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, Neb., and Fortine, Mont., 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.
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To give you an idea of Stonehenge’s power to bewitch, a professional stoneworker who worked on a nearly full-sized replica that went up in 2004 at the University of Texas, Permian Basin (in Odessa) said that he would be happy if he just built Stonehenges for the rest of his life. It's as if everyone has an inner Druid that yearns to be free.
At RoadsideAmerica.com, we have our own theories -- and our own obsession. For the past 20 years, in our books and Web site, we've catalogued hundreds of Old World landmarks rebuilt to American standards. But Stonehenge is special. We figure that the ancient megaliths must emit an invisible energy field powerful enough to enslave sculptors, builders, and the odd guy with too much time on his hands.
Sam Hill’s Stonehenge: Maryhill, Wash.
The first American replica Stonehenge, and still one of the most dramatic, was actually erected in error. Sam Hill, a wealthy railroad executive, known to history principally as an "advocate of good roads," built his Stonehenge in Maryhill, Wash., on a lonely bluff overlooking the Columbia River south of Goldendale. A pacifist, Hill mistakenly believed that Stonehenge had been a site of human sacrifice. By building a replica, he intended to memorialize the soldiers of Klickitat County who had lost their lives in World War I, a reminder that "humanity is still being sacrificed to the god of war."
Sam Hill's Stonehenge, built to scale out of reinforced concrete, was dedicated in 1918 -- the first World War I monument in America -- but it wasn't finished until twelve years later. By then, Maryhill, an experimental Quaker community, had been abandoned, and Sam Hill, who was known for his erratic bursts of manic energy, was in a deep depression. He died in 1931, living just long enough to see his Stonehenge completed, and is buried in a lone grave at the base of the bluff.
America’s Stonehenge: North Salem, N.H.
Actually, whether or not Sam Hill’s Stonehenge is the first in America depends on how one defines a Stonehenge: do appearances matter most, or do spooky powers? If it's the latter, then the enigmatic "America's Stonehenge" in North Salem, N.H., wins the prize. It doesn't look anything like its namesake -- in fact, it looks like a wooded hillside of tumble-down rocks -- but it is the only American Stonehenge with an "oracle chamber," a "sacrificial stone," and other ominously named features.
America's Stonehenge claims to be the oldest megalithic site in America, but it's a boast that has been disputed, and the meaning of the place is open to anyone's interpretation. Was it built by ancient Greeks or Phoenicians? By wayward Irish monks, centuries before Columbus? Or by a New England farmer who just wanted a quiet spot to make soap and store roots? The curious are encouraged to ponder the mysteries here year-round, and in the winter the attraction thoughtfully rents snowshoes to its visitors.
The Georgia Guidestones: Nuberg, Ga.
After Sam Hill's Stonehenge was completed, none were built stateside for almost 50 years. Then a granite company outside of Nuberg, Ga., was approached by a mysterious stranger who called himself "R.C. Christian," which he admitted was a fake name. The stranger wanted a Stonehenge built -- he had a model of it in a shoe box -- and had selected Nuberg because it was remote and because it offered good granite. Mr. Christian reportedly left $50,000 in a local bank, told the locals that they would never see him again, and vanished forever.
The citizens of Nuberg, following Mr. Christian's detailed instructions, erected what are now known as the Georgia Guidestones on a windswept hilltop -- six granite monoliths, each nineteen feet tall. On the upright slabs, carved in eight different languages (including Swahili and Sanskrit), are Ten Commandments for the coming "Age of Reason," encouraging visitors to "unite humanity," "guide reproduction wisely," and "avoid useless officials." The Guidestones warn, "Be not a cancer on the earth."
Carhenge: Alliance, Neb.
A family reunion in 1987 produced what has become America's best-known quirky Stonehenge: "Carhenge," built in a dusty field outside of Alliance, Neb., under the supervision of farmer Jim Reinders, who meant it as a memorial to his dad. What made Carhenge unique was that it was made of, well, cars -- 38 of them, rescued from nearby farms and dumps. The Reinders family spray-painted the cars a flat gray to make the monument more accurate. Two foreign vehicles were originally part of Carhenge, but they were subsequently dragged away and buried, replaced by models from Detroit. The "heel stone" is a 1962 Caddy.
The residents of Alliance at first wanted to tear down Carhenge. The Nebraska Department of Highways wanted to label it a "junkyard" and erect a big fence around it. But the animosity has long since passed, and signs on the outskirts of town now proudly identify Alliance as the "Home of Carhenge." Postcards are readily available and a visitors’ center is being built at the site. Carhenge has even spawned its own adjacent car-art sculpture park with local visionaries contributing such works as "The Fourd Seasons" (a tribute to wheat) and "The Carnastoga Wagon."
Carhenge may have finally gone mainstream, appearing in car commercials, and every road-culture photo book -- like its predecessor (and arguably its inspiration), the Cadillac Ranch.
Stonehenge II: Kerrville, Texas
Two years after Carhenge went up, the Stonehenge bug bit an eccentric, retired oilman named Al Shepperd of Kerrville, Texas. Al was given a large slab of limestone for his birthday, and he set it on end in a roadside pasture. To his dismay, no one noticed his rock. Convinced that drivers needed to pay attention, Al at first thought of filling the pasture with a pyramid, then a Polynesian temple, then a fake flying saucer crash site. He settled for a couple of Easter Island heads and "Stonehenge II," which claims to be 60 percent as large as the original.
The "stones" are made of plaster-covered steel, and plans are in the offing to stabilize the monument by filling its hollow pillars with cement. For the moment, however, this is the only Stonehenge that rings when you tap it. When Al Shepperd died in 1994, he had is ashes scattered at the site.
Foamhenge: Natural Bridge, Va.
The award for fastest Stonehenge ever erected has to go to Mark Cline of Natural Bridge, Va., who set up most of his replica, "Foamhenge," in a single day. It's a lot easier to carve styrofoam than rock.
Foamhenge is also one of the most photogenic Stonehenges in the world, set on a bluff amid the pretty Blue Ridge Mountains. It's a remarkably realistic replica. Cline, who is a fiberglass artist -- his specialty is dinosaurs -- took 16-foot-tall blocks of styrofoam, carved them into the shapes of the original megaliths, spray-painted them gray, then drove them a mile down Hwy 11 in his pickup truck to the Foamhenge site.
Cline's first attempt, which he admits was made of "inferior foam," blew down after three months. Since then he has found a better supplier, and Foamhenge is now a permanent attraction, with each block anchored into concrete. "Styrofoam is nonbiodegradeable," Cline notes. "Foamhenge might last longer than the original."
Stonefridge: Santa Fe, N.M.
In contrast to speedy Mark Cline, it took artist Adam Horowitz nine years to erect his all-refrigerator "Stonefridge" on an abandoned landfill in Santa Fe, N. M. This was partly because Horowitz's supply of junk refrigerators was mysteriously bulldozed, twice, by an unappreciative city government (so says Horowitz), and partly because Horowitz saw the construction of his "anti-monument" as art rather than as a task with a deadline. He would dress his crew of volunteers in loincloths, himself in various authoritative costumes, and have the 200-pound fridges hauled into place using only tee pee poles, ropes and pulleys, and human muscle.
Now complete, the 200+ refrigerators are stacked 18 feet high in an outer circle, facing inward toward a cluster of taller fridge towers. Unlike other Stonehenge replicas, which mimic the astronomical alignment of the original, Stonefridge has "atomic alignment" and faces a more modern source of mysterious power -- Los Alamos National Laboratories, which visitors can see in the distance. Visiting Stonefridge after dark is not recommended. Vandals have reportedly set off bombs inside the refrigerators.
Stonehenges still springing up
And the list goes on. There are still more Stonehenges scattered across the American landscape.
One, which once marked the entrance to hard-times subdivision named "Stone Henge" in Athens, Georgia, was moved in the late 1990s to a safer spot on the outskirts of the city.
A newly erected solar calendar of limestone monoliths has been dubbed "Stonehenge Jr." by the locals of Wichita, Kan.
A half-size Stonehenge at the University of Missouri at Rolla was built to showcase the stone carving capabilities of its High Pressure Water Jet Lab.
Which leads to the latest trend in Stonehenge construction -- private Stonehenges. One recently went up on a private estate in the elite town of Sachem Head, Conn., and another -- reportedly the most accurate Stonehenge replica ever made -- has been built for a wealthy individual at the remote Crystal Lakes Resort in Fortine, Mont. A couple in Nunica, Mich. has a slightly downscaled Stonehenge in their front yard. It can be seen from the road, although no trespassing is allowed.
And now -- in what is likely the least enduring approach -- there may be a disposable Stonehenge. Foamhenge creator Mark Cline says that an unnamed organization has approached him to build a life-size Foamhenge in New York City for a private party. It would stand for a week, and then apparently head for the landfill. "I'm trying to work a deal with them so that I can keep the stones," Mark says. "It's the good foam."
Trendy, disposable Stonehenges may come and go, forgotten like so many inflatable monuments. Yet we still hear of lone artisans doing it the right way, their hammers tapping and blowtorches roaring sweet music to the old gods.
Wallace Wallington, a retired carpenter in Lapeer, Mich., has been gamely wrestling with 20,000-lb. concrete blocks in his back yard dream of a Stonehenge. He's only a couple of slabs into the thing, but we admire his spirit, and marvel at the videos on his Web site that show him spinning the monoliths 360 degrees by himself.
When you think about it, a Stonehenge is within reach of anyone with a flat plot of land, a supply of large, blocky things, and an amenable local zoning board. So what's stopping you? You know you want one -- a hulking symbol of mystic power protecting the backyard swing set. Just let us know when you're finished and we’ll add you to the list.
To find out more about unusual tourist attractions, click here.
Roadsideamerica.com is the world's trusted authority on America's oddball and eye-popping tourist attractions. Doug Kirby, Ken Smith, Mike Wilkins humorously and thoroughly document the nation's strangest sights, sharing eyewitness reports, photos and video with millions of offbeat travel aficionados.