At sundown on Dec. 21 each year, members of the Friends of Serpent Mound host a ritual “Lighting of the Serpent” at Serpent Mound State Memorial. With the help of volunteers, they carefully place over 1,000 luminary bags around the perimeter of the prehistoric effigy, creating a magical display.
In a non-denominational solstice lighting ceremony, visitors are invited to light them from a sacred fire, providing a festive atmosphere as volunteers serve free refreshments. The mystery and majesty of the giant effigy mound makes the perfect setting for this annual event, a wonderful way to celebrate the winter solstice.
The luminary display at Serpent Mound could certainly be called “landscape lighting,” and the effect is breathtaking. Thousands of visitors make their way to Serpent Mound each year to participate. We were very disappointed to hear that the “Lighting the Serpent” event at Serpent Mound was summarily canceled on short notice by the park’s owner, the Ohio History Connection. The Friends of Serpent Mound, a local volunteer group, has hosted the luminary lighting for the past 12 years, and preparations for this year’s lighting have been in place all year.
At the heart of the controversy is the issue of “who owns Serpent Mound.” Most people familiar with Serpent Mound assume that it’s publicly owned, but actually the Ohio History Connection (formerly the Ohio Historical Society) claims ownership at the present time. The park was donated to them over a century ago by Harvard University’s Peabody Museum, on the condition that they maintain it “in perpetual care as a free public park.”
The President of the Ohio History Connection, Burt Logan, justified OHC’s decision to cancel the luminary lighting because the event wasn’t in keeping with their interpretation of the “accurate and authentic history of this sacred American Indian site.” OHC has been cultivating a close relationship with native Indian tribes in Oklahoma, and has involved them in the management plan for the site in hopes of obtaining UNESCO “World Heritage Site” status for Serpent Mound.
The Friends of Serpent Mound’s Facebook page offers a public forum for comments by people interested in the park, and the page is abuzz right now. Members and the general public are upset about the sudden cancellation, which affects thousands of visitors to the park’s most popular event all year. Many feel that OHC President Burt Logan is applying a “religious test” to visitors and events at the park, in violation of the First Amendment, and that OHC is in breach of contract because of the short notice.
Are Serpent Mound or the “Lighting of the Serpent” important to you? OHC receives tax dollars from the State of Ohio for improvements at Serpent Mound, so your State Senator should share your concern. You could also share your thoughts with OHC Executive Director and CEO Burt Logan at Ohio History Connection 800 E. 17th Ave. Columbus, OH 43211.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.