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Tomblin leads residents in 'Happy Birthday' before cake cutting

By Charles Young

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Hundreds of people visiting the state Capitol grounds Thursday afternoon joined Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in singing "Happy Birthday" to the state before enjoying a slice of sesquicentennial cake.

Following a bell-ringing ceremony on the Capitol steps, Tomblin crossed the grounds to the Cultural Center where the state's 8-foot-long, 4 1/2-foot-high birthday cake sat on a table in the lobby.

Several children who shared their birthdays with the state joined Tomblin in front of the cake.

Will Lanham of Fayetteville, who turned 9 yesterday, said he was incredibly excited to meet the governor. 

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Lanham said. "Birthdays only happen once a year, so you've got to make them last."

Lanham's mother, Annita, said her son was so excited about the dual holiday that he woke her at 6 a.m. saying, "Let's get this party started."

Annita and her husband, Bill, who is the town superintendent for Fayetteville, said their family planned to stay overnight in Charleston on Thursday and they'd stick around to see the nighttime 3-D movie and fireworks display at the Capitol.

"I thought, his 9th birthday, what a memorable day that would be to spend West Virginia's 150th birthday in Charleston," Bill said.

After Tomblin finished leading the crowd in a short refrain of "Happy Birthday," workers began distributing slices on paper plates along with plastic cutlery.   

The cake, baked and decorated by local food artisan Sara Lane, featured a Styrofoam model of the state's gold-domed Capitol building that was covered in more than 900 pounds of fondant, a mixture of marshmallow and powdered sugar.

The sculpture sat on 16 white sheets of cake topped with green butter cream icing piped to look like grass.

The building's edible lawn will be replaced each day of the three-day sesquicentennial celebrations. Each day, 1,600 pieces of cake will be available for anyone who wants one.

Before the cake was cut, visitors were given the opportunity to step behind the blue velvet rope encircling it to pose for pictures.

While they waited for Tomblin to arrive, guests were treated to the sounds of a bluegrass trio playing from the balcony overlooking the lobby.

As the music filled the room, groups of children locked arms and danced in circles as their parents looked on and clapped their hands. 

Representatives from the U.S. Postal Service were on hand selling sheets of commemorative stamps, tote bags and other collectibles.

Visitors took turns signing the state's birthday card, which was propped up on a stand inside the lobby's entrance. By the time the cake was passed out, the massive card was already crowded with signatures.

Outside the Cultural Center, visitors lined up in front of a tent where workers were frantically selling sesquicentennial merchandise.

Corey Zinn, one of the workers, said that business had been booming all day.

"It's been nonstop," Zinn said. "Ever since we started this morning, people have just been swarming around."

Besides the licensed sesquicentennial merchandise, visitors could purchase food from vendors set up across the Capitol lawn.

Some vendors offered traditional carnival food like Italian ice and funnel cake. Others specialized in West Virginia favorites like pepperoni rolls and hot dogs.

Not everyone enjoying the festivities was a West Virginian. Many visitors, including Ellen King of Christiansburg, Va., came from out of state.

King said she was on vacation, headed to Parkersburg to visit Blennerhassett Island, but decided to stop into Charleston to take part in the celebrations.

"I love to see the quilts (hanging in the Cultural Center)," King said. "And I wanted to see the dome of the Capitol, it's beautiful to see from the river."

Contact writer Charles Young at or 304-348-1796.

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West Virginia's Sesquicentennial by the numbers

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Sesquicentennial cake a work of art

10 things to know about W.Va. sesquicentennial




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