13-Ton Boulder Carved Into John Wayne's Head
In early 1979 a giant boulder nearly fell off of a cliff and onto Malibu, California. Engineers got to work, closed the Pacific Coast Highway, yanked down the rock, then blew it up with dynamite. Crowds cheered. A film producer whose home would have been in the path of the rock wrote a screenplay about it, titled "The Rock," but Hollywood lost interest.
Brett-Livingstone Strong didn't. He was 25 years old, a new immigrant from Australia. He gave the engineers $100 from his pocket, and they gave him a 13 ton chunk of the rock. Strong trucked the rock 30 miles east to a shopping center parking lot in Century City. He hinted that he would carve it into a head of California governor Jerry Brown. But over the next ten weeks, as curious spectators watched, Strong instead carved it into a very good likeness of John Wayne. Strong said that Wayne had volunteered to sponsor him for his green card.
Strong called the head "Life-Time-Light" and sold it to an Arizona real estate tycoon, reportedly for a million dollars. The tycoon displayed it at Grauman's Chinese Theatre for a year, then put it in storage. He eventually donated it to Lubbock Christian University, which in 1991 renamed it "Spirit of Independence" and put it in its library. It's been there ever since.
The university takes its holy literature literally. A gallery of paintings next to John Wayne's head, "Visions of Revelation," painted in the mid-1950s by an artist named A. Hart, visually conveys the mystical final book of the Bible. One, "The First Bowl of Wrath," shows an angel with beams of light that appear to fry unlucky humans with radiation burns. Another, "War in Heaven," shows dead bodies floating on clouds. There's a painting of a multi-headed red dragon spewing water from its mouths, and another of several near-naked men stomping grapes whose juice turns into a river of blood that's drowning a horse.
The giant, grinning head of John Wayne might seem inappropriate in such a place, but a plaque next to it suggests otherwise, noting that Wayne's film characters were always "hard-working, honest, courageous, fiercely independent, God-fearing, polite (especially to women)" and that "many years after his death, he still appears on lists of most-admired Americans."
The librarian told us that the University welcomes visitors, and that a family had stopped by only hours earlier after reading about the head on RoadsideAmerica.com. "I asked the son, 'Are you going to be enrolling at LCU?'" the librarian said. "And he said, 'No, I'm only here for John Wayne.'"