Rock of Ages

When I was a boy back home one thing that caught my eye was a pile of crushed blue granite, kindly deposited by the highway department along the shoulder of the road. Cone-shaped, the critical angle of repose at work, the pile of blue-white stones glittered like diamonds. I’d get a bag and load up on the smaller rocks, the ones that worked best in my slingshot. Then it was target time in the woods back home.

Confederate Monument (Brian Scott)
Confederate Monument (Brian Scott)

I came across granite in cemeteries too. The boys in my Royal Ambassadors classes and I used to wander among the tombstones at New Hope Baptist Church and way back then a strange red-and-black grasshopper would jump from the headstones and flutter across the cemetery. Another exposure to blue granite came from the long shafts of granite well diggers pulled out of the ground. Despite being long, smooth, and beautiful they were difficult to play with and were soon discarded.

In high school we often had nothing to do. Many nights we’d lounge around the Confederate monument at night. “TO THE MEMORY OF THE CONFEDERATE SOLDIERS OF LINCOLN COUNTY.” Five or six of us would loiter there and watch the traffic on Highway 378. I can’t recall that we ever discussed the Civil War during those long, boring evenings.

My Dad's grave (Tom Poland)
My Dad’s grave

And then college and career came and my contact with granite dwindled to things like paperweights. My next involvement with blue granite was doleful. My father, who feared being buried beneath the ground, had his above-ground granite vault built as he lay dying. By his left side a place waits for my Mom. Blue granite. Does not the word “blue” do double duty here?

Nine years after my father’s death I find myself crossing paths with blue granite again, and this time it’s a more comfortable thing. Granite finds fashionable uses transcending county roads, slingshots, paperweights, and mausoleums. It makes fine countertops, and elegant buildings, but someone must wrestle it from the embrace of Mother Earth, and therein lies a good story. And so I find myself exploring old quarries, making notes for books, and taking photographs.

Kincaid-Anderson Quarry, Fairfield County SC (Tom Poland)
Kincaid-Anderson Quarry, Fairfield County SC
Blocks of granite (Tom Poland)
Blocks of Granite
No More Joy (Tom Poland)
No More Joy
Mournful Cranes (Tom Poland)
Mournful Cranes

Back in June my co-author, the esteemed photographer, Robert Clark, and I explored the old Kincaid-Anderson Quarry near Winnsboro, South Carolina. The quarry is a place no one is supposed to go. A large slab of granite bars access at the entrance near the turbine building. We found a place where we could exhale deeply and squeeze through a space between the old turbine building and a cyclone fence grown over with vines. Another pound each and we would have had to climb the fence. Making our way through brush and pines and vigilant for rattlers, we climbed up hill until we came to a promontory of sorts, a flat expanse of granite crisscrossed by large rusting steel cables. Quarry walls and green water surrounded us. It’s one of those places where you stand, stare, and say not a word. When at last we spoke our words reverberated and ricocheted around us in this echo chamber carved out of planet Earth.

The quarry is deep with emerald water. Here you think is where missing people sleep. How many stolen cars rust beneath these waters I think. I stared at the massive walls where water’s runoff streaked the walls black. Relics of busier times included a granite block building with its roof long gone, iron steps descending into the stagnant water, and all manner of pipes.

One thing and one thing only marred the place. Vandals have painted graffiti and their names on the granite walls. Had better economics kept the old mine open it’s tempting to think those graffiti-disgraced walls might be the wall of some grand edifice paying homage to some famed person or event.

Across a lagoon huge blocks of granite were heaped upon one another helter-skelter as a toddler in a temper fit tosses wooden blocks into a pile. What power it took to sling those blocks into a pile. A cubic foot of granite weighs 170 pounds. The huge blocks probably come out at 40 tons each. That power came from the old Joy turbine.

The granite lasted; the quarry didn’t. Silent now, the Joy turbine that powered the machinery where men cut and heaved blue granite from Fairfield County earth stands rusting. There was no joy and all was blue come 1946. To this day steel cables crisscross the quarry right where they were abandoned and grief-stricken cranes lean against granite walls. Their rusty tears streak the granite.

Architects, designers, and sculptors, among others, coveted “Winnsboro blue” for beautiful buildings and monuments along the east coast, indeed the world. The granite here is destined to remain right where it slowly solidified and cooled to stake its claim as Earth’s signature rock.

I am no geologist but looking at maps I suspect the deposits of granite in Fairfield County South Carolina are cousins to the granite in Elbert County Georgia. The abundant granite in Elbert County gives Elberton, Georgia, the rationale to brand itself as “The Granite Capital of the World.” I suspect my father’s sepulcher came from the granite capital of the world. Certainly it came from my mythical Georgialina.

