As a capital city, Columbus is not only the center of state power and authority -- it's also a symbol of Ohio itself.

To this place, some came carefully with truths to share. Some came quickly with a wish to realize their fondest dreams.

"Old Joe" came with flowers.

A local newspaper told his story in a lengthy article in June 1867:

"Franz Joseph Weitgenannt came to Columbus from Freiburg, Germany, in 1833. He was for some time in the employ of Mr. (Alfred) Kelley and Mr. (Joseph) Fisher, and under the direction of the former planted the elms in Capitol Square. He was one of the earliest professional gardeners in the city and soon made himself useful to the citizens.

"He seemed to act toward a tree or plant as toward a person. He petted, and fondled and talked to them. ... He examined a diseased tree or a blighted flower with the professional dexterity of a physician. He talked of trees breathing, sweating, choking, being sick, and doctored them accordingly. ...

"Quite early he established a garden in the northern part of the city, but the severe winter of thirty years ago killed all of his flowers and plants, and he abandoned the place as a man would flee from an epidemic.

"In 1842, he established the garden on Washington Avenue and though unfortunate for a time, he was soon permanently located. ... Old Joe was a bachelor and lived almost entirely alone. ... Yet this man, who every night locked himself in his little eight-by-ten room from all the world apart, was the confidant of half of the young men of the city on love matters.

"He prepared with exquisite taste the bouquets for sweethearts, emblemed love of the most enthusiastic young man in beautiful clusters of flowers that always told the story truly, and entered with all a boy's enthusiasm into the secret maneuvers by which the lovers bouquet was made a sweet surprise to the fair recipient. ... In such matters he never made mistakes.

"Old Joe thus became an absolute necessity in the city and the children of those whose vows were said over and through his flowers learned to look upon him as had the parents. ... He was not sociable but everyone knew him. His flowers always spoke his prettiest speeches, and a free translation of his bitterest ones, turning always the grumble and growl into an unmeaning smoothness.

"He was charitable in two senses of the word. He gave of his means, and forgave the shortcomings of others. He had no fear of death and had made such preparations therefore as he deemed right. Long before his death he had purchased a lot in Green Lawn Cemetery, and had his tombstone inscribed as he directed. This was peculiar but so was his every act.

"He died on Friday, May 24. A great many of his German friends had been present during the day, and his last wishes were freely expressed to them. On Sunday following he was interred in the lot of his choosing at Green Lawn Cemetery. His property, amounting to eight thousand dollars, he willed to the children of two sisters who lived in some of the western states.

"Old Joe, without what the world would pronounce a lovable or heroic quality, was -- puzzle as he was -- a man who numbered his legion of friends. Last week hundreds of these visited the garden. ... No flowers were touched and there was no desire to touch them. The garden drooped in the absence of the guardian magician, and even the 'hermit's cell,' sacred from intrusion for so many years was open now. The little couch in the corner, the old-style clock with its heavy weights dangling in the free air, the one chair and one stool, the little cooking stove and the little table tell the whole story of the man who entertains none but himself.

"Old Joe kept well his own secrets, as well as those of others, but once an unexpected kindness of a lady of the city caused the doors of an 'old barn of a heart, crowded with the sultry sheaves of the past' to stand open for a moment, and a glimpse was caught of this 'little story':

"Old Joe, when he was Young Joe, loved a German maiden. After the vows had been spoken the lady's family moved to America, where Joe, in one year was to follow, and the two were to be married. The young gardener came as he had promised but found his sweetheart the wife of another.

"Disappointment to a sensitive heart is sometimes worse than death. It made Old Joe half a hermit, and all a mystery."

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.