Footprints Of The Archangel Gabriel
New Harmony, Indiana
The archangel Gabriel came to earth in 1819, and landed in the back yard of George Rapp. George was a bearded, blue-eyed prophet, and the leader of a religious commune in what was then called Harmonie, Indiana. George told his people that Gabriel had given him secret divine information. As evidence of the visit, a slab of limestone in George's back yard received impressions from the bare feet of Gabriel, who was evidently very lead-footed.
Many years have passed since Gabriel's howdy-do. In the mid-20th century the footprints were famous enough that someone in New Harmony sold postcards of them. Today the limestone slab with its footprints is still in the back yard. Skeptics, however, don't believe that they were caused by an archangel landing in Indiana. They say that the slab came from St. Louis, and that it was purchased by George Rapp's son-in-law. They say that the whole archangel story was invented by Rapp's enemies as a way to belittle him and his "Harmonist" followers.
But how does that explain a set of human footprints in a block of limestone?
At least one fundamentalist Christian attraction claims to have fossilized human footprints -- proof, it's said, that evolution is bunk. But those are GIANT footprints, while the footprints in Indiana are surprisingly small. A geologist who lived in George Rapp's house in 1842 wrote a detailed paper dismissing the idea of the footprints as fossils. But the Harmonists never believed that they were fossils, either.
Further study of the footprints seems unlikely. They are off-limits to the public. You can peek at them over a brick wall, or gaze at them through a grated opening. But you're not allowed to get any closer than that, and you certainly aren't allowed to slip off your shoes and step onto the slab, perhaps receiving some of Gabriel's holy mojo. The property is owned by a superrich family, and they keep the footprints to themselves.
Stewardship has been sloppy. Freezes and thaws have put a big crack through the slab. Cement seems to have been used to fill in a section that was missing in the old high contrast postcard image. Even worse, acid rain -- floating east from St. Louis of all places -- is eating away the limestone. The footprints are nowhere near as clear as they used to be. "Everyone's kind of concerned about that," said Connie Weinzapfel, director of Historic New Harmony. "We've discussed the idea of trying to convince the family to put even just a plexiglass box over them. Or something."
We've visited towns that preserved rocks that were possibly scratched by Vikings. New Harmony should certainly be allowed to save a slab that cushioned the size 7s of a Messenger of God.
Don't expect any help from the original Harmonists or their descendants, however. They moved to Pennsylvania, where George Rapp promised them that the End of the World would arrive on September 15, 1829. When it didn't, and when Gabriel failed to provide further guidance, the commune broke up.