mother's Day in 1908 to Mary Lou Retton's gold medal in the 1984 Olympics.

He said it was difficult to find a photo that conveyed all of West Virginia's intricacies, until the Postal Service came across photographer Roger Spencer's early morning shot of the Monongahela National Forest.

Postal Service workers were on hand at the state Culture Center on Thursday to sell books of the West Virginia stamp, with special first-day cancellations to prove collectors purchased the stamps on the day of their release.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.

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