The strangest monument in America looms over a barren knoll in northeastern Georgia. Five massive slabs of polished granite rise out of the earth in a star pattern. The rocks are each 16 feet tall, with four of them weighing more than 20 tons apiece. Together they support a 25,000-pound capstone. Approaching the edifice, it's hard not to think immediately of England's Stonehenge or possibly the ominous monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Built in 1980, these pale gray rocks are quietly awaiting the end of the world as we know it.
Called the Georgia Guidestones, the monument is a mystery—nobody knows exactly who commissioned it or why. The only clues to its origin are on a nearby plaque on the ground—which gives the dimensions and explains a series of intricate notches and holes that correspond to the movements of the sun and stars—and the "guides" themselves, directives carved into the rocks. These instructions appear in eight languages ranging from English to Swahili and reflect a peculiar New Age ideology. Some are vaguely eugenic (guide reproduction wisely—improving fitness and diversity); others prescribe standard-issue hippie mysticism (prize truth—beauty—love—seeking harmony with the infinite).
What's most widely agreed upon—based on the evidence available—is that the Guidestones are meant to instruct the dazed survivors of some impending apocalypse as they attempt to reconstitute civilization. Not everyone is comfortable with this notion. A few days before I visited, the stones had been splattered with polyurethane and spray-painted with graffiti, including slogans like "Death to the new world order." This defacement was the first serious act of vandalism in the Guidestones' history, but it was hardly the first objection to their existence. In fact, for more than three decades this uncanny structure in the heart of the Bible Belt has been generating responses that range from enchantment to horror. Supporters (notable among them Yoko Ono) have praised the messages as a stirring call to rational thinking, akin to Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason. Opponents have attacked them as the Ten Commandments of the Antichrist.
Whoever the anonymous architects of the Guidestones were, they knew what they were doing: The monument is a highly engineered structure that flawlessly tracks the sun. It also manages to engender endless fascination, thanks to a carefully orchestrated aura of mystery. And the stones have attracted plenty of devotees to defend against folks who would like them destroyed. Clearly, whoever had the monument placed here understood one thing very well: People prize what they don't understand at least as much as what they do.
The story of the Georgia Guidestones began on a Friday afternoon in June 1979, when an elegant gray-haired gentleman showed up in Elbert County, made his way to the offices of Elberton Granite Finishing, and introduced himself as Robert C. Christian. He claimed to represent "a small group of loyal Americans" who had been planning the installation of an unusually large and complex stone monument. Christian had come to Elberton—the county seat and the granite capital of the world—because he believed its quarries produced the finest stone on the planet.
Joe Fendley, Elberton Granite's president, nodded absently, distracted by the rush to complete his weekly payroll. But when Christian began to describe the monument he had in mind, Fendley stopped what he was doing. Not only was the man asking for stones larger than any that had been quarried in the county, he also wanted them cut, finished, and assembled into some kind of enormous astronomical instrument.
What in the world would it be for? Fendley asked. Christian explained that the structure he had in mind would serve as a compass, calendar, and clock. It would also need to be engraved with a set of guides written in eight of the world's major languages. And it had to be capable of withstanding the most catastrophic events, so that the shattered remnants of humanity would be able to use those guides to reestablish a better civilization than the one that was about to destroy itself.
Built to survive the apocalypse, the Georgia Guidestones are not merely instructions for the future—the massive granite slabs also function as a clock, calendar, and compass.
The monument sits at the highest point in Elbert County and is oriented to track the sun's east-west migration year-round.
On an equinox or solstice, visitors who stand at the west side of the "mail slot" are positioned to see the sun rise on the horizon.
An eye-level hole drilled into the center support stone allows stargazers on the south side to locate Polaris, the North Star.
A 7/8-inch hole drilled through the capstone focuses a sunbeam on the center column and at noon pinpoints the day of the year.
