If Work Stops Values Decay.
Babson Boulder: If Work Stops Values Decay.

Babson's Boulders and Gravity Monuments

Gloucester, Massachusetts

If you ever find yourself stumbling down a certain ill-marked, half-overgrown path in the woods near Gloucester, Massachusetts, two questions are likely to be top-of-mind: Where did my life go so wrong? and Why does that rock have "Help Mother" carved into it?

Be On Time.

The first one is unanswerable. The second has a tale behind it.

Roger Babson grew up in Gloucester, and attended MIT in the 1890s. Soon after graduation, he started Babson's Statistical Organization, a pioneer in providing organized and reliable market and economic data to a burgeoning Wall Street. He became a rich young man applying Sir Isaac Newton's principles of motion to the stock market.

After the panic of 1907, Babson started giving financial advice to the public; for decades, he was a regular columnist for The New York Times and the Saturday Evening Post. In September 1929, he predicted October's famous market meltdown: "A crash is coming, and it may be terrific...The vicious circle will get in full swing and the result will be a serious business depression."

A Man of Action

Babson was a self-made, well-heeled eccentric, using vast resources to communicate prescriptions for a life well-lived. Some of his activities were the typical prerogatives of wealth: he founded colleges, ran for President in 1940 on the Prohibition ticket, and authored more than fifty books. Other schemes were more unconventional -- for Babson was the kind of polymath who had an answer for everything, regardless of where the trail of logical breadcrumbs took him. When nearly felled by tuberculosis, he decided indoor germs were the cause and subsequently worked outside regardless of conditions; his secretaries were issued blankets and metal claws to transcribe dictation during the cold Massachusetts winters.

Keep Out of Debt.

Odd as he was, Babson was also intensely public-spirited, and occasionally did some real good. After witnessing the effects of fire on crowded slums, for example, he took control of a company that would create America's iconic street corner fire alarm, the Gamewell Masterbox. He believed in public sanitation, and further fortune was made with a company that manufactured and sold paper towel dispensers, now ubiquitous in public restrooms.

Study.

Babson's vision of the good life was simple: "normal sex relations, playing with little children, and a good meal after a hard day's work." How to get there? One should develop the skin to resist variations in temperature by means of cold baths, massage and vigorous rubbing with paper towels, the kind ubiquitously dispensed by his machines. And as with every thinker of this type, his thoughts inevitably strayed into the bathroom: Babson swore by three good bowel movements each day and a mild laxative every Saturday night, whether you needed it or not.

His Piece of the Rock

In Babson's eyes, the Great Depression was primarily a moral condition worsened by the repeal of Prohibition, and needed to be tackled at all points along the front. So at the same time he was advising Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt, and publishing his book, Cheer Up!, he also donated to Gloucester 500 acres of scrub, then started carving uplifting aphorisms on its large, jutting rocks.

In part this was an act of charity, make-work for the unemployed stonecutters of Gloucester; but it was also Edwardian Bootstrap Gospel in physical form. "My family says that I am defacing the boulders and disgracing the family," Babson wrote. "I am really trying to write a simple book with words carved in stone instead of printed paper." Several dozen "Babson Boulders" remain today, broadcasting their motivational messages to rabbits, deer, and the occasional lost hiker. "If Work Stops, Values Decay"; "Never Try, Never Win"; "Keep Out of Debt"; "Use Your Head"; "Be Clean"; "Help Mother"; "Prosperity Follows Service"; and, perhaps inevitably, "Get A Job."

Anti-Gravity monument, Wellesley, Massachusetts.
Anti-Gravity monument, Wellesley, Massachusetts.

But woodland creatures are as feckless as they are illiterate, and Babson's slogans do not seem to have inspired many humans, either. The scrubland has overgrown into genuine woods. Trees have sprouted and largely reclaimed the rocks, and to find them at all, you must stroll down some ill-marked and near-empty paths. The rocks are further down the path than you might expect, and the ruggedness and solitude give the nagging Babson Boulders an incongruous charm.

