Franklinton’s Birds Chirped, “Follow Us to Green Lawn Cemetery!”

Since its founding in 1848, Green Lawn Cemetery has provided a final resting place for many well-known figures in Columbus history, such as Worthington pioneer Orange Johnson, author James Thurber, Ohio Governor James Rhodes, and World War I aviator Eddie Rickenbacker.

While I’ve explored Green Lawn several times with my family and on Columbus Landmarks Foundation tours, I didn’t realize until lately that the cemetery has also been designated an Important Bird Area. About 3,000 trees, a pond, a ravine, and prairie grasslands in the 360-acre cemetery offer an idyllic habitat for a variety of resident birds, large numbers of migrating birds, and other wildlife. According to The National Birding at Green Lawn CemeteryWildlife Federation’s Where the Birds Are: The 100 Best Birdwatching Spots in North America, more than 200 species of birds have been spotted at Green Lawn, from thrushes, flycatchers and finches to sparrows, woodcocks and owls. Twenty-four warbler species have been seen here during migration, with another dozen or so spotted at other times, including the Mourning, Connecticut, Wilson’s, and Canada Warblers.

Darlene — together with Warren, a friend from my Bricker & Eckler days — led a Columbus Audubon Society tour of Green Lawn last Saturday morning, so I made plans to attend.

Driving through Franklinton, I noticed that the number of birds overhead seemed to increase as the cemetery drew nearer. “This way, Betsy! Follow us to Green Lawn!,” they chirped.

When I arrived at the cemetery, I joined eight other birders. Before we left the parking lot behind the administrative office, Darlene and Warren had spotted a Red-bellied Woodpecker, a Carolina Chickadee, Chimney Swifts, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a House Wren, an Ovenbird, a Baltimore Oriole, an American Robin, a Northern Cardinal and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Darlene’s goal was to see an Olive-sided Flycatcher and hear its “quick-three-beers” song. Another birder had seen it at Green Lawn the day before.

Next, we caravaned to the large pond near the center of the cemetery to replenish bird feeders there. Formerly a small quarry, the pond naturally attracts bullfrogs and waterbirds like Mallards, but the feeders made it irresistible to Blue Jays, a Downy Woodpecker and an American Goldfinch.

The tree that was a magnet for Cedar Waxwings and a Scarlet Tanager, Green Lawn CemeteryWalking through a section of the cemetery overlooking the pond, we spotted a Brown-headed Cowbird and heard a Great Crested Flycatcher. Then, we noticed a shaking silvery-green tree. In its branches was a score of whistling Cedar Waxwings…and a Scarlet Tanager!

Warren pointed out a Phoebe nest in the imposing Howald monument. The Cedar Waxwings followed us on our stop at a circa-1898 ornate iron bridge. Later, a Great Blue Heron cruised overhead.

Other birds that Darlene and Warren helped us spot or hear included an Eastern Wood-Pewee, a Chipping Sparrow, an Indigo Bunting, a Wood Thrush, a Warbling Vireo, a Common Grackle, a White-breasted Nuthatch, a Cooper’s Hawk, a European Starling, an American Redstart, a Tree Swallow, a Mourning Dove, an American Crow, a Red-winged Blackbird, a Canada Goose, a House Finch, a Yellow Warbler, a Common Yellowthroat, a Turkey Vulture and a Gray Catbird. The spotted olive-brown bird that I saw dart into a glossy-leaved tree turned out to be a Swainson’s Thrush.

Before we parted company, we checked on four 11-day-old bluebirds nesting in a bluebird box at the cemetery’s butterfly garden. Their parents kept close watch on us as Darlene banded each sleepy, fluffy bird. Baby bluebirds at Green Lawn CemeteryAlthough I was at Green Lawn for birding, I sought out a few special cemetery monuments while I was there. Old habits die hard, you know.

My first stop was the grave of Emil Ambos, marked by a statue called “The Fisherman.” Ambos, a Columbus native who died in 1898 at the age of 53, was a friend of my great-great grandfather, John Heinmiller. Reading Bill Arter’s description of the statue in Columbus Vignettes IV and its entry in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Inventories of American Painting and Emil Ambos monument, Green Lawn CemeterySculpture database helped me learn more about him. After attending Kenyon College, Ambos worked as a liquor dealer and lived on Town Street, where the former Lazarus department store stands. Besides being an avid horseman, this bachelor loved to fish. When he died, he left money for fellow fishermen to enjoy two dinner parties; the bulk of his estate went to Children’s Hospital.

This life-sized bronze sculpture overlooking Green Lawn’s pond was made by John Francis Brines in 1901 from a photograph of Ambos that was taken at Baker Art Gallery, the venerable Columbus photography studio. It depicts Ambos sitting on a rock, dressed to fish in a coat, vest, dress shirt, bow tie, a sportsman’s hat and pants protected by knee-high wading boots. He holds a fly rod in his right hand and a stringer holding a smallmouth bass in his left hand. A bait bucket is near his left foot.

After the biHeinmiller plot, Green Lawn Cemeteryrders dispersed, I went back to the front row of Section O, just behind Green Lawn’s chapel, to say hello to some of my Heinmiller ancestors. My great-great-great grandparents, Johann Conrad and Elizabeth Battenfeld Heinmiller, bought a plot when Green Lawn was founded. Now, the plot contains 23 other Heinmillers, including their son, “Uncle Henry,” the 6-foot, 4 ¼-inch Civil War veteran who served as chief of the Columbus Fire Department from 1869 until 1880. (Click here to see my post about him and some interesting objects connected with him, and here for my post about his fire chief’s helmet and speaking trumpet, now on display at the Ohio History Center.)

Before I left, I checked out two headstones in Section P, Lot No. 1, just behind the Heinmillers. They tell quite a story, and I’ll post it soon.

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