Where once stood a bright yellow “Kangaroo Crossing” sign on Clinton Heights Ave., two smaller yard signs now mark its place: “Never Forget.”
Ever since the city of Columbus removed Clintonville’s mysterious kangaroo marker, the neighborhood has mounted a full-force campaign to return the sign to its rightful place – or, at the very least, preserve its memory.
“It’s sad that it came down, but the aftermath has been so much more humorous and fun, with the way that Clintonville’s been responding to it,” says Clinton Heights resident Jared Laughbaum.
Laughbaum is the person who created the original “Kangaroo Crossing” sign four years ago. And it seems he’ll have the last laugh: He now has the sign back in his possession and is searching for its new home.
Not Joking Anymore
Laughbaum, a teacher for Columbus City Schools, said the sign originated as a piece of protest. City workers erected a “Construction entrance ahead” in front of his house in 2014, during renovations at Clinton Elementary. But after the construction ended, the city wouldn’t take the sign down, despite multiple calls by neighbors.
So Laughbaum bought the kangaroo sign online and swapped it out. But even as the neighborhood came to love the sign, he kept his identity a secret.
“What I’ll tell you is, it has been so fun over the years because I didn’t go around telling anyone, so no-one really knew why the sign was there,” Laughbaum says. “So you would hear stories from adults, stories from students that were going to school, all the different stories about how the neighbors had a pet kangaroo, or how the city saw a kangaroo jumping around one time so they had to put the sign up.”
The sign’s origin also interested WOSU listener – and former Clinton Heights resident – Ann Miller-Tobin, who asked Curious Cbus to look into it. During the course of this reporter’s investigation, though, the city’s Department of Public Service realized the kangaroo sign had no permit, and on March 12, dispatched workers to take it down. (Again, sorry about that.)
Residents of Clintonville were not pleased with the sudden removal. After the Clintonville Facebook group found out, members moved quickly to figure out their next steps.
Scott Hammond, a particularly vocal local, launched a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign to raise money for a replacement, which to date has raised over $235. Several people reached out to the government about how to get the sign back.
But Jeremy Felder didn’t wait. Felder, who owns EccoLyfe Designs on Indianola, started producing his own versions of the “Kangaroo Crossing” sign with a new message: “Never Forget.”
“I definitely just wanted to comment my neighborly piece,” Felder says. “Pay homage to the memory that was.”
Felder began pumping out yard signs, stickers and bumper magnets with the yellow kangaroo for others who wanted to support the cause. He said even he was surprised by the demand for kangaroo merchandise.
“I can just personally say that I appreciated the sign,” Felder says. “I thought it actually represented the school and the little kids that are running around there. Not everything has to be so political. Let the people have some fun.”
This week, Hammond launched a Change.org petition to have the “Kangaroo Crossing” declared the official symbol of Clintonville. Almost 300 people have signed on. To Laughbaum, it’s the perfect emblem.
“I love it because really, looking at what it symbolizes, what that petition is for: civil engagement, but also creative problem-solving, addressing the local government bureaucracy,” Laughbaum says.
This week, Laughbaum retrieved the “Kangaroo Crossing” sign from the city, with one major condition: He can’t put it back in the public right-of-way.
Though some residents floated the idea of applying for a variance in city code, which prohibits non-traffic-related signs between sidewalks and streets, Laughbaum thinks the sign will likely live somewhere else.
“I would absolutely love the sign back in the neighborhood," he said. "I’m totally open to what Clintonville would like to do."
Among the options: Laughbaum or his neighbor could post the sign in their own front yards. Laughbaum could mount it under the “No Outlet” sign on his property. The sign could be installed in a nearby park. Or he could donate the sign to Clinton Elementary.
Libby Wetherholdt, representative for the Clintonville Area Commission, has heard from a number of parents in favor of that last idea. She spoke this week with the principal about installing the sign in the school’s playground, and said the principal plans to discuss the idea with faculty and the Parent-Teacher Association.
“I think it could be a real teachable moment of having a sign, maybe collecting books on kangaroos, and maybe the art teacher could put together some sort of art project that would go together with that,” Wetherholdt says. “And maybe even have someone from the city of Columbus about how to become an active member of the city and work with the city to get things done.”
Getting the kangaroo approved as the official symbol of Clintonville, however, would be a long shot. Currently the neighborhood is represented by a tree graphic, and Wetherholdt says the process to approve even that became “one of the worst fiascos ever.”
The sign may pop up elsewhere, though. Arch City Roasters, a coffee roaster based out of Clintonville, is looking into incorporating the kangaroo into their packaging – and possibly releasing a “Kangaroo Crossing” blend in the future. Residents hope to engage other local businesses, as well.
Wetherholdt, who’s lived in Clintonville since 1985 and served as area commissioner for five years, says she’s never seen an issue that’s mobilized the community quite like the kangaroo.
“Not something like this,” she says. “There isn’t one that comes to mind.”
Miller-Tobin, for her part, is happy Clintonville united over the sign – and that people are embracing the proceedings with humor.
“I really think it’s given the sign its folklore,” Miller-Tobin says. “There’s always something to protest about in Clintonville.”
"For me, it's just been fun how it all unfolds, and how it represents more than just a sign to the community," he says.