Wolf monument at Green Lawn Cemetery honors Columbus' earliest settlers

Holly Zachariah
ThisWeek group
When the city's North Cemetery was closed in the 1880s, most of the interments were moved to Green Lawn Cemetery, but there never has been a dedicated monument to them. On Oct. 16, a statue of a wolf was dedicated in their honor.

Their stories have been lost to history, and their names mostly are unknown.

But that doesn’t mean the remains of hundreds of people – those who either were among the first pioneer settlers of Columbus or who just happened to die while passing through here well over a century and a half ago – have ever been forgotten.

And now a public memorial at Green Lawn Cemetery marks the memory of the souls who had been reinterred after their original graves elsewhere were disturbed by construction and progress.

"We have to honor our history and heritage," said Maryellen O'Shaughnessy, the Franklin County clerk of courts who, as a Columbus City Council member in the 1990s and early 2000s, played a vital part in making sure several sets of previously-unearthed remains were reinterred and cared for.

"These were real pioneers. It means a lot to have them properly honored," she said. "We all think about our lives and whether they make any sense or have meaning and we all wonder when we go on, is there something we can offer the next generations to come? Where we rest is a place of reflection."

So reflection is what the cemetery caretakers strived to create.

On Oct. 13, a truck lift hoisted a specially designed bronze wolf and set it atop a 32,000-pound granite boulder in the R Section of Green Lawn Cemetery, 1000 Greenlawn Ave. in Columbus, where, after Green Lawn opened in 1849, nearly 900 graves were moved from what was known as the North Graveyard – now the parking lot of the North Market – and from an original city cemetery in Franklinton.

But those early relocated burials were far from the only ones. In the late 1970s, during a sidewalk project at the North Market, more graves were discovered and remains relocated to Green Lawn. Then in 2005, 39 sets of bones (The Columbus Dispatch archives are inconsistent as to the number, and cemetery officials said they don't really know) were reinterred after being unearthed during a sewer-line construction at the market site four years before.

The hundreds of earlier graves came mostly without markers or stones, and the latter sets of remains were just bits and pieces of bone placed in communal lots.

It was a controversial and sad time for the city in 2001 when, during North Market-area improvements, the graves were unearthed. Yet so many – O'Shaughnessy chief among them – pledged to honor the dead.

Finally, with a generous gift from a Green Lawn supporter in hand, the last step of that has occurred. An official dedication ceremony was held Oct. 16.

Randy Rogers, president of the Green Lawn Cemetery Association, said when longtime cemetery supporter Dorothy Howard-Flynn died last year, she left a fifth of her estate to Green Lawn. The money has been used for several physical improvements on the grounds of the sprawling cemetery, but Rogers and others knew the donation meant the time also was right to finally properly honor the city's ancestors buried there.

So Champaign County artist Mike Major was commissioned for a $40,000 special piece. The wolf was chosen purposefully.

"We had read in some of the early history books of Columbus about how the early residents of Franklinton called downtown, and the east bank of the river, Wolf Ridge," Rogers said. "The wolves who lived there were eventually displaced from their natural habitat by these early settlers, and they sort of become anonymous in time. And the settlers got displaced, too. But they are not forgotten."

The bronze wolf – made about 30% larger in scale than a common gray wolf – in a howling stance and facing downtown Columbus is both a nod to the past and a symbol of the power of enduring stories, Rogers said.

A marker labeled "Departed Denizens" rests beside the sculpture.

"Even though we don’t have the individual names of those who rest here, we still have their stories," Rogers said. "Someone knows them, and they mattered.

"Their stories are part of Columbus' history, and this honor was long past due."

hzachariah@dispatch.com

@hollyzachariah