That Dragon Gravity

Anti-Gravity monument, Atlanta, Georgia.
Anti-Gravity monument, Atlanta, Georgia.

The civic-minded, gently lunatic tycoon took one final stab at immortality. When his thirteen year-old sister Edith died from drowning in 1893, the culprit was clear to Babson: gravity. And in 1947 when his grandson drowned, also taken by "that dragon gravity," enough was enough. So at age seventy-three, Babson founded the Gravity Research Foundation. He put the headquarters in New Boston, New Hampshire, after determining that this location was far enough away from Boston, Massachusetts to survive a nuclear attack on the bigger city. The essay written to announce the Foundation was entitled, "Gravity -- Our Enemy Number One." Pamphlets were published such as "Gravity and Posture," "Gravity and the Weather" and "Gravity and Your Feet." Gravity had its talons in everything, from "the common cold, house fires, the firing of General Douglas MacArthur and hemorrhoids."

Unfortunately, Americans were as cold to the dangers of gravity as they'd been to Babson's aphorisms in granite. After a fruitless decade of unheeded warnings, the businessman changed tack; he decided to donate money to colleges, to inspire the gravity researchers of tomorrow on the condition that they place a special stone marker somewhere on campus to let students know about the opportunity. Beginning in 1960, more than a dozen schools took him up on the offer, including leading institutions such as Colby, Middlebury and Tuskegee. The monuments, carved into solid granite and weighing more than a ton (at least until gravity is solved), were placed "to remind students of the blessings forthcoming when a semi-insulator is discovered in order to harness gravity as a free power and reduce airplane accidents."

Over fifty years later, these markers are treated with various degrees of seriousness and embarrassment. Gordon College used to hide theirs in a bush, and Emory put theirs in storage (until students successfully lobbied for its return). But Tufts displays theirs in President's Lawn, and cosmology graduates kneel at the stone while a professor drops an apple on their heads.

When Roger Babson died in 1967, no more monuments were made and gravity continues, unimpeded.

Dogtown Ghost Town and Babson Boulders

Address:
Dogtown Rd, Gloucester, MA
Directions:
Hwy 128 to Grant Circle rotary. Take third right to Washington St./Hwy 127. Take first right onto Poplar St. Take first left onto Cherry St. After about a half-mile, turn right onto Dogtown Rd (look for the Dogtown Common sign). Follow Dogtown Rd to its end at a gate and begin walk at site map.
Admission:
Free.
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Anti-Gravity Monument

Address:
University Drive, Tampa, FL
Directions:
Drive west on W. Kennedy Blvd across the bridge from downtown, then immediately make a sharp right onto the University of Tampa campus. Drive straight back, past a gaudy building on left. The street gradually bends left. You'll come to a stop sign for a crosswalk and see a sign for the MacDonald-Kelce Library on the right; the monument is across from that, next to the street, on the left end of the crosswalk, at the corner of a gated parking lot, under a tree.
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Anti-Gravity Monument

Address:
1400 Oxford Rd NE, Atlanta, GA
Directions:
Rose-colored tombstone hidden atop a wooded hillside, on the north side of Oxford Rd NE just east of its intersection with Pierce Drive NE. On the campus of Emory University, just below the Mathematics and Science Center. Park on the side of Oxford and walk up the hill.
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World's Formerly Largest Rotating Globe

Babson College

Address:
Map Hill Drive, Wellesley, MA
Directions:
Take Wellesley Ave. to the main Babson College entrance. Go past the gate house, then take the second left onto Map Hill Drive. Currently undergoing restoration in a parking lot along Map Hill Drive. Will be moved to a park across from Student Campus Center in 2019.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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Anti-Gravity Monument

Address:
Blake St., Keene, NH
Directions:
On the north side of the Keene State College campus. On the east side of Blake St. a block south of its intersection with Winchester St. In front of the Putnam Science Center, next to a bus shelter.
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September 20, 2018

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