Frankie Whalen captures $3,000 first prize in state contest
Apr. 8, 2014
Frankie Whalen, a junior at Chillicothe High School, on Friday was named the winner of the Ohio War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission’s student essay contest for grades 10 through 12. Whalen’s brother, Jack, received an honorable mention in the competition. / David Berman/Gazette
CHILLICOTHE — Drawing on his family’s passion for the military and his own interest in American history, Frankie Whalen wrote an award-winning research project on Ohio’s role in the War of 1812.
The Chillicothe High School junior was recognized Friday in the Statehouse rotunda for his five-page essay, which took first place — and the $3,000 top prize — in the Ohio War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission’s research contest for grades 10 through 12. His brother, Jack, received an honorable mention for his PowerPoint presentation on naval battles.
Students in two age groups were free to enter an essay, a PowerPoint, a podcast or a website. The entries were blind-reviewed by a panel of 26 judges, including scholars and journalists. Prize money totaling $10,000 was provided by Medical Mutual of Ohio.
Whalen’s project focused more on Ohio’s soldiers, including volunteers, and what their life was like on the front lines of the war between the U.S. and Great Britain. He said he attempted to identify the strategic goals of commanders and assess why certain operations succeeded or failed.
“I focused on Gen. (William) Hull’s and Gen. (William Henry) Harrison’s campaigns,” he said. “I talked about regiments from Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana and their involvement from the start of the War of 1812 in Ohio.”
Whalen’s project required a significant amount of work in a short period of time.
“I heard about it a couple of weeks before it was due. … I did nothing but research for two weekends,” he said.
Whalen checked out books and maps from the Chillicothe & Ross County Public Library to learn more about military campaigns “involving Ohio soldiers going in and out of Canada and the naval battles on Lake Erie.” He also spent time at the Ross County Historical Society.
“I stuck my nose in some encyclopedias, almanacs and different stories,” he said.
Key to Whalen’s research was “Raw Recruits and Bullish Prisoners: Ohio’s Capital in the War of 1812,” a book by local historian Pat Medert that looks at how Chillicothe — then the state capital and a fledgling frontier town — hosted troops, state leaders, military suppliers and even British prisoners of war.
“Last year really piqued my interest in American history. I took (Advanced Placement) U.S. History and spent eight or nine hours a week studying, reviewing materials and just diving into every time period,” he said. “I thought the War of 1812 was one of the most interesting time periods because it’s a forgotten war and was an important time in our history because we hadn’t defined ourselves as a nation in the context of the rest of the world.”
Whalen’s passion for American history was preceded by a lifelong appreciation for the military, courtesy of his parents, Tim and Cathy, both graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Tim is still in the military; Cathy is retired.
“American military history is really interesting to me because I’ve been to Normandy and all of these bases all over the United States,” he said. “I liked learning about the origin of my (military) community.”
Despite a healthy sibling rivalry, Whalen still thought it was cool to see his brother join him in the top six out of more than 300 entries. He wasn’t the only one impressed by the feat.
Peter Hahn, the chairman of the history department at Ohio State University and a member of the 1812 commission, noted the brothers’ success in the blind, peer-reviewed contest in his remarks at Friday’s ceremony.
“I, for one, found it striking that, when the computer turned the random serial numbers back into identities, we discovered we had two people of the same last name and the same address among our finalists,” Hahn said. “I guessed that they were twin brothers. … They said: ‘Actually, we’re two-thirds of triplets.’ They went on to say: ‘Our brother (Nick) is kicking himself for not submitting something.’ ”