Notes From My Knapsack 7-15-10
The Hills, the Skies, the Stars
In 1840, according to Bushnell's 1889 "History of Granville," the electioneering of that year brought a special fervor to the Fourth of July celebrations, and no little Yankee ingenuity: "A liberty pole, jointed like a ship mast, and again with bands of iron, and again and again, and topping out with a fishing rod and a long streamer, towered 270 feet on the village square."
Now, just for context, it's about 150 feet of elevation from Broadway and Main to the top of College Hill, and another 150 to the tip of Swasey Chapel. So imagine a crew of young men, with logs and poles and staves, hammering out their cooper's rejects and scrap iron strips, binding a cluster of beams around a longer timber, and another, and another . . . all for fun, all for frolic, and done without a bit of power equipment. Their end "product" is hoisted to the vertical with ropes and likely a block and tackle and (I hope) a secure anchorage, finally towering from the middle of the village as high as the pinnacle of the tallest building we have today, "topping out with a fishing rod and a long streamer."
Some modest research shows that neighboring communities would compete in standing up the tallest "liberty pole" for their Fourth of July celebrations, and the record is silent on the obvious occasional outcome of a snapped timber, a misanchored line, and 200 feet or more of mast and beam and pole coming down to crush chimneys, topple fences, and break an arm or leg for the unwary.
Or they may have just been pretty good at what they were doing!
I can almost see that sight rising up in the middle of town, as I drive through in the wake of the street fair. In the same way, I was envisioning Alligator Mound east of the village, a thousand years old, while we waited for the fireworks on July 1st and Scorpius rose in the south. The legends of the Underwater Panther, the Piasaw with horns and biting teeth and a long curling tail that does not let go, seen painted on a Mississippi cliff by Father Marquette, told to pioneers by the Native peoples of the Ohio Valley, very likely tie back to our own one of only two effigy mounds found in this state.
The constellation of a horned or clawed figure appearing in the summer sky, with a bright red heart glowing out of the darkness as the sun sets, has long been associated with this mythic figure, a lower world counterpoint to the more heavenly thunderbird flying above.
Dr. Brad Lepper, curator of archaeology for the Ohio Historical Society, local resident and skilled historian in his own right, will be down at that other effigy a couple hours south of us by car, Serpent Mound. On Saturday, July 31, at 1 pm, he will give a talk about "The Alligator and the Serpent" before leading a tour of the site. If you want to know more about Granville's "Alligator," you couldn't do much better than to make the trip down to visit the Serpent that day.
For only a carload parking fee of $7 (and they'd like RSVPs, which you can do at highlandssanctuary.org), you'll learn about our local history in a way that will help you see the past, written on our landscape, visible clearly in your mind's eye.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about a favorite legend you've heard at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Knapsack @Twitter.