Statue lighting a new chapter in park's storied history
The grounds upon which you walk your dog and park your lawn chair to watch Shakespeare in the summer have been trod by the much less mundane over Columbus' 200 years.
Schiller Park takes up just 23 acres inside our historic district, but its history captures every taste, interest and imagination. Here's just some of what the German Village Society's Friends of Schiller Park committee has learned as it puts together a bicentennial celebration, scheduled for Sept. 8-9.
Even before Columbus made Stewart's Grove into City Park in 1867, the property had served a variety of memorable purposes. In 1830, the city's first Independence Day celebration was held there. Saengerfest, a German-language cultural festival with a focus on music and singing, was held in 1852. You might already have guessed who hosted: our own (and America's oldest singing society) Columbus Maennerchor.
During the Civil War, soldiers gathered and were reviewed in the park: a "muster." The Ohio State Fair was held there in 1865 and 1866. The Columbus Zoo was in residence for a time.
It took $15,000 in 1867 for the city to buy the property from David and William Deshler and Allen Thurman. In the following year, the park was laid out and three years later a fountain was added -- just in time for celebration of a royal wedding. According to the Columbus Memory Project: "Local girl, May Parsons, wed Bavarian Prince Alexander Zu Lynar on May 16, 1871, at Trinity Episcopal Church located on East Broad Street. When the Franco-Prussian war ended, a Peace Tree was planted in Schiller to celebrate and commemorate the union and the unity of countries."
The statue of Friedrich von Schiller was erected July 4, 1891, by the German immigrants who created our community. Their choice to commission a statue of their homeland's favorite poet, historian and dramatist speaks to their love of two countries.
They loved Germany and wanted to celebrate their culture and ancestry by commissioning the Miller Foundry in Munich to create the statue.
They dedicated it on Independence Day because they felt at home in their newly adopted homeland. Even 121 years after the statue was erected, it remains one of the most significant pieces of public art owned by the city of Columbus.
These pre-turn-of-the-20th-century events say nothing of the public-private partnerships that have made repeated improvements to the park and continue today.
The next such improvement will be revealed at 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8. The Friends of Schiller group has collected grant money to light and landscape around the Schiller s tatue, and you won't want to miss its unveiling during the illumination ceremony and concert. The program is free and open to the public, especially our South Side neighbors who all enjoy Schiller Park.
Saturday will include a concert featuring the Harmony Project, a reciting of Schiller's Ode to Joy, illumination of the statue and the playing of the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony over a glockenspiel installed in the St. Mary Church bell tower for the celebration weekend.
Still not enough? The celebration continues at 8:30 p.m. Saturday with Light Up Schiller: Dessert and Dancing on Deshler for a $50 ticket.
On Sunday, Sept. 9, the Ode to Joy Bicentennial Celebration runs noon to 4 p.m., is entirely free and celebrates each of the historic moments the park has seen.
Actors will bring to life elements of Saengerfest (once again performed by the Maennerchor) and Civil War; the zoo's Ambassador Animals will be on hand; and don't miss our pie-baking contest, a nod to state fairs past.
Ready to be a part of this celebration? Mark your calendars, buy your tickets, test your pie recipe, sign up to volunteer. Find out more by clicking on "Light Up Schiller" at germanvillage.com.
German Village Society Director Shiloh Todorov submitted the Village Notebook column to the ThisWeek German Village Gazette.