Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Help, It's a Rock! Help, It's a Rock!

What an utterly bizarre little story. Seems there was a rock in the middle of the Ohio River, between Portsmouth, Ohio and neighboring Kentucky. When the river ran a bit low, it would protrude from the water. At which point, folks from both states would swim/boat out and do things like carve their initials on it. Whatever - they were simpler times back then (where "back then" equals 19th and early 20th centuries) and I guess folks were hard up for entertainment. It wasn't even mystical or anything, although it had a picture of a head crudely carved on it. But it was the subject of speculation:

In Portsmouth and beyond, the boulder became known as Indian Head Rock, because its bottom half bore a crude etching of a round head, with two dots for eyes, another dot for a nose, and a dash for a mouth; a kind of early Charlie Brown.

The face spawned many theories of origin. An American Indian petroglyph. A river bandit’s carving to mark where loot was stored. A boatman’s crude measure to gauge fluctuating water levels. Or, as a 1908 newspaper article has it, the 1830s handiwork of a Portsmouth boy named John Book, who then grew up to fall at the Battle of Shiloh.
Anywho, when the Ohio was dammed up at various places, the rock disappeared beneath the waves, lost forever.

Oh, but it was not!
In the late 1960s, though, an Ohio Valley schoolboy read of the Indian Head Rock in a musty book of local history, and he never forgot it. That was Steve Shaffer. He grew up, studied historical interpretation at Ohio University, developed an interest in prehistoric rock carvings, and quietly resolved to find the rock.

He and some divers began the hunt in 2000, using clues in old newspaper accounts about the rock’s location. He remained in the boat, though; he had lost 70 percent of his hearing to Meniere’s disease, and diving could cause further damage. But when the expeditions of 2000 and 2001 found only abandoned cars and dumped refrigerators, Mr. Shaffer earned his diver’s certification and joined the search — at great risk to his hearing.

The risk paid off. In September 2002, a diving buddy rose to the surface to exclaim: That’s it! It’s got initials all over it! Mr. Shaffer immediately went down to see for himself. There, amid the river’s murk: the Indian Head Rock.

Nearly every summer after that, Mr. Shaffer dove down to pay his respects to the rock. “Just to check on it,” he said.

Then, late last summer, and almost on a whim, he and some diving friends resurrected the boulder with a harness and some barrels and air bags. They soon reported to Portsmouth’s mayor, James Kalb, that they had something to show him — and it’s bigger than a breadbox. The stunned and grateful mayor thanked them, saying a piece of Portsmouth’s past had been salvaged.
You'd think that would be the end of the story, a nice human interest tale about a man fulfilling a boyhood quest. Not so fast - Kentucky thinks the rock belongs to it, and has a legislative resolution to back it up. Not to be outdone, one Ohio lawmaker is ready to defend the rock from bluegrass poachers with his muzzle-loading shotgun. It's all but taken over the Ohio school system, too:
But Todd Book, an Ohio legislator from Portsmouth who last week introduced the resolution praising the rock’s resurrection, said Ohioans believed they were in the right.

Mr. Book — who likes to think he is related to the John Book who may have carved that face on the boulder — said the story of the rock had already become an educational tool in Ohio. Fourth graders in the region are being asked to write essays on what the state should do with the rock, he said, while high school seniors are being asked to write position papers on the following: 'Why the rock should be Ohio’s and not Kentucky’s.'
As with most things involving legislative resolutions, I'm shocked that all the other problems of the two states have been solved. It's a rock people - get over it.

1 comment:

Buzzardbilly said...

At least Kentucky isn't in danger of inadvertantly undoing Ohio's statehood (as the Supreme Court river case from Maryland was in danger of doing to West Virginia a few years back...if I knew the case name I'd cite it).

BTW, since you've adopted my word 'dickly' you may want to know there's a Valentine's Day "sorry for being a dick" poetry contest at my blog. All participants get a loverly buzzardbilly award for their sidebars that says "poet who helps dick be less dickly" in case you'd like one. :)

Feel free to pass the word along.