At first glance, a visit to a cemetery in the midst of a pandemic can seem like an uncomfortably gloomy thing to do. Who should we remind of the fragility of our existence when the signs are all around us? On the other hand, cemeteries can offer a good alternative to overcrowded parks.
In fact, most American cities have at least one large cemetery that was designed as much to be a place of recreation for the living as it was a repository for the dead. In Columbus, that location is Green Lawn Cemetery.
Founded in 1848, Green Lawn was part of a shift in the mid-19th century from cramped urban cemeteries to rolling, well-maintained memorial parks. This was called the Rural Cemeteries Movement. The emphasis on beauty and scenery in such cemeteries makes them a great place to enjoy nature, but they offer much more than that. Their stones, statues, mausoleums and crypts tell us who we were, who we are and how we want to be remembered. Usually this is done subtly with a symbol here or a phrase there, but every once in a while you come across the grave of someone so vibrant that neither marble nor granite nor bronze can contain the spirit. of the person buried inside.
One of the best examples of such a monument in Green Lawn Cemetery is that of Emil Ambos, a fun-loving sportsman whose likeness is immortalized in bronze as he eternally indulges in his pass- preferred time, fishing. This life-affirming statue stands in stark contrast to the austere obelisks and dismal angels that commonly adorn tombs from this era. It also says a lot about the character of the person under his feet.
Emil was born in what was considered the aristocracy of the South Side in 1844. His father, Peter, arrived in Columbus from the Rhineland in 1832 and quickly made a name for himself by opening the first candy store in the city. Following his success, he later became a leader in industry and finance, co-founding what is now PNC Bank in 1863. Emil’s mother, Dorothea, was the daughter of a pioneer German village landowner. and retired captain in the Austrian army. , Christian Jaeger.
As a young man, Emil traveled to Gambier, where he studied botany at Kenyon College. After graduating, the 22-year-old gave up a career in his field of study and returned to Columbus to open a store specializing in the sale of fine liquors and imported food products.
Like his father, Emil turned out to be a successful businessman and his store flourished. Rather than raising a family, he remained single and spent most of his adult life enjoying the finer things in his luxurious townhouse at 40 W. Town St. There he had a punch bowl. sculpted in the lava of Mount Vesuvius, Italian marble statues and a bathtub topped with zinc. A bridge on the second floor led to a stable where he kept his precious collection of nearly twenty horses and ponies.
While Emil clearly loved to surround himself with lavish decadence, he had also inherited his mother’s deep sense of empathy for those less fortunate. Each year, as the cold set in, he would take troops of poor and orphaned children to Lazarus, had them each put on winter clothes, and then happily sent them on their warm and joyful journey. He would lead this chaotic scene with his trusty golden-tipped walking stick, a precious accessory presented to him on New Years Day 1877 for having the most beautiful and fastest horse on Town Street.
A few months before Emil was given this fancy cane, he interrupted his single life to marry a young woman named Clara Owen. Their marriage ended abruptly three years later, following intriguing allegations that newspapers at the time would only describe as “rather racy in character.”
While the indiscretions that led to the couple’s divorce may have been kept private, one thing that was no secret was Emil’s love for fishing. It was said that he would jump at the slightest suggestion to cast a line at any time of the night or day. After his retirement, at age 39, his desire to fish only grew. To further indulge in his hobby, he purchased a 116-acre country getaway with Great Twin Lakes off Winchester Pike. He called this place Ambos Park.
Almost every day, Emil would recruit his family and friends to join him for an afternoon of leisure and relaxation by the lakes. Some of his most frequent guests were impoverished children, whom he often gathered for a brief escape from the polluted slums and the drudgery of their daily lives. To amuse the children, he built a “comic hut” on one of the small islands in the lake, with a small well for water and a stuffed deer in the yard. He also acquired a menagerie of animals that served as a petting zoo and a fleet of “fun boats” for children to navigate the lakes.
One of Emil’s most unusual acts of benevolence took place on Christmas Eve in 1896. That night he threw a party that would have been as comfortable in a Roald Dahl story as in any. what was written by Charles Dickens.
The festivities began when 15 needy children were led out of the cold and into the opulent residence of Emil Town Street. For three hours that night, delighted guests watched the children playing games, singing, being fed a big feast (but not before Emil played a prank on the young by serving them water. enriched with alum) and received gifts under a Christmas tree topped with a possum in a silk hat. At the end of the evening, Emil remarked that these are some of the shortest and happiest hours he has spent in years.
The following winter was less cheerful. Following a brief illness, the beloved “Uncle Ame” of Columbus died of complications in the liver on March 26, 1898. He was 53 years old. But its story does not end there.
True to his legacy of charity and generosity, Emil bequeathed the most attractive 30 acres of his country estate to the city for use as a park. While debating whether or not to accept this gift, a city council member had questions for the deceased, so a psychic was hired to summon Emil’s ghost. Once communication was established, Emil Ambos’ ethereal voice told the city councilor that from the tomb’s perspective, he could see how many “short skates” the city council was and that he only cared about Columbus. have the land. Furious, the insulted man joined the council’s majority dissent vote and Emil du Parc’s gift was turned down. Eventually, the land was sold to a Grove City farmer before being converted into a golf course and finally into the Berwick area which occupies the site today.
Another provision of Emil’s will was that $ 1,000 would be donated to the children’s hospital, but not before the interest accrued on the money was used to host two jubilant fish fry banquets for his friends and fellow fishermen. These events, one in 1905 and the other in 1908, saw a downtown boardroom transformed into a natural wonderland, with ponds full of fish, tree-lined walls, tents pitched on sandbanks and waiters dressed as camp scouts. A life-size, strangely lit photo of Emil surrounded by plants and vines presided over both celebrations.
Looking back, a lawyer studying the elaborate 17 pages will comment: “If someone were to ask me if there is someone else I would rather be, I would say Emil Ambos. He looked like he was having so much fun.
In 2019, the statue that commemorates the short but well-lived life of Emil Ambos was deemed historically significant by the Smithsonian Institution and under the direction of the Green Lawn Cemetery Association the monument was fully restored, ensuring that the memory of his subject will live. for the coming years.
To learn more about this and other mysterious stories about the University District and the city as a whole, venture out for an evening of dark stories from Columbus’ past offered throughout the year by Columbus Ghost Tours . Tickets and information available on www.columbusghosttours.com.