Blue granite. What a versatile thing. Besides the mausoleums, tombstones and granite products produced in Elbert County the local football team, the Blue Devils, plays in the 20,000-seat Granite Bowl, which uses the old University of Georgia Sanford Stadium scoreboard, the one flashing a string of victories during the 1980 national championship season. All the fame generated by that scoreboard, however, is one-upped by what some call an American Stonehenge standing on a rise just east of Highway 77 in Elbert County. The Georgia Guidestones, as they’re called, stand on the highest point in Elbert County. A man using the pseudonym, R.C. Christian, hired Elberton Granite Finishing Company to build the structure. To this day no one save one man, a banker, knows his real name and the banker vows to take the secret to his grave.

Chiseled into the nearly 20-foot high granite slabs are admonitions for a future “Age of Reason.” A CNN writer referred to Guidestones as “an astronomically complex, 120-ton relic of Cold War fears, built to instruct survivors of an Armageddon that the mystery man feared was all too near.”

Georgia Guidestones (AmpCoder)
Georgia Guidestones (AmpCoder)

Read and go forth…
1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
2. Guide reproduction wisely—improving fitness and diversity.
3. Unite humanity with a living new language.
4. Rule passion—faith—tradition—and all things with tempered reason.
5. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
6. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
7. Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
8. Balance personal rights with social duties.
9. Prize truth—beauty—love—seeking harmony with the infinite.
10. Be not a cancer on the earth—Leave room for nature—Leave room for nature.

Christian’s 10 principles are cut into the four vertical slabs, front and back, each side in a different language. Egyptian hieroglyphics, Babylonian cuneiform, Sanskrit and classical Greek inscribe the capstone.

A slot in the center column permits observation of the transit of the sun throughout the seasons. A hole higher up focuses on Polaris, the North Star. A hole in the capstone focuses a shaft of sunlight onto the central pillar at noon. These attributes let survivors of Christian’s coming apocalypse reproduce the calendar, clock, and compass. Things a civilization must have. The Guidestones, by the way, attract controversy from critics who call them Satanic. Some call for them to be destroyed.

Blue granite. Mankind’s big slate. Upon it we put all manner of messages. We remember, we counsel, we criticize. We build things with it. We make art with it and play football games within it as spectators sit on it and watch. We make seats of government from it too.

Georgia doesn’t have a state stone. It has a state gem, quartz, and a state mineral, staurolite, a cross-shaped metamorphic mineral. Blue granite would make a fine state stone and in fact it is the state stone over here, across the Savannah.

There’s something about this blue-white stone that I love. On my desk is a granite rock I commandeered from the watery clench of the Chattooga. It’s been a life-long love affair filled with joy and sadness as love affairs are wont. Somewhere in the woods back home a million pieces of granite catapulted by my slingshot are surely back in the ground by now though far from whence they came. Perhaps some future archaeologist will unravel the mystery of how those bits of granite were strewn over the place. “A primitive weapon and amusement for boys” his learned paper will read.

Hard, durable, and impervious, blue granite softens the hard edges of our lives. In it we find a record keeper. We remember our rock-slinging youth because of it. We memorialize fallen soldiers and lost causes with it. We prepare our meals upon its surface. We lay our loved ones to rest with it, and we try, sometimes dramatically, to persuade mankind to live and act in accordance with injunctions and guidance.

When we see the quarries that birthed it, we should never forget the hard labor that wrests it free.

Blue granite, a stone from deep within the earth’s bosom, makes for a place of eternal rest… Late one afternoon driving down a dusty lane, I saw a grand angel of granite, wings outstretched in a small cemetery, overlooking an even smaller family plot framed in rusting wrought iron. Dogwoods bloomed but their bracts had begun to fall … tears of alabaster you might say. Spring was trailing away. Blue granite, however, is in season year round. Blue granite, a rock of ages, is a stone I don’t take for granted.

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Images: Except where noted, photos by author (Tom Poland)

Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of twelve books and more than 1,000 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Tom grew up in Lincoln County, Georgia, where four wonderful English teachers gave him a love for language. People first came to know Tom’s work in South Carolina Wildlife magazine, where he wrote features and served as managing editor.Tom’s written over 1,000 columns and features and seven traditionally published books. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, and his and Robert Clark’s latest volume of Reflections of South Carolina. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground in 2011 and 2012.He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia.Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina. Visit my website at www.tompoland.net Email me at [email protected]