Residents of Clintonville are outraged. The reason? Their beloved “Kangaroo Crossing” sign is gone.
For years, Clinton Heights Ave. was home to a bright yellow street sign with a black kangaroo – much like you’d see a “deer crossing” notice. But Central Ohio is not known for indigenous kangaroos.
Most residents didn’t know how the sign came about, but they all said the same thing: They loved the sign, and they were glad it was there.
On Monday morning, though, parents walking to Clinton Elementary stumbled upon an unwelcome sight: city of Columbus workers removing the sign pole and trucking it away. Adam Conn, a Clintonville resident, quickly posted the news on the Clintonville Facebook group, and backlash from the community was swift.
Conn told WOSU that he flagged down the workers, who said somebody complained about the sign to the police or a news station. Now it had to go. Conn asked one of the workers if he could have the sign, but they refused.
“So thanks for squashing one of the best things about this corner of the neighborhood, whoever you are,” Conn wrote on Facebook. “If the irony of the joke was lost on you, doesn't mean you have ruin it for the rest of us.”
A thread soon filled with gripes and calls to reclaim the sign: “Bah humbug to the person who complained.” “Some people won’t allow any fun!” “This is an outrage.”
The news was a shock to Clinton Heights resident Steve Hardwick, who for years told visitors he was “the first person down from the kangaroo.”
“I’ve never heard anyone complain about that sign,” Hardwick said. “I’ve heard lots of people complain about it being taken down, but nobody complain about it being there.”
Well, it’s confession time. WOSU is the reason why the Kangaroo Crossing sign was taken down. It’s not because we complained, though. Rather, we were trying to figure out how the sign got there in the first place.
Ann Miller-Tobin first noticed the kangaroo sign a couple of years ago, when she lived just up the street.
“It was one of those things where, initially when I saw it, it was kind of like, ‘That’s strange.’ Then it just becomes part of your environment,” she said.
Miller-Tobin met me a few weeks ago on Clinton Heights Ave. We took a good look around, but didn’t see any marsupials in the neighborhood.
“I do not see any kangaroos, but I understand they can be elusive creatures,” she said.
Now a resident of Grove City, Miller-Tobin was driving through the neighborhood last summer when she saw the sign again, which spurred her to ask Curious Cbus: “Why is there a kangaroo crossing in Clintonville?”
Miller-Tobin introduced me to her former neighbor, who had some ideas about the origins of the sign. The neighbor didn’t want to be quoted, out of fear that the sign would be taken down (sorry), but suggested the sign originated from a nearby resident’s trip to Australia.
Other Clinton Heights residents had their own ideas.
“I always assumed the neighbors who live right there that put it up, because they have a little girl and there are kids that live in those three houses, there’s a school right here,” said Jenny Deller, who lives a few houses down. “So I always assumed it was like a voluntary, somebody bought the sign to catch people’s attention – ‘Oh a kangaroo crossing, I’ll slow down.’”
Diane Embleton, who’s lived on the block for four decades, also connected the sign to Clinton Elementary.
“It’s been up there, and I figure, well, they’re talking about the kids walking to school, little kangaroos or something,” Embleton said. “It’s been here three or four years, I imagine. I just thought it was cute.”
Several people at Clinton Elementary gave me the same answer, though: The school had nothing to do with it.
No Kangaroos Permitted
Clintonville’s “Kangaroo Crossing” was no open secret – rather, it was a source of public pride.
Multiple people interviewed for this story said that over the years, they talked to Columbus Police officers and government workers who were aware of the sign but had no intention of taking it down. The sign has even shown up several times on Reddit.
Even if individual city employees knew about the sign, it turns out that the government itself had no idea.
The Columbus Department of Public Service regulates and maintains traffic signs in the public “right-of-way,” which extends from the edge of the sidewalk to the street. For new signs requested by residents, the city can approve 910 permits – those cover messages ranging from “children at play” to neighborhood welcome signs. “Deer crossing” signs, meanwhile are installed after a certain number of deer-related accidents in the area.
But there’s no permit process for exotic animal signs. And according to the Department of Public Service, the city issued no permit for the "Kangaroo Crossing" on Clinton Heights Ave.
On March 12, about a week after I talked to the city, Public Service workers took the trip out to Clintonville to remove the sign.
“Quite frankly, this was the first I’d heard of it,” said city spokesperson Jeffrey Ortega. “It’s my understanding that this did not have a permit or any sort of agreement to have in the right-of-way, and it was removed after the city was made aware of it. From the city’s perspective, it was an unregulated sign.”
According to Ortega, the cost to remove the sign was about $100.
Back To The Beginning
The city of Columbus and the residents of Clinton Heights have actually been fighting over this sign for years. But in 2014, their roles were reversed.
Steve Hardwick says the story begins with the demolition of the Clinton Elementary annex. To much public outcry, Columbus City Schools planned to demolish the building, which was built in 1904 and had no utilities or working bathroom.
As construction crews got to work, the city closed the sidewalk and installed a bright orange “Construction entrance ahead” sign on the 100 block of Clinton Heights Ave. Months after the demolition ended in June 2014, though, the sign still stayed up.
“Some of my neighbors said they complained to the city and the school district, but nobody claimed it was their sign,” Hardwick said.
The city refused to remove the sign, and the neighborhood couldn’t remove the pole from the ground.
"If there was a request to have it taken down after the construction was over, it probably should have been taken down," Ortega admitted.
Instead, Jared Laughbaum took matters into his own hands.
"I took it upon myself and decided it would be humorous to put up and replace the sign," Laughbaum says.
Laughbaum, a teacher with Columbus City Schools, lives next door to the sign. He said he couldn't stand seeing the bright orange construction notice every day. One night, he decided to shop online to find the perfect replacement.
"What stuck in my head was the Kangaroo Crossing sign, because I have children and the school's right down the street, and I thought it would be a sign that wasn't offensive to anyone and would be enjoyed by people," he says.
And for about three years, nobody complained.
“It’s very harmless,” said Adam Conn. “It seems pretty senseless. It just gave people a smile every morning, walking to school, put everyone’s day on a bright path.”
To the Department of Public Service, taking it down was a matter of city policy. That’s not how Clintonville see it, though.
“Just leave it be and let everybody get a good chuckle out of it,” Conn said. “I’m not sure why they would act on that, so swiftly too. The resources it takes to have these guys – fill a pothole. Do that instead. That would be great.”
As of Monday, Ortega says he believes the Department of Public Service still possesses the sign. But because they don’t know who the sign belongs to, it’s being kept in storage.
If somebody comes forward to claim the sign as their own, the department says it can arrange to return the sign – as long as it doesn’t go back into the right-of-way.
Already, local residents have mobilized. A crowdfunding campaign to “Protect the Clintonville Kangaroo” appeared just hours after the sign’s disappearance, asking for money to purchase a replacement sign and sign post. As of Tuesday, the campaign has already raised $185, exceeding its goal.
If they're able to get the sign back, some residents have discussed donating it to the Clintonville Historical Society.
“I hope people show as much humor about it coming down as they had going up,” Hardwick said. “There’s more important things to get angry about. I’m not going to cancel my WOSU sustaining membership over this.”
As for Ann Miller-Tobin, she says she's "thoroughly heartbroken and upset" that the sign was taken down. Suffice to say, this was not the result she wanted when she asked Curious Cbus about the sign.
"This is the opposite of what I was looking for," she said. "It was one of those things that made the street great. It gave it some individuality. It was just one of those quirky things that you don't expect and yet, you would expect to find it in Clintonville."
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