Anti-Gravity Monuments

New Boston, NH

March 11, 2010 — Scattered throughout the campuses of various colleges along the East Coast are a series of oversized tombstones. Far from marking the giant dead (since that would be silly), these memorials are monuments to anti-gravity. That’s right. Large upright granite slabs have been erected in multiple places of higher learning as testaments to all the hard work and diligent research that went into the invention of the world-changing technology that helped us defeat gravity. Just kidding. Anti-gravity technology is still just a science fiction plot convenience up there with faster-than-light drives and force fields, so why are these colleges honoring this imaginary technology? Because a man by the name of Roger W. Babson paid them to.

Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT

Born in Gloucester, MA, in 1875, Babson hit it rich as a financial wizard whose alchemy involved somehow applying Newtonian principles to predict the vagaries of the stock market. I really want to make fun of that, but the guy did all right.

His entrepreneurship manifested itself in many of the usual ways. For instance, he liked to found colleges, theorize about financial markets, run for U.S. president, and author books. However, once he had a pile of money thick enough to pad his walls, he indulged his eccentricity a bit. You see, Babson wasn’t a big fan of gravity, which he apparently blamed for the childhood drowning death of his sister and the later drowning death of his grandson. As a result, he wanted to fight that mysterious non-force with both fists (full of cash). Water, though, for some reason he was okay with.

Keene State College, Keene, NH

To accomplish this ambition, Babson set up the Gravity Research Foundation in New Boston, NH, in the late 1940s (he thought the town a safe enough spot if nuclear war broke out…real estate was a much different game back then). As for the activities of the GRF, they basically held meetings, sponsored scientific papers, and generally attempted to not stand under heavy things.

To market the mission of the GRF, Babson made large donations to various colleges with the stipulation that they each set up one of these strange monuments. Curiously, none of the three colleges that he founded have anti-gravity monuments, those colleges being Babson College in Wellesley, MA; Webber International University in Babson Park, FL; and Utopia College in Eureka, KS. Utopia College has a bit more of an excuse since it went defunct years ago. Naturally, no place with a name like that can operate for long without irony, self-consciousness, or feelings of inadequacy rotting it from the inside.

Gordon College, Wenham, MA

Although Babson died in 1967, the GRF still abides. These days, the less Quixotic entity is headquartered in Wellesley Hills, MA, and mainly just administers essay prizes for more conventional gravity research. Stephen Hawking (of Star Trek fame) is the most well-known prize winner. Meanwhile, the rest of us wait around while the scourge of gravity continues to afflict us unchecked.

Back in the original headquarters location of humble New Boston, people still remember the original GRF. Mainly because there is a marker dedicated to it at a main intersection in the center of town. The plain stone memorial states, Here at New Boston, NH, Roger W. Babson and his associates pioneered in active research for anti-gravity and a partial gravity insulator. Yes. Yes, they did.

Back to the actual anti-gravity monuments, according to the only master list of them on the Internet, about half of these stones are in New England, with the other half holding down earth on college campuses in Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York, Alabama, and Illinois. As a result of activities that span the past year, I might now be the only living person on the planet to have visited all the New England anti-gravity monuments. If I’m wrong, please let me know so I can stop feeling so weird about that.

Tufts University, Medford, MA

It’s kind of interesting that these stones still stand five decades after their installation and four decades after Babson’s death. I’m not sure if it was part of the deal structure or not. These days, they’re looked at with humor or ignored, although some have been incorporated into student traditions and others have been regularly tampered with by the respective student bodies. Pranks include tying the massive blocks down with rope, knocking them over, affixing balloons to them, or placing them on the tops of buildings. Gravity-related humor is underrated.

Eastern Nazarene College, Quincy, MA

With at least one non-New England exception, the monuments are pretty much identical. About five feet tall, three feet wide, and almost a foot thick, all the New England stones are grayish and rough-hewn except for the face of the markers, which are polished flat and inscribed with text under a beautifully apt image of a pair of scales or a more random bit of flora. The engraved text comes in two versions. Stones dated either 1960 or 1961 bear the following inscription:

This monument has been erected by the Gravity Researcher Foundation, Roger W. Babson, founder. It is 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.

The second inscription, found on stones dated 1964, starts out similarly and ends with, …blessings forthcoming when science determines what gravity is, how it works, and how it may be controlled.”

Since Wikipedia doesn’t give specific directions to the monuments, I thought I would. Because I need some reason besides a badly expressed obsession mechanism in my brain to validate visiting every single one of them. So, starting at the farthest point north because I always read the planet from top to bottom:

·   Colby College in Waterville, ME: You can find this stone facing Mayflower Hill Dr. in a thin copse of trees near the Schair-Swenson-Watson Alumni Center. It’s rumored that the stone will be moved once a planned science building is constructed on the spot.
·   Middlebury College in Middlebury, VT: This stone is located between Warner Hall and Painter Hