Saturday, July 6, 2013

201 Years of Stories & Stones - Greenlawn Cemetery

Last month, Kenneth and I visited the Greenlawn Cemetery for a historical program called 201 Years of Stories & Stones.  The program was hosted by Greenlawn Cemetery and the Columbus Landmarks Foundation.  I've always been interested in history and thought it would be fun to find out more about Columbus' past.  I've also heard that Greenlawn Cemetery is a good birding area, but before this event, I had yet to visit.

The program description from the Columbus Landmarks Foundation read:

Stories & Stones highlights Columbus history and architecture through the lives of some of its most famous (and a few not so well-known!) residents who reside in perpetuity...

...What does an industrialist, a former slave on Andrew Jackson’s plantation, a watercolor artist, a botanist, a founding family and an orphaned child, “Santa Claus,” a society matriarch honored by the French government, a whaler who became a banker, a Union soldier, a humorist with a comic mother, a union of suffragettes, a fiercely defiant Southern belle, and conductors on the Underground Railroad all have in common?  Columbus – and a fraction of the thousands of stories associated with Green Lawn Cemetery.  Their stories and others will be featured at marked locations throughout the cemetery... 

...Green Lawn Cemetery, founded in 1848, will be the architectural backdrop for volunteer “stone tellers” who will give brief stories and anecdotes about selected past Columbus residents, the architectural iconography of their resting place, and landmarks in Columbus that continue to be associated with them. Approximately every 20 minutes, “stone tellers” will talk about their location with those who have gathered.

Kenneth and I arrived shortly after 1pm, when the program began.  We picked up a map at the Huntington Chapel that showed where the 'stone tellers' would be stationed.  There was no direct route and visitors were encouraged to map out their own path.

We didn't make it to all of the grave sites  but we did listen to stories about the following Columbus figures: Belle Coit Kelton, P.W. Huntington, Lucas Sullivant and family members, Hannah and William Neil and the Battelle Family. The 'stone tellers' were so knowledgable and friendly!  We learned a lot about some very influential people from the city's past and it was neat to hear the stories behind streets (Neil Avenue) and businesses (Huntington Bank and Battelle) I've seen in Columbus.

The Neil family story was very interesting - they owned a lot of land in Columbus, much of which became what is today Ohio State University.  Hannah Neil, despite her family's wealth, was a philanthropist who used her wealth to help the homeless and less fortunate in Columbus.  She founded the Columbus Female Benevolent Society, the Home for the Friendless and the Hannah Neil Mission. 

The cemetery itself is huge - over 360 acres!  We wandered around for a while, looking for a few state champion trees (the largest tree of its species growing in the state) which were indicated on the map we were given.  We also looked for Weeping Angels - didn't find any though (whew!).

The cemetery was very peaceful.  I like walking in cemeteries and thinking about all of the history, the stories and the lives that have converged in this one place.  I don't dwell on the fact that these are tombs, resting places for our departed loved ones.  I try to focus on the lives that were lived, and the wildlife that make their home there now.  There was a lot of birdsong in the cemetery that day, and since the cemetery itself is an important birding area, I imagine most days are like that.  It makes what could be a very somber, dreary place much more upbeat and hopeful.