Planned genocide has begun,” read the Facebook entry on one of the groups I browse daily. The link: a picture of five monoliths looming like an American Stonehenge over a lush and lonely hill in remote Elberton, Georgia. I was only an hour away at the time, and decided to visit them in person.
The nearly twenty-foot granite slabs, known as the Georgia Guidestones, have sparked controversy around the world — praised by Yoko Ono, defaced by conspiracy theorists, featured on the History Channel, and the subject of the conspiracy web series Guidestones. The monument — five upright stones topped by a capstone — weighs nearly 240,000 pounds and is inscribed in eight languages with ten instructions for humans post-apocalypse. Three decades after being erected, the monument’s true purpose is still being argued, and its quasi-commandments can seem either sincere or satanic.
The most controversial instruction is the first: that humanity should be maintained under half a billion. Nearly as controversial is the sixth instruction, which proposes that nations resolve disputes in “a world court.” The stones also boast a few odd astronomical features — a hole through which you can see the North Star each night; a slot through which you can watch the sun rise during the summer or winter solstice; and a hole on the capstone which functions as a solar calendar at noon.about:blank
“Let these be Guidestones to an Age of Reason” reads the capstone in classical Greek, Sanskrit, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Babylonian cuneiform.
The Guidestones were erected in 1980 and have captured the curiosity of astronomy buffs, peaceniks, pagans, and preachers over the decades since. Conspiracy theorists have decoded them; pagans have held rituals around them; graffiti artists have defaced them. They are as riveting for their curious origins and enigmatic intentions as they are for the cacophonous range of responses they evoke in observers.
The monument was commissioned in 1979 by a now deceased, anonymous donor calling himself “R.C. Christian.” According to the also deceased Joe Fendley, then president of the Elberton Granite Finishing Company, Mr. Christian was a tall, well-dressed stranger who showed up in his office on a Friday afternoon and offered to pay a substantial sum of money for the construction of the monument. Fendley sent him over to Wyatt C. Martin, then president of the Granite City Bank.
Within a few weeks, Christian had wired money to the bank and brought in a wooden model of the monument, and the quarrying and construction had begun. Over 4,000 letters were ultimately etched into the surface of the stones. A year later, on March 22, 1980, the Guidestones were unveiled — on a former cow pasture on U.S. Highway 77.about:blank
(Credit: Sir Mildred Pierce/Flickr)
A Visit to the Rough-Hewn Giants
Last August I drove into the sleepy town of Elberton, past signs boasting “Granite Capital of the World,” along remote and winding roads, to see the Guidestones.
I wondered what this American Rorschach would feel like to me. They cast a strange spell that sunny afternoon — outstandingly incongruous on a well kept grassy knoll in the proverbial middle of nowhere. Perhaps if they’d towered over the north rim of the Grand Canyon they would have blended with rock and sky. But nesting like alien tombstones in the rural south, down the road from the white spires of Baptist and Methodist churches, the stones seemed eerie, and brought to mind Henry James’ famous impression of Stonehenge: “You may put a hundred questions to these rough-hewn giants as they bend in grim contemplation of their fallen companions, but your curiosity falls dead in the vast sunny stillness that enshrouds them.”
Meeting the Man Who Knows
A few days later I visited the only man alive who actually knows who built the Guidestones — and he isn’t telling. Banker Wyatt Martin, who is now 82, now lives with his second wife in quaint Greensboro, Georgia.
“You just missed the History Channel,” he greeted me, motioning to a chair on the porch. “They filmed me right here for three hours.” We sat and talked as a light rain drizzled down upon the oak and pecan trees, and Martin speculated that a large part of the enduring controversy is due to the mystery of the stones’ origins.about:blank
“People ask, ‘Isn’t it hard being the only one left alive who knows who he really was?’” said Martin. “They could put a gun to my head and kill me, I will never reveal his real name. In my age and my profession you stuck by a promise of confidentiality.
“Last year I went with a few friends over to an old bridge on Lake Oconee and we dumped all correspondence associated with the Guidestones into a metal barrel and burned them. Then we poured the ashes into the lake. It’ll never be known. And that’s what he wanted. He always said if you want to keep people interested, you can let them know only so much.”
(Credit: The Rocketeer/flickr)
At the time the stones were built, Martin reminded me, it was the height of the Cold War, when Armageddon and nuclear winter loomed over America. In a chapbook on the Guidestones that Christian wrote and published, he states, “We are entering a critical era. Population pressures will soon create political and economic crisis throughout the world … We are like a fleet of overcrowded lifeboats confronted with an approaching tempest … There are alternatives to Armageddon. They are attainable.” The guides of the ‘graven stones’ were meant to provide those alternatives.
Was Christian a Christian?, I ask Martin. Martin thinks he was. Others suspect he was influenced by Rosicrucian thought. Rosicrucians formed a European secret society in the 1600’s known as “the brotherhood of R.C.” or the “Fraternity of the Rosie Cross.” According to their first manifesto in 1614, “The word R.C. should be their seal, mark and character.”
Those who believe the stones are influenced by Rosicrucian thought point to the text on the capstone, which echoes the title of Thomas Paine’s famous apologia “The Age of Reason.” Paine was both a deist (one who believes the existence of God can be proven by reason and observation) and a Rosicrucian.about:blank