Welcome home, “Kangaroo Crossing” sign.
On Thursday morning, Clinton Elementary unveiled the new location of Clintonville’s iconic kangaroo sign, more than two months after it was taken down by the city of Columbus.
Hundreds of people attended the school's annual "lunch on the lawn" celebration, with the main attraction just outside the playground. In the summer heat, people cooled themselves with kangaroo fans, while others sported kangaroo t-shirts. Kids ran up to take photos with "Kicks the Kangaroo," in full costume.
There was more than one guest of honor, though. Representatives from the Columbus Zoo attended to accept a donation from community members to the zoo’s kangaroo exhibit. Even the gift was on-brand: the $165 was presented through an oversized yellow check.
Jared Laughbaum, the Clintonville resident who put up the original sign, says he never expected this day to come.
"What's so fun about this neighborhood I live in and the community here in Clintonville is this is the type of thing they can get behind," Laughbaum says. "It's really fun, it's silly, it's a little of civil disobedience, and I think all of that together is what Clintonville really enjoys."
For about four years, the “Kangaroo Crossing” sign had lived just down the street on Clinton Heights Ave., installed secretly by Laughbaum to replace a leftover construction sign next to his house.
"We would just sit in front of our house and hear stories," Laughbaum says. "And the stories were all over the place. Students would talk about how the city had found a kangaroo and they had to put the sign up. Other people I heard stories about kangaroos being part of the neighbor's pets. Over the years, it made it a lot of fun."
The sign came to WOSU’s attention last year when former Clintonville resident Ann Miller-Tobin asked our Curious Cbus project about the sign’s origins. But after this reporter contacted the city’s Department of Public Service for more information, the city sent workers to dismantle it.
Turns out, the sign had no permit and was put up illegally. But the city's removal of the sign only endeared it further to the neighborhood.
"I did not realize it was a beloved sign until it was taken down and the community got behind it," Laughbaum says.
Residents quickly organized, beginning fundraisers and petitions to bring the sign back. Local businesses showed their support by putting the kangaroo on everything from stickers to coffee. Scott Hammond, one of the main organizers behind the kangaroo movement, says the fight felt personal.
"That sign, it's just a sign, but really it become a member of our community, it had been there so long," he says. "And when it was taken away, it almost felt like someone should have asked us. So we just said, 'no.'"
Columbus City Council President Michael Stinziano says he was contacted by community members pretty soon after the sign's removal. He understands residents' frustration over how the issue was handled.
"I think the department shared the rationale, but residents clearly felt that something like this, something they supported, should have a mechanism and opportunity to thrive in the community," Stinziano says. "They found a solution that was unveiled today."
Amid the outrage, Laughbaum and other Clinton Elementary parents pressured the school’s principal and PTA president to create a permanent place for the sign at the school. And this time, it has all the permission it needs.
Stinziano says this isn't the first time residents have butted heads with the city over art on public property. A similar battle arose in 2016 when city workers removed "yarn bombs" covering public utility poles in Clintonville.
While Stinziano says that "rules are rules," he wants to find a process "that isn't too bureaucratic" to allow such artistic expression to exist.
"As a city, I think we do encourage expression and want that to be what we're known for," Stinziano says. "I don't think anybody's ever been anti-kangaroo sign."
Standing in the Clinton Elementary playground, Miller-Tobin says she's "relieved" the sign is back where it rightfully belongs, or at least close by.
"It had become a beloved symbol for the street, Clintonville, and the kiddos who walk past it every day going to school," she says. "And I'm glad, if nothing else, for their sake, that they get to have their kangaroo back."
Is this the end for Clintonville's kangaroo activists? Probably not.
With the sign safetly in place, Hammond and other organizers set their sights on officially changing Clinton Elementary's mascot to the kangaroo. And residents of Clinton Heights Ave. haven't given up on their mission to replace the sign on their street - back in its original place.
"There's something in the climate of this neighborhood," Hammond says. "I think the essence you can't define, and that's the way it should be. It's a quirky place, and we like it that way. The kangaroo sign is a small aspect of that."
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