I used to be afraid of cemeteries. Growing up, I abided the Honorary Kid Code by holding my breath every time I passed one. Then someone suggested that I tour Green Lawn Cemetery. It took me five months to warm up to the idea.
On Thursday, I headed west on Greenlawn Avenue through the grand cemetery gates and landed in a world of legends and splendor that instantly struck me to the core. I met my tour guide Sandi Latimer, who has volunteered at Green Lawn for the past decade, and we set off in her car to meander the enchanted forest.
“This is beautiful. It’s just so beautiful,” I kept muttering.
Sandi nodded at me knowingly. She’s uncannily passionate about Ohio history, and about the history of everything in general. Like Green Lawn’s lioness, she unlocked the mystical secrets of all 360 of its acres, and meticulously answered my questions. All 97 of them. She is, quite simply, the perfect tour guide.
Founded in 1848, Green Lawn is Ohio’s second largest cemetery. It’s laid out like a Victorian rural cemetery, with 3,000 trees (including four state champions) and endless rolling hills. More than 200 species of birds have been sighted there, making it a hot birding destination. Basically, Green Lawn is a big, beautiful park. It has joggers and dog walkers, and it even recently hosted an eight-year-old’s birthday celebration.
“It’s like all of these amazing people from history are here together, having a big party,” I blurted.
Now, I can’t tell you why I said that. People buried in a cemetery having a party? I was so unhinged by the overall sense of majesty and tranquility that it just came out. And that’s when I started to get star struck. Because among Green Lawn’s 151,000 inhabitants are some very notable people. Thurber. Neil. Sullivant. Rickenbacker. Dennison. Lazarus. Hubbard.
“Oh my God, is that Lincoln Goodale?” I shrieked as I jumped out of Sandi’s (still moving) car.
“Yes, it is,” she smiled.
I sprinted to Dr. Goodale’s grave like it was going somewhere. Oh, the million times I would thank him for giving us the best park in the world. We ventured forth to the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II areas. We stopped by the oldest grave, belonging to Dr. Benjamin Gard, who died of cholera in 1849 after treating cholera patients at the Ohio Penitentiary. We visited the popular toy-adorned gravesite of George Blount, who died in 1873 at the age of five, after sliding down the banister and crashing into his family’s potbellied stove. We marveled at the Tiffany stained glass windows and mosaic murals inside of Huntington Chapel, which was built in 1902. I saw the grave of a man who rode with Wyatt Earp’s posse in the 1880’s, and of the woman who co-founded my alma mater in 1898. I learned that several relatives of prominent people are buried at Green Lawn, like George Armstrong Custer’s half-brother, Harvey Firestone’s cousin, George W. Bush’s great grandfather, J.C. Penney’s brother, and Woodrow Wilson’s grandparents.
Above all else, I discovered that cemeteries can be resoundingly full of life. Green Lawn Cemetery is open seven days a week, from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. April through October, and 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. November through March. It hosts tours, First Saturday programs, and monthly bird walks, and has ongoing volunteer opportunities.