Jun 05 2013

American Stonehenge: Monumental Instructions for the Post-Apocalypse

The Georgia Guidestones

The Georgia Guidestones

Pic: Wired.com

The strangest monument in America looms over a barren knoll in northeastern Georgia writes Randall Sullivan from Wired.com. Five massive slabs of polished granite rise out of the earth in a star pattern. The rocks are each 16 feet tall, with four of them weighing more than 20 tons apiece. Together they support a 25,000-pound capstone. Approaching the edifice, it’s hard not to think immediately of England’s Stonehenge or possibly the ominous monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Built in 1980, these pale gray rocks are quietly awaiting the end of the world as we know it.

Called the Georgia Guidestones, the monument is a mystery — nobody knows exactly who commissioned it or why. The only clues to its origin are on a nearby plaque on the ground—which gives the dimensions and explains a series of intricate notches and holes that correspond to the movements of the sun and stars — and the “guides” themselves, directives carved into the rocks. These instructions appear in eight languages ranging from English to Swahili and reflect a peculiar New Age ideology. Some are vaguely eugenic (guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity); others prescribe standard-issue hippie mysticism (prize truth — beauty — love — seeking harmony with the infinite).

Whoever the anonymous architects of the Guidestones were, they knew what they were doing: The monument is a highly engineered structure that flawlessly tracks the sun. It also manages to engender endless fascination, thanks to a carefully orchestrated aura of mystery. And the stones have attracted plenty of devotees to defend against folks who would like them destroyed. Clearly, whoever had the monument placed here understood one thing very well: People prize what they don’t understand at least as much as what they do.

The Story of the Georgia Guidestones

The story of the Georgia Guidestones began on a Friday afternoon in June 1979, when an elegant gray-haired gentleman showed up in Elbert County, made his way to the offices of Elberton Granite Finishing, and introduced himself as Robert C. Christian. He claimed to represent “a small group of loyal Americans” who had been planning the installation of an unusually large and complex stone monument. Christian had come to Elberton — the county seat and the granite capital of the world — because he believed its quarries produced the finest stone on the planet.

Joe Fendley

Joe Fendley

Pic: Wired.com

Joe Fendley, Elberton Granite’s president, nodded absently, distracted by the rush to complete his weekly payroll. But when Christian began to describe the monument he had in mind, Fendley stopped what he was doing. Not only was the man asking for stones larger than any that had been quarried in the county, he also wanted them cut, finished, and assembled into some kind of enormous astronomical instrument.What in the world would it be for? Fendley asked. Christian explained that the structure he had in mind would serve as a compass, calendar, and clock. It would also need to be engraved with a set of guides written in eight of the world’s major languages. And it had to be capable of withstanding the most catastrophic events, so that the shattered remnants of humanity would be able to use those guides to reestablish a better civilization than the one that was about to destroy itself.

Fendley is now deceased, but shortly after the Guidestones went up, an Atlanta television reporter asked what he was thinking when he first heard Christian’s plan.

I was thinking, ‘I got a nut in here now. How am I going get him out?’

Fendley said. He attempted to discourage the man by quoting him a price several times higher than for any project commissioned there before. The job would require special tools, heavy equipment, and paid consultants, Fendley explained. But Christian merely nodded and asked how long it would take. Fendley didn’t rightly know — six months, at least. He wouldn’t be able to even consider such an undertaking, he added, until he knew it could be paid for. When Christian asked whether there was a banker in town he considered trustworthy, Fendley saw his chance to unload the strange man and sent him to look for Wyatt Martin, president of the Granite City Bank.

Secret Group represented by R.C. Christian

The tall and courtly Martin—the only man in Elberton besides Fendley known to have met R. C. Christian face-to-face — is now 78. Martin says:

Fendley called me and said, ‘A kook over here wants some kind of crazy monument. But when this fella showed up he was wearing a very nice, expensive suit, which made me take him a little more seriously. And he was well-spoken, obviously an educated person.

Martin was naturally taken aback when the man told him straight out that R. C. Christian was a pseudonym. He added that his group had been planning this secretly for 20 years and wanted to remain anonymous forever. Martin says:

And when he told me what it was he and this group wanted to do, I just about fell over. I told him, ‘I believe you’d be just as well off to take the money and throw it out in the street into the gutters.’ He just sort of looked at me and shook his head, like he felt kinda sorry for me, and said, ‘You don’t understand.’

Martin led Christian down the street to the town square, where the city had commissioned a towering Bicentennial Memorial Fountain, which included a ring of 13 granite panels, each roughly 2 by 3 feet, signifying the original colonies. Martin says:

I told him that was about the biggest project ever undertaken around here, and it was nothing compared to what he was talking about. That didn’t seem to bother him at all. Promising to return on Monday, the man went off to charter a plane and spend the weekend scouting locations from the air. By then I half believed him.

When Christian came back to the bank Monday, Martin explained that he could not proceed unless he could verify the man’s true identity and “get some assurance you can pay for this thing.” Eventually, the two negotiated an agreement: Christian would reveal his real name on the condition that Martin promise to serve as his sole intermediary, sign a confidentiality agreement pledging never to disclose the information to another living soul, and agree to destroy all documents and records related to the project when it was finished. Martin says:

He said he was going to send the money from different banks across the country because he wanted to make sure it couldn’t be traced. He made it clear that he was very serious about secrecy.

Construction of the Guidestones

The astrological specifications for the Guidestones were so complex that Fendley had to retain the services of an astronomer from the University of Georgia to help implement the design. The four outer stones were to be oriented based on the limits of the sun’s yearly migration.The center column needed two precisely calibrated features: a hole through which the North Star would be visible at all times, and a slot that was to align with the position of the rising sun during the solstices and equinoxes. The principal component of the capstone was a 7\8-inch aperture through which a beam of sunlight would pass at noon each day, shining on the center stone to indicate the day of the year.
Monumental Precision of the Guidestones

Monumental Precision of the Guidestones

Pic: Wired.com

The main feature of the monument, though, would be the 10 dictates carved into both faces of the outer stones, in eight languages: English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi, and Swahili. A mission statement of sorts (let these be guidestones to an age of reason) was also to be engraved on the sides of the capstone in Egyptian hieroglyphics, classical Greek, Sanskrit, and Babylonian cuneiform. The United Nations provided some of the translations (including those for the dead languages), which were stenciled onto the stones and etched with a sandblaster.

For years Martin thought he might write a book, but now he knows he probably won’t. What he also won’t do is allow me to look through the papers. When I ask whether he’s prepared to take what he knows to his grave, Martin replies that Christian would want him to do just that: “All along, he said that who he was and where he came from had to be kept a secret. He said mysteries work that way. If you want to keep people interested, you can let them know only so much.” The rest is enshrouded in the vast sunny stillness.

Make sure you read Randall’s full story on the wired.com website.

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