COLUMBUS, Ohio - For some engaged couples, a 7-foot-tall memorial to Abraham Lincoln and a 16-by-12-foot painting of a scene from the War of 1812 might seem intrusive as wedding backdrops.
For those who opt to be married in the Statehouse, however, such features are simply part of the allure.
"I spent a great many years in and out of the halls of the state Capitol," said Dan Stewart, a former member of the Ohio House, who in 2009 married Katherine Thomsen in the building.
"I'm kind of a history and political buff as well. To me, it is a hallowed and sacred place."
For other couples in recent years, too, the 151-year-old Statehouse has served as a fitting venue to tie the knot.
Since 2007, when the state began allowing private events at the public site, dozens of couples have conducted their nuptials or reception there.
"The weddings have been wildly successful," said Gregg Dodd, deputy director of communications, marketing and events at the Statehouse.
Before the change, state records show, a July 4, 1870, wedding in what was the office of the State Commissioner of Common Schools represented the first and only wedding in the building.
With a renovation of the Statehouse completed in 1996, it became a venue for many gatherings, but the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board -- which oversees the building and grounds -- declined to relax a ruling allowing only events tied to nonprofit organizations.
"We had dozens of requests (for weddings at the Statehouse) annually," Dodd said, "but we always had to say no."
Then, in October 2006, the board relented.
The wedding business, members decided, provided the state a good opportunity to increase both revenue and exposure for the historic building.
On May 26, 2007, a Westerville couple -- Tom Barker and Bethany Schlichter -- became the first modern-day couple to wed there.
Bethany's father, John Schlichter, served five years as a Republican state representative from the Washington Court House area.
"My dad just happened to find out that they had just voted to allow weddings at the Statehouse and told me about it," Bethany said.
The grandiose interior of the building won her over.
"I had been there for his swearing-in," she said, "and it was just so beautiful and such a historical place."
Sherri Wilburn, Statehouse special-events coordinator, works with couples throughout the planning process.
History, she said, isn't the venue's only attribute. Many couples are surprised by the options for customizing the space.
"The ceremony or the reception doesn't have to be in any certain location in the building," Wilburn said. "We will essentially give the client whatever they want. It's very unique, and not your traditional ceremony setting. It's certainly not your standard ballroom and hotel."
Despite the flexibility, couples have preferred either the Rotunda or the Atrium.
With its marble floors, high ceilings and massive skylight, the circular Rotunda has been the most popular choice. The Atrium, created in 1994 from a former walkway between buildings, is a common choice for receptions.
Married recently at Riverside United Methodist Church, Jen Rippeth and Doug Blosser held their reception in the Atrium.
The Gahanna couple had no connection to the building; its location simply captivated them.
"We looked at country clubs and places like that, but you just walked into the Statehouse and there was just kind of that awe effect," Rippeth said. "My parents and I walked in there and looked at each other and said, `This is it."'
She cited practical reasons, too, for the choice: "The decor was neutral. You go to hotels and stuff like that, and you're working with what everything else looks like and their color scheme. There was an outdoor space and an indoor space, and we wanted to have our cocktail hour outside. But if it rains, we could just have cocktail hour in the Rotunda. Plan B was going to be just as awesome as plan A."
Even though the state sometimes advertises the wedding venue and is represented at the annual Columbus Bridal Show, Wilburn doesn't think enough Columbus couples know about the opportunity.
"It's the most beautiful (building) in Ohio," she said, "and certainly the most historic in the city."
Days after her wedding, Rippeth was more than pleased with her choice in reception venue.
"It was awesome," she said. "My friends have been calling me; my parents' friends have been calling me.
"It was spectacular."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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