New wolf monument at Green Lawn Cemetery honors Columbus' earliest settlers

Holly Zachariah
The Columbus Dispatch
When the city's North Cemetery was closed in the 1880s, most of the internments were moved to Green Lawn. The county bought several lots in Section R of the cemetery for these re-burials. But there has never been a dedicated monument to them until now, a statue of a wolf chosen because early settlers called the east bank of the Scioto, Wolf's Ridge.

Wolf monument will honor city's earliest settlers

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

But that doesn’t mean the remains of hundreds of people — those who were either 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, so very long after they left us, a public memorial at Green Lawn Cemetery finally marks the memory of these souls who had been reinterred here after their original graves elsewhere were disturbed by construction and progress.

"We have to honor our history and heritage," said Maryellen O'Shaughnessy, now the Franklin County clerk of courts but who, as a Columbus city councilwoman 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 exactly what the cemetery caretakers strived for.

Tuesday morning, 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 on the West Side where, after Green Lawn opened in 1849, nearly 900 graves were relocated from what was known as the North Graveyard (now the parking lot of the North Market) and from an original city cemetery in Franklinton.

When the city's North Cemetery was closed in the 1880s, most of the internments were moved to Green Lawn Cemetery, but there has never been a dedicated monument to them. On Friday, a statue of a wolf will be dedicated in their honor.

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. And then, in 2005, 39 sets of bones (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.

A worker inspects the placement of the statue at Green Lawn cemetery honoring early settlers who were reburied there.

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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.

And finally, with a generous gift from a Green Lawn supporter in hand, the last step of that has happened. An official dedication ceremony is planned for Friday afternoon, and O'Shaughnessy will be among the speakers.

Randy Rogers, president of the Green Lawn Cemetery Association, said that 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 was also right to finally properly honor the city's ancestors buried here.

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, 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. Someone knows them and they mattered," Rogers said. "Their stories are part of Columbus' history and this honor was long past due."