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The Rock Ain't What It Used To Be

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What's large and sort of round, more than 25,000 years old and often changes color as frequently as twice a day? Give up? It's a rock, but not just any rock. This one stands at the corner of Washtenaw Avenue and Hill Street. It was placed there some years ago as a memorial to George Washington, but it seems some memories around here fade fast. Today, the rock has become little more than a colorful catch-all. Splashed with paint and blackened by smoke, the stately rock bears various names and assorted fraternity letters. It's become a joke, a novelty, with one group trying to outdo another in terms of color and originality. But that wan't always so. The rock, like many rocks, was originally gray. It was placed on the triangular plot of land by the late Eli A. Gallup, former Ann Arbor park superintendent. Gallup headed the city's Parks and Recreation Department for 42 years. During that time, he helped develop the municipal airport, two golf courses and a widespread system of parks and playgrounds. Gallup, himself quite a rock collector, spotted the huge rock in the county gravel pit on Pontiac Trail. "When he found such a huge rock," recalls hís wife, "he thought it should be preserved." i Besides, he decided the rock would make a fitting monument to George Washington on the 200th anniversary of his birth. The year was 1932. The rock is reported to be a piece of limestone left in the area after glaciers receded. According to Mrs. Gallup, its origin is in the Georgian Bay area. Geologists, she notes, estimated the rock's age at between 25,000 and 30,000 years. "Talk about antiques," she says. "This is it!" The painted rock, was not the first one Gallup had placed around the city. A boulder marking the location of an old Iiidian trail whicn sits at the intersection of Jackson Avenue and Dexter Road also was put into place by Gallup. Nevertheless, the painted rock was Gallup's biggest find. And, in fact, the rock's sheer size presented a number of problems. A site for its placement was chosen without too much difficulty. Douglas Park was first suggested but was ruled out. Gallup wanted the rock out where it could be seen. By placing it along Washtenaw Avenue, he thought it would make a nice landmark for the city The triangular plot of land at the corner of Washtenaw and Hill had already been designated a park. It was much too small to house swings or baseball diamonds or benches, but just right for the rock. In addition, since the land slopes slightly, Gallup figured the task of rolling the rock into place would be somewhat easier. Still, there were some obvious questions. For instance: What sort of vehicls does one use to transport a rock? Not to mention, how does one steer a rock across town through traffic? Detroit Edison came up with an answer to the first question. The company donated a platform truck for the day, Mrs. Gallup remembers. The truck, which was used to haul poles and heavy machinery, suited the rock just fine. The truck was provided free of charge. However, other moving expenses were taken over by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Kevolution. Before proceeding with the mammoth project, the workmen had to wait until the ground was well frozen. "The ground had to be frozen deep, not just cold," sayd Mrs. Gallup. "Otherwise, the rock was so heavy, truck and all would have sunk into the ground." After much effort, the rock was jacked up and loaded onto the truck with rollers. It was far too heavy to be hauled by the cranes available then. According to Mrs. Gallup's recommections, the rock was n e v e r officially weighed. The city scales weren't big enough. Arm Arbor pólice agreed to control traffic and once the rock was in place on the truck, the procession began. A foundation on which the rock would rest had been prepared long before. And, buried in the foundation's cement, Gallup had placed a lead box containing a written history of the rock and the story behind its placement. He put it there, explains Mrs. Gallup, so that anyone who might be digging in the area 2,000 years f r o m then would know the why and wherefore of the rock. "He really was thinking a long way ahead," she laughed, remembering the day of the move. Once at the site, the rock was rolled into place. It was tipped up intentionally so that the striae (minute grooves), formed when glaciers scraped along the rock, could be seen. Of course, to be a proper memorial to George Washington, the rock had to have a plaque. Copper was scarce at the time, but Gallup managed to scrounge up enough to make the plaque. "He hunted around in dumps and everywhere for every bit of scrap copper he could find. I even contributed a copper tray," Mrs. Gallup notes. When he found enough, Gallup enlisted sculptor Carleton Angelí to design a plaque. What emerged was a plaque in the shape of a shield with a three-footlong sword thrust through the center. Memorial words about George Washington were spelled out on the surface. Students in the industrial arts department at University High School cast the plaque under the direction of their teacher, Marshall Byrn. The plaque was affixed to the rock on the side facing Washtenaw. "It was an outstanding piece of work," says Mrs. Gallup. The rock, plaque and all, stood peacefully undisturbed on the busy corner for many years. But then it began to happen - the painting, the writing, the graffiti - and it's been going on for quite some time now. "I don't know why they do it," Mrs. Gallup remarks sadly, referring to the latest coat of paint. "Maybe if they knew the rock's history, they would stop." Nevertheless, nothing has seemed to deter the would-be artists. A sign placed next to the rock; a few years ago imploring people to look not paint, was virtually ignored. It was soon covered with banners, bumper stickers and paint. Even the plaque has come in for some rough times. It was stolen once, but a newspaper plea brought it back. The pranksters leaned it up against the rock and it was later permanently attached again. Now, it, too, is covered with paint. Gallup had the rock sandblasted twice since its placement to remove several coats of paint. "But," says Mrs. Gallup, "the dye goes right down into the rock. Everytime you sandblast, you take off part of the rock's surface. Now, it's gone from bad to worse. It was a gray shade originally - that's what color it should be." Since Gallup's death in 1964, the rock has been painted several times over and it's been left that way. Another sandblasting, Mrs. Gallup fears, would reduce the rock both in size and grandeur. Suggestions have been made to move the rock to Gallup Park where it would be out of the way and somewhat protected, but Mrs. Gallup is against the idea. Apparently, she says people don't realize what a difficult task the move would be. Instead, she has suggested planting thorny vines around the rock. That way, she explains, the rock could still be seen, but the painters would stay away. Her suggestion has gone unheeded. And so the rock sits. Out in the open. All blue and orange and black. The matted grass around it is mostly dead from the trampling of "artistic" feet and stray splashes of paint. The plaque was still there last time we looked, but for how long, it's hard to say. You might want to check it out. That is, if you can get a glimpse of copper through the paint.


The Rock
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