The First Buzzard Sunday – March 16, 1958
Though the legend dates to the turn of the century, none but a few local historians and story-tellers paid much attention to the now famous Buzzards of Hinckley Ridge, one of Ohio’s most fascinating natural wonders.
The almost clock-like return of the turkey vultures, always on March 15th, to their roost trees by the cliffs and caverns of old Whipp’s Ledges in the northeast corner of Medina County, began to garner regional attention in 1957. February of that year Walter Nawalaniec, a patrolman for Cleveland Metroparks, told reporter Robert Bordner of the Cleveland Press and local historian, Miss Eunice Morton of Richfield, that he personally had clocked the birds appearance every March 15th for the past six years.
“And for 25 years before me.” He said, “My predecessor on the police force for Hinckley Reservation, the late Charlie Willard, had watched them come, always on that day.” So the Cleveland Press printed the original story on February 15, 1957. It told for the first time of the legend, the 29 years of time-keeping and of Nawalaniec’s prediction they would again arrive exactly one month from that day.
Old-timers, naturalists, ornithologists, editorial writers, reporters, radio announcers, movie and camera men, got into the act as the tension built up over the following month. Skeptics were everywhere and Hinckley Township was split down the middle with some folks resenting the identification with such a repulsive, revolting, bad-mannered eater of carrion. Defenders arose to voice their opinions of one of nature’s sanitary police and cleaner-uppers.
As March drew near the suspense built up all over the State and more stories appeared across the nation. Friday, March 15th arrived…and so did the buzzards…right on time, first sighted at 2 p.m. by the skywatch set up by the Metropolitan Parks Police and Park Naturalists, Harold E. Wallin and John Kason.
Wallin and park officials hastily organized for what they knew would be a great throng of sightseers the following Sunday, especially with it being Saint Patrick’s Day, the turnout began at dawn. Photographers, reporters, movie, radio and TV folks were swamped as 9,000 Ohioans completely overran the inadequate arrangements Wallin had hastily put together. There were not enough police to handle traffic and by mid-morning every food and drink establishment in the township had been depleted. Kids fell into the icy waters of the Rocky River. Grownups sloshed through mud. Tere was no place to get dry or warm.
But still they came. It was the most spectacular “bird walk” in history. The “Buzzards of Hinckley” received a welcome to rival that of the swallows to Capistrano. After it was all over the community took stock. Embarrassed that it had been caught with its manners down, local residents resolved to never let it happen again and established the first Sunday of Spring (whichever follows March 15th) as Buzzard Sunday.
Since that day the community has opened the doors of the elementary school to serve visitors a hot pancake and sausage breakfast as the welcome spring, and the buzzards back to Hinckley.