Fendley is now deceased, but shortly after the Guidestones went up, an Atlanta television reporter asked what he was thinking when he first heard Christian's plan. "I was thinking, 'I got a nut in here now. How am I going get him out?'" Fendley said. He attempted to discourage the man by quoting him a price several times higher than for any project commissioned there before. The job would require special tools, heavy equipment, and paid consultants, Fendley explained. But Christian merely nodded and asked how long it would take. Fendley didn't rightly know—six months, at least. He wouldn't be able to even consider such an undertaking, he added, until he knew it could be paid for. When Christian asked whether there was a banker in town he considered trustworthy, Fendley saw his chance to unload the strange man and sent him to look for Wyatt Martin, president of the Granite City Bank.
The tall and courtly Martin—the only man in Elberton besides Fendley known to have met R. C. Christian face-to-face—is now 78. "Fendley called me and said, 'A kook over here wants some kind of crazy monument,'" Martin says. "But when this fella showed up he was wearing a very nice, expensive suit, which made me take him a little more seriously. And he was well-spoken, obviously an educated person." Martin was naturally taken aback when the man told him straight out that R. C. Christian was a pseudonym. He added that his group had been planning this secretly for 20 years and wanted to remain anonymous forever. "And when he told me what it was he and this group wanted to do, I just about fell over," Martin says. "I told him, 'I believe you'd be just as well off to take the money and throw it out in the street into the gutters.' He just sort of looked at me and shook his head, like he felt kinda sorry for me, and said, 'You don't understand.'"
Martin led Christian down the street to the town square, where the city had commissioned a towering Bicentennial Memorial Fountain, which included a ring of 13 granite panels, each roughly 2 by 3 feet, signifying the original colonies. "I told him that was about the biggest project ever undertaken around here, and it was nothing compared to what he was talking about," Martin says. "That didn't seem to bother him at all." Promising to return on Monday, the man went off to charter a plane and spend the weekend scouting locations from the air. "By then I half believed him," Martin says.
When Christian came back to the bank Monday, Martin explained that he could not proceed unless he could verify the man's true identity and "get some assurance you can pay for this thing." Eventually, the two negotiated an agreement: Christian would reveal his real name on the condition that Martin promise to serve as his sole intermediary, sign a confidentiality agreement pledging never to disclose the information to another living soul, and agree to destroy all documents and records related to the project when it was finished. "He said he was going to send the money from different banks across the country," Martin says, "because he wanted to make sure it couldn't be traced. He made it clear that he was very serious about secrecy."
Before leaving town, Christian met again with Fendley and presented the contractor with a shoe box containing a wooden model of the monument he wanted, plus 10 or so pages of detailed specifications. Fendley accepted the model and instructions but remained skeptical until Martin phoned the following Friday to say he had just received a $10,000 deposit. After that, Fendley stopped questioning and started working. "My daddy loved a challenge," says Fendley's daughter, Melissa Fendley Caruso, "and he said this was the most challenging project in the history of Elbert County."
Construction of the Guidestones got under way later that summer. Fendley's company lovingly documented the progress of the work in hundreds of photographs. Jackhammers were used to gouge 114 feet into the rock at Pyramid Quarry, searching for hunks of granite big enough to yield the final stones. Fendley and his crew held their breath when the first 28-ton slab was lifted to the surface, wondering if their derricks would buckle under the weight. A special burner (essentially a narrowly focused rocket motor used to cut and finish large blocks of granite) was trucked to Elberton to clean and size the stones, and a pair of master stonecutters was hired to smooth them.
Fendley and Martin helped Christian find a suitable site for the Guidestones in Elbert County: a flat-topped hill rising above the pastures of the Double 7 Farms, with vistas in all directions. For $5,000, owner Wayne Mullinex signed over a 5-acre plot. In addition to the payment, Christian granted lifetime cattle-grazing rights to Mullinex and his children, and Mullinex's construction company got to lay the foundation for the Guidestones.
With the purchase of the land, the Guidestones' future was set. Christian said good-bye to Fendley at the granite company office, adding, "You'll never see me again." Christian then turned and walked out the door—without so much as a handshake.
From then on, Christian communicated solely through Martin, writing a few weeks later to ask that ownership of the land and monument be transferred to Elbert County, which still holds it. Christian reasoned that civic pride would protect it over time. "All of Mr. Christian's correspondence came from different cities around the country," Martin says. "He never sent anything from the same place twice."
The Georgia Guidestones Guidebook Was Published by Elberton Granite in 1981
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