Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Mysterious Moving Merchant Stone

The plot of the Merchant Family
Marion Cemetery, Marion, Ohio
You'll have to forgive me as I journey out of the borders of our state, westward into our neighboring state. Deep in the heart of Ohio, is the city of Marion, where President Warren Harding was born and was later buried. However, I wasn't in town to visit the Warren Harding Memorial although the thought did cross my mind at the time, but I didn’t stop though I drove past it. Instead I arrived in Marion to visit an odd memorial in the Marion Cemetery, just across the road from where the president is buried.

After driving around the cemetery for close to thirty minutes I finally spotted the stone I was searching. Hidden near the back of the cemetery, in the eastern portion of the cemetery, was the memorial I had come searching for. Unfortunately as I stepped out of the truck, the rain that had been threatening for hours finally started. The rain was not going to stop me from investigating and exploring the area – I had driven too far to let that stop me.

The memorial I sought was the Merchant Stone. The Merchant Stone was placed on the family plot in 1896 and, for the most part, the gigantic granite sphere is similar to most of the large granite spheres that decorate graves around the world. Gathered around the memorial are eleven smaller, soccer ball sized spheres in a semi-circle.

There is one thing about the large sphere atop the main memorial separates it from similar monuments. The sphere on top of the Merchant Stone supposedly moves on its own.

Yes, you read that correctly. The sphere (which weighs roughly 5,200 pounds) that sits atop the marker for the family of Charles B. Merchant supposedly moves on it own. According to most "experts" on the Merchant Stone, the granite sphere moves roughly two inches a year.
The Merchant Stone
The memorial was erected in 1886 and within two years of its placement, people began noticing that the large, 5,200 pound, solid granite ball was slowly moving. The Merchant family had the ball reset and within a couple years it was moving once again – this time they did not have it reset and left the ball to do it rolling. Soon the unpolished bottom of the sphere, about eight inches in diameter, was visible and remains visible to this very day.

I stood there in the rain staring at the strange sight before me. After all, my mind could not even start to comprehend the force that would be needed to move the ball. I walked slowly around the stone a number of times, curious about it yet respectful of the strangeness before me. Finally I stepped up to the stone and I did what thousands of people before me (and probably thousands have since my visit) – I hesitantly reached out and touched the ball. The smooth the texture of the stone begging me to push and I did.

The stone did not move. It did not budge. It did nothing. I'm not sure what I thought was going to happen at the time, but the stone did not move; in fact, it didn't budge a millimeter.

Feeling like a fool for the mere thought of trying to push it, I quickly pulled my hand away and looked around to see if anybody was watching. I made my way around the monument one more time. Touching and gently pushing against it from every side. Again, the large stone did not move.

I stepped back a couple of steps and stood staring at the large monument. I was dumbfounded. I knew from reading about the Merchant Stone that it should not move yet is obviously had moved at some point in the past.

So what caused the ball to move? Countless theories have been set forth about what causes the ball to move. This include: the pull of the Earth's gravitational field; water freezing and melting; sound frequency causing it to move; and including the idea that the stone is cursed. Everyone who has visited (or even heard about it) have their own thoughts on why the stone moves.

Whatever the reason may be for the movement, one thing jumped out to me – I didn't see any signs of wear and tear that should be showing due to the movement of the granite sphere. No scratches or grooves were found on the granite sphere. No wearing, breaks or cracks were spotted on the stand holding the sphere. The thing that really jumped out at me was how smooth the sphere was.

So what caused the sphere to move? I do not have a solid thought about why it moved from its original spot, other than it obviously has moved sometime in the past.

Almost ten years later I returned to Marion, bringing Zech along to revisit the Merchant Stone – he refused to test the stone by giving it a push, merely laughing as I tried to move it again.

The Merchant Stone
After returning home from our trip, I studied my new pictures and compared them to pictures from my first trip to the Merchant stone in an attempt to see if it moved. Comparing the photos I had taken almost ten years apart, I had a revelation about the Merchant Stone.

I pulled up the pictures of the stone that others have taken, something about the gigantic sphere jumped out - something that I had missed when I had previously looked at the pictures. The unpolished spot appeared to be in the same place in every picture.

I quickly pulled up the photographs I had taken. The pictures were resized so the ones I had taken in 2006 and also 2012 were the same size and overlapped the pictures, the unpolished spot lined up perfectly.  A search online found a picture of the stone from 1979 (and it is the oldest I could find) also lined up perfectly.

I came to a personal conclusion. The sphere, if it has moved at all, has only moved millimeters since the earliest picture I could find of it – not the two inches per year as many claim.  In almost forty years the unpolished bottom is in the same location in all three pictures and they overlap perfectly.

That does not mean that it has not moved – I just don’t believe it has moved in recent history. I only made two visits to the Merchant Stone – others have visited and measured it daily. They are the "experts" on the Merchant Stone and if they say it is moving, then it must be.

But for me the mystery has come to an end. I personally believe it was never set correctly in 1886 when the monument was erected. I’ve seen other cemeteries that the sphere was not set correctly and the unpolished bottom can be seen. Someone along the line claimed the ball must be moving and the story stuck. But again, that is my opinion – and one I will stick to until I either see a picture of the monument with the spot in an obvious different location than where it is.

If you ever get out to central Ohio, make a side trip into Marion to visit the Marion Cemetery, and let me know what you think of the mysterious moving ball of the Merchant Family.

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