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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Is Indian Head Rock Ready To Roll Again?

The boulder that may or may not be the fabled “Indian Head Rock” is back in the news for the first time in four years. And not a day too soon.

The controversial stone was first removed from the Ohio River in 2007 when Steve Shaffer of Ironton, Ohio, and several divers from Portsmouth used some flotation devices to raise the eight-ton sandstone rock they found in the Ohio River near the U.S. Grant Bridge.

With hearts full of promontory love and heads full of historical notoriety, the men said they saved the slab and moved it to the Ohio shore because they had feared "it," whatever it was -- historical landmark or quarry of the river bottom -- was in danger of being damaged or lost forever to the unrelenting waters.

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.

Was the find a true treasure? What if is was a relic known Indian Rock? A few marks on the rock indicate dates of the 1850's. Maybe early explorers like Boone or Crockett or even Tecumseh had etched early carvings. Or were the marks merely tourist graffiti left by lesser-known individuals?

Some even 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.” 

But then, a huge feud over plucking the rock from the river erupted between Ohio and Kentucky. As noted archaeologists began scanning scads of data and respected anthropologists hurriedly humanized gobs of records, the stature of the "maybe" discovery grew and grew. Whether in the river or out, the rock somehow became considered a tool of state education. But of which state?

As always, politicians entered the fray for any possible fortuitous find. 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.

Not to be outdone by rock-headed politicians from the Bluegrass, Ohio officeholders 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 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")
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 to move the rock back to Kentucky.  
So, in 2008, Kentucky brought criminal charges against Shaffer and civil charges against him and others involved in the heist. Anyway, during three years of costly legal battles, the mysterious rock rested on the floor of the Portsmouth City Garage. Finally, in August 2009, the charges were dropped because officials, in all their official wisdom, decided the boulder was not the actual Indian Head Rock.

Now, all of this hubbub is fascinating to me. First of all, I imagine about every rock in the river is an antique, and second, I have plucked a few stones from the riverbank in my younger days that I considered to be "old bits of geography" but I was never charged with looting a potentially historical artifact. I guess notoriety and size do matter.

Finally, in November 2010, Kentucky moved the rock to the Greenup County Garage for prescribed “temporary storage.” There the rock remains. The courts ruled the rock will not be returned to its original location in the river because the original site "had been compromised."

But what about the latest earthy news? Well, now Greenup County Judge/Executive Robert (Bobbie) Carpenter and South Shore Mayor Cheryl Moore are hoping Indian Head Rock will be a part of the new South Shore City Building.

“We’ve got it (the rock) over at the county garage. We put it there the day we brought it over from Portsmouth and it’s been there ever since. It’s waiting on a home,” Carpenter said. “My dream is that, when South Shore gets their new city building maybe, possibly there would be some where we could put it close to it and fix it where people could enjoy it.”

But, of course, Mayor Moore said they are looking for funding to help bring the rock to South Shore from the town of Greenup. She said there is no estimate on what the cost would be to move the rock from its current location to South Shore -- a distance of about 16 miles. And like any trusted politician, Moore stated, “I don’t feel like the citizens of South Shore should have to fund it.”

Moore said it would be great to have the rock in South Shore if the funding can be secured. “If they could find some funding, I’d be glad to store it,” Moore said. “Maybe someday we can put a visitors center towards the bridges and have it there, I know there was talk of that, at one time... My personal opinion is, I’d like to see it here, I think it would bring a lot of people to the area, to look at it.”

(Wayne Allen. "Ky. Rock’s Future Home Remains Uncertain.  
Portsmouth Daily Times. May 23, 2014)

So, let's review. 

(1) There is a rock, which may or may not be a local landmark named Indian Head Rock, that has been taken from the Ohio River. In doing so, the excavators "compromised" the site. (Don't ask me how -- I don't know.)
(2) Since it was removed, it has caused a state feud between Ohio and Kentucky and cost the taxpayers many dollars in research, court, and lawmaking fees.
(3) Kentucky, claiming the rock is a "registered antiquity" belonging to the state, has kept it stored away from public eyes in a garage in Greenup for four years.
(4) South Shore Kentucky would like to display the unverified "historical" boulder near the new city building they are going to build.
(5) To do so, South Shore needs some undetermined amount of funding, not to come from their own townspeople, to transport the rock the distance of a few miles from the Greenup garage to South Shore. 
(6) The "maybe" Indian Head Rock, if transported to South Shore, is expected to bring in many interested visitors to the village. 
That is all, good people. This is a full report. As much as I would love to tell you how such a piece of nondescript sandstone can continue to cause logistical nightmares, the story is beyond my own comprehension. How will the story end? Your guess is as good as mine.
You see, the beauty of Indian Head Rock and all the speculation that goes with it is akin to believing in a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. If, to you, the "maybe" overrides the "certainty," then you must keep looking for that gilded streak in the stone. And, possibly, this speculated artifact may emerge someday from its resting place in a Kentucky county garage, and you can see the glint in the sandstone for yourself.

Otherwise, you realists and strict preservationists probably wish the men would have just left the old rock in the river.

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