Thursday, June 4, 2009

Elberton, GA: "Granite Capital of the World" (mile 242)

It's only the first day of our big adventure, and already we have visited a world famous spot!

Dick read about Georgia's answer to Stonehenge located in Elberton in his May issue of Wired magazine, then did further research in our Weird Georgia book. When we realized Elberton was almost on the way to Cincinnati, the first stop on our itinerary was a lock.

We began our visit at the Elberton Granite Museum and Exhibit, where an exceedingly friendly and knowledgeable retired granite worker sat us down to watch an 11 minute video about granite, the lifeblood of Elberton (pop. 4,700). In our vast experience of educational videos viewed in historic and cultural settings, we put this one in the top 10% -- we learned lots of amazing facts about how granite is quarried, cut, polished, and engraved, and we came away convinced that Elberton deserves to call itself the Granite Capital of the World. Here are a few stats to back up their claim to fame:

  • 1/3 of all the monument grade granite produced annually in the US comes from Elberton.

  • there are 40 quarries in the county, mining in excess of 2 million cubic feet of granite yearly.

  • over 200 Elberton companies do business in granite and associated products.

  • over 250,000 granite monuments are made here yearly.

After the film, we took a whirlwind tour of the museum, since we arrived just 35 minutes before its 5 p.m. closing time. Possibly our favorite exhibit was a broken statue of "Dutchy," Elberton's first granite monument. Dutchy was a 7 foot tall granite statue of a confederate soldier standing atop a 15 foot monument base commissioned by the Ladies Confederate Memorial Association back in 1898. When he was unveiled with great ceremony, his uniform looked suspiciously northern, and his body looked short and squatty--"a cross between a Pennsylvania Dutchman and a Hippopotamus," as he was famously described, hence his nickname Dutchy.

The sculptor left town shortly after the unveiling, never to be heard from again, and two years later a group of patriotic young locals tore Dutchy from his base, broke off his feet and legs, and buried him face-down at the base of the monument. There he remained, buried in the manner customary for a traitor, until 1982, when the Elberton Granite Council searched for his grave, exhumed him, ran him through a car wash, and hauled him to their new museum.

The fate of Dutchy is ironically similar to the fate of the Georgia Guidestones that precipitated our visit to Elberton. (Picture to be posted soon.)

The story of the Guidestones began in 1979, when a mysterious man calling himself R. C. Christian showed up in Elberton with a model and precise drawings of a structure he wanted to have built, a mystical astronomical tool seemingly meant to aid survivors of some sort of apocalypse. The President of Elberton Granite thought Christian was crazy, and sent him to the President of Granite City Bank, who verified that he was not a kook, that Christian was not his real name, and that his money was good. The monument was built on the highest hilltop in the county, and when it was done Christian gave the monument, the land it stood on, and an endowment for its upkeep to the county, then, like Dutchy's sculptor, he disappeared. Only the Bank President knows his identity, and he is sworn to secrecy.

Four stone slabs over 15 feet tall and a central column support a 25,000 pound capstone. The slabs are oriented to the limits of the moon's annual migration, the column has a hole through which to view the North Star. Other features align with the sun's position during the Solstices and Equinox. But, here's the controversial part--each stone slab is engraved with ten principles to guide the survivors of some apocalyptic event in creating a better world than the one their predecessors (or God? or the devil?) destroyed. The principles are written in eight languages on the eight sides of the stone slabs: English, Russian, Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic, Swahili, Hindi, and Spanish. They are:

  • Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.

  • Guide reproduction wisely - improving fitness and diversity.

  • Unite humanity with a living new language.

  • Rule Passion - Faith - Tradition - and all things with tempered reason.

  • Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.

  • Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.

  • Avoid petty laws and useless officials.

  • Balance personal rights with social duties.

  • Prize truth - beauty - love - seeking harmony with the infinite.

  • Be not a cancer on the earth - Leave room for nature - Leave room for nature.

The monument has not been toppled as Dutchy was, but that is only because it was built to withstand the apocalypse.

Back in December it was spray painted with language that would make Jerry Springer blush, and with Bible verses (a special Christmas gift, perhaps?). That round of vandalism has been cleaned off, but we found new graffiti done with Sharpie pens, plus a lot of epoxy splotches and swirls on our visit. Apparently there are a lot of Christians out there who think that R. C. Christian was an anti-Christ.

Based >on the Guidestones exhibit at the Granite Museum, it appears that the city fathers had unbridled enthusiasm for the monument, expecting it to be a huge tourist draw for Elberton. Now, at least some of them may be feeling a little like those Confederate ladies whose soldier didn't get the reaction they expected.


  1. OK, this is only your second documentary day and I am hooked already. I always learn so much history from your trips. I will be checking for more adventures daily!

  2. Have a wonderful time! Vin thanks you for the last minute prank ideas for graduation on June 27. Looking forward to seeing what you will find next.

  3. Wow! I will not pass-by Elberton again. A day ranging from granite to principles (in granite)...Very interesting about the monument of principles meant to save the world. Have to be kooky (and dangerous, ambitious) to come up with such! Here's to small town bank presidents tolerant of kooks (who's money is good!)