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posted on 10.06.10

How did they do it?

Without the mighty efforts and bitter tears of the Israelites, it's hard to imagine how an ancient society could move and shape massive stones into enduring monuments. Stonehenge is one of the most puzzling ancient sites: theories about its construction range from the mythic (Merlin asked a giant to transport it from Ireland (leaving the question open as to how it was built in Ireland); the devil did it), to the extraterrestrial (perhaps the same aliens responsible for the Great Pyramids and the Anasazi lines), to the natural (glaciers!), but all agree that tremendous man-power would be needed to recreate the process without mechanical aid; the stones themselves came from Wales, so they were transported a great distance as well as upended and arranged. Wally Wallington, a Michigan construction worker, claims to have figured out how the feat was executed, and is building a Stonehenge-like site to prove it.

Watch how he did it.

I find this endeavor quite endearing.

Weighting and raising a pillar

Wally Wallington with concrete monoliths

I'm not convinced that a tiny stone fulcrum could moved stone from Wales to England, over rough terrain, but his process of standing blocks on end is quite plausible. What strikes me about Wallington's project is the perfect convergence of outsider art-like drive and the perpetual magnetism of ancient monuments. The determination of the lone obsessive, moving blocks in his back yard, is as impressive as the efforts of the Druids (or Merlin's giant, aliens, etc.) dragging those stones the first time, although Wall-henge is greeted with bemused affection rather than awe-struck reverence. I hope Wallington's monument fascinates future civilizations as much as Stonehenge does us; it will stand as an enigmatic testament to the proud American tradition of eccentric hobbyists creating magnificent structures out of odds an ends, in their spare time.

Stonehenge seems to hold a particularly magnetic appeal for people who share Wallington's sensibility and work ethic: replicas of questionable taste and accuracy pop up all over the world, including Carhenge, Strawhenge, Phonehenge, Fridgehenge, and, shedding all vestiges of dignity, Twinkiehenge. Some, like the latter, are flippant and tacky, but many were built by genuine weirdos who clearly respected the gravity of the original.

I think Foamhenge is surprisingly pretty

Carhenge has a certain surreal charm as well

Also charming

Perhaps closest to Wallington's iteration of the site is Stonehenge II, a replica built by two cowboys outside Hunt, Texas. In 1989, Doug Hill gave his friend Al Sheppard a slab of limestone left over from a project. Sheppard stood it upright in his yard, and the two began constructing a ring of arches and monoliths to complement it. They fabricated stone lookalikes from steel, plaster, and concrete. Later, they built a pair of Easter Island heads nearby.

Stonehenge II

Hill and Sheppard

According to a comprehensive list of American Stonehenges from the online guidebook Roadside America, "it's hard to explain why America is filling up with replica Stonehenges. Thousands of miles from England, on solitary vistas in places such as Alliance, Nebraska, and Fortine, Montana, citizens have taken it upon themselves to build their own Stonehenges, sometimes true to the original, sometimes merely inspired by it. It's an obsession as mysterious and primal as the original circle of rock slabs." Sites like Stonehenge and Easter Island persist in the public imagination not merely because of their historic or aesthetic value, but because their physical presence, whether seen in person, imagined from pictures, or experienced online and in movies, is so compelling, so weighted with labor and mystery, so impresionante, that they linger in the mind. The awareness of such powerful objects spurs the desire to answer that imposing power with an equally mighty endeavor. Only by recreating them can people get at the heart of the attraction and relieve the fascination they exert.

Trying to get at the heart of the Stonehenge obsession reminds of an essay called "Confessions in Stone", from Chuck Palahniuk's collection Stranger than Fiction. Readers who wearied of Palahniuk's schtick after slogging through tripe like Invisible Monsters should give this book a chance: he shines as an insightful observer of others' strange proclivities rather than a celebrator of his own. The essay profiles a number of men who built their own castles in the Pacific Northwest, and it explores the attraction to massive stone creations that feel tied to history, even if the act of building them severs these ties. Palahniuk appreciates the way these guys throw themselves into a totally absurd, romantic goal, often at great personal and financial cost. I think he'd recognize the same irrational nobility in Wally Wallington. You can read it on Google books; it starts on page 61.

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