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Nature: Green Lawn Cemetery’s majestic old trees leave lasting impression

Randy Rogers provides scale for the Green Lawn Cemetery tree estimated to be about 313 years old

November 19, 2017

Jim McCormac

A century before Ohio became a state, a white oak acorn fell on gravelly terrain in what’s now the southwest side of Columbus. The following year, 1704, the fruit sprouted and a seedling arose.

That year, the first regular newspaper in the thirteen colonies was printed: the Boston News-Letter. One hundred sixty-seven years would elapse before the first edition of The Dispatch appeared.

Seven decades after the oak’s emergence, Americans, chafing under British rule, would fight for independence. By the time the Revolutionary War broke out, the acorn had matured into a large oak.

When the acorn sprouted in 1704, Ohio was pure wilderness. The city of Columbus’ predecessor, Franklinton, would not be platted until 93 years later, and it was 15 more until the “Borough of Columbus” was established.

This oak still stands, aged an estimated 313 years and witness to extraordinary change. Its gnarled, massive boughs stretch crazily from an elephantine trunk, the upper branches scraping the sky. The botanical Methuselah is one of the oldest trees in the state.

Fortunately for it and neighboring old-growth trees, Green Lawn Cemetery’s sprawling 360 acres includes them. Ohio’s second-largest cemetery was opened in 1849.

Burial grounds are sacred places, not subject to clear-cutting. So, beneficiaries of incidental conservation, the big timber was spared the ax: Twenty-seven other oaks exceed 200 years of age, and over 90 more are centenarians.

Because of its scores of huge trees, Green Lawn also serves as an arboretum. The cemetery has long been known for its wildlife value and as a birding Mecca. The originator of this column, Edward S. Thomas, wrote many pieces about the birds he found here. Thomas’ final resting place is near the fabled pond in the cemetery’s midst.

I’ve been visiting the cemetery since I was a kid and have made probably hundreds of trips over the years. Like many others, I’ve got lots of good memories of seeing great birds there, including numerous rare species.

Because of Green Lawn’s dual identity as a park and because of the numerous wildlife-watchers it draws, conservationists have long had a role on the cemetery board. Local physician and birder nonpareil Bernard Master began this tradition in 1995, serving for six years.

I replaced Bernie in 2000 and was on the board for 12 years. Randy Rogers followed me in 2011 and has been a dynamo, often spending 40 hours a week on cemetery business.

Rogers and I met at the cemetery on a recent frosty fall day and inspected the ancient oak and other mammoth trees. Our foray also produced numerous intriguing nuggets of human history. Residents include a who’s who of famous Ohioans.

Five governors are interred at Green Lawn, as is James Thurber, Eddie Rickenbacker, industrialist Samuel Bush (President George H.W. Bush’s grandfather), architect Frank Packard and many other notables.

A trip through Green Lawn Cemetery is always interesting. Its giant trees provide spectacle, and peppered throughout are historical points of interest courtesy of the many famous residents. Visitation is encouraged. Information can be found at

Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at

Further afield
• Jim McCormac and Green Lawn board member Randy Rogers will lead a trip through the cemetery on Dec. 2. They’ll visit the largest, oldest trees and various points of human interest. All are welcome. Meet at 10 a.m. at the administration building just inside the gates at 1000 Greenlawn Ave.


Jim said…
Fine piece, Jim. Good writing.
joe45255 said…
How did you estimate the age of the tree(s)? I would like to do the same if it can be done non-invasively.

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