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Monday, November 8, 2010

Standing On Indian Head Rock - A Real Plan


While our police department seeks a new, mold-free safe environment; our town festers in the middle of a prescription drug epidemic that has contributed to the infamous honor of our county being counted among the top ten counties in the United States for rx drug distribution; and Scioto County leads the state of Ohio in hepatitis transmission, citizens will be retrieved to know that the "historical" Indian Head Rock has been returned from Portsmouth, Ohio, to Kentucky.

I'm sure you know the rich history of the conflict of ownership of the rock by now, but just in case you need a primer, here is a short account. 

In 2007, Steve Shaffer of Ironton, Ohio, and several divers from my town of Portsmouth, Ohio, used some flotation devices to float an eight -ton sandstone rock near the U.S. Grant Bridge, which spans Kentucky and Ohio, to the Ohio side of the river. A grand scheme had been launched to make the rock a vital piece of Portsmouth history. At first, everyone was ecstatic with the discovery.

But then, the mayor of Portsmouth, recognizing that the Ohio River is actually in Kentucky, offered it to the town of South Shore, Kentucky. Officials there weren't interested, so the plan was to display the boulder in Portsmouth.


Still, some other Kentucky residents were outraged at the bold archaeological caper. It seems Kentucky owns the river to the low-water mark on the Ohio side. The bluegrass stated wanted their big rock back. CBS News and The New York Times even reported the rock riff. Our little town of Portsmouth basked in its national notoriety as it felt its fifteen minutes of Warholian fame.

That's when Kentucky state officials got involved; they said the rock belonged to them. Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway wrote a letter demanding its return.

"This was a registered antiquity in Kentucky and it was taken, and that's theft of an antiquity under the statute," Conway says.
 
Ohio answered.  In May, 2008, Ohio Representative Todd Book, along with sixty-six cosponsors, introduced and adopted House Resolution No. 137 in the 127th Ohio General Assembly Regular Session. It was resolved, "That we, the members of the House of Representatives of the 127th General Assembly of the State of Ohio, declare that the Portsmouth Indian Head Rock is and has always been inextricably linked to the history of the City of Portsmouth, Ohio, and that it represents an important facet of Ohio's historical connection to the Ohio River...call upon the Commonwealth of Kentucky to abandon any claims of ownership to the Portsmouth Indian Head Rock and to work with Ohio officials to jointly care for, preserve, and educate the public about the history of the Portsmouth Indian Head Rock...(Todd Book, "Ohio House Resolution 137")
 
So...in  2008, Kentucky brought criminal charges against Shaffer and civil charges against him and others involved in the heist. (Sam Piatt, "Indian Rock Goes Back To Kentucky," The Portsmouth Daily Times, November 5 2010)
 
Soon, Buckeyes and Bluegrassers were ready to draw blood for the possession of a rock hardly anyone alive had ever seen since the boulder had lain for decades below the surface of the water. A member of the Kentucky House of Representatives even suggested that a raiding party be sent to Portsmouth, where the rock is currently held, to move the rock back to Kentucky.
 
Navigation dams have been responsible for the submersion of the rock. In older days before dams,  back to 1920, portions of Indian Head Rock lay partly exposed during times of low water. 
 
Some marks on the rock indicate dates of the 1850's. Maybe Boone or Crockett or even Tecumseh had etched early carvings. Or were the marks merely tourist graffiti left by lesser-known individuals? Some believed the Charlie Brown-like face was an American Indian petroglyph, so a delegation from Kentucky — with Dr. Fred E. Coy Jr., a prehistoric carvings expert, in tow — visited the Portsmouth municipal garage and waited anxiously while the doctor conducted his examination. His expert opinion: “I can’t tell.” A rather uneventful end, nothing much was actually confirmed. How much had fallen victim to time, to the forces of the river...?
 
During three years of  costly feuding and legal battles, Indian Head Rock rested on the floor of the Portsmouth City Garage.
 
 
Finally, in November 2010, Kentucky moved the rock to the Greenup County Garage, where it will be stored until authorities decide what to do with it.

“At least it’s back in Kentucky where it belongs, where it came from,” said Dwight Cropper of South Portsmouth, an archaeologist who has worked with the University of Kentucky on several projects involving local artifacts. “It’s far from an ideal situation. Like Humpty Dumpty who sat on a wall and had a great fall, it can’t be put together again. There’s no good solution now. It should have been left where it was.” (Sam Piatt, "Indian Rock Goes Back To Kentucky," The Portsmouth Daily Times, November 5 2010) 

Agreeing with Cropper were Kary Stackelbeck, Ph.D., archaeology review coordinator for the Kentucky Heritage Council, and George Crothers, director of the W.S. Webb Museum of Anthropology at UK. They were at both sites Thursday to make sure the rock was transported safely. After all, a rock of such importance, IF it is indeed Indian Head Rock, must be delicately handled or someone later will surely notice such scars and bruises. The rock was not returned to its original location in the river because the original site "had been compromised."  ("Kentucky Gets Disputed Rock Back From Ohio," The Columbus Dispatch, November 4 2010)
 
“The rock never should have left Kentucky,” said Stackelbeck. “We’re very pleased that it is coming back home. Numerous people are involved in finding the best home and use. Certainly, it can be used as an educational tool to teach people that archeological treasures should not be looted and taken out of their original locations.”

Cropper said he hopes the rock can be displayed in the South Shore area because it is closest to the rock’s original position. “The city park, the McKell Library, some public place there would be the ideal place to build something permanent to house the rock,” Cropper said.

But, South Shore Mayor Cheryl Moore said the city would “love to have the Indian Head Rock on display, if we can only find a way to afford it.”
 
 
So, here is the deal. Ohio plucked an old rock just a few people alive today had seen from the Ohio River, which is owned by Kentucky. The guys who brought the historical artifact to the surface, so that others may actually see it for the first time in about 100 years, did their rocky removal without permission. For three years, courts and legislators and archaeological authorities argued over its ownership and potential to generate tourist income. And, finally it was decided that Indian Head Rock should have been left below the surface of the Ohio River to eventually erode away.

How about this, Kentucky? Why don't you haul Indian Head Rock to Vegas to be featured on the History Channel show Pawn Stars? Rick, the Old Man, Big Hoss, and Chumlee could verify its authenticity and offer you a price. You might make millions from a ROCK! Even if the rock was worthless, you would know and could just toss it out in the desert. End of story. 
 
One other possible solution would be to chip pieces off the Indian Head Rock and charge those interested $25 a chip for a personal piece of history. Eight tons would produce a lot of needed income, and you would be considered geniuses for selling pieces of a rock for that price.You wouldn't even have to destroy parts of the rock that contained any allegedly valuable carving. I think they did this with the Berlin Wall.
 
Or, better yet, we all could stop wasting precious time and money on ridiculous issues like a rock at the bottom of the Ohio River. Does anyone consider prioritizing our main concerns? Or, is my town going to continue to squabble about traffic lights, speed bumps, old buildings we should never have purchased, and boulders?

CBS News Video "The War Over Indian Head Rock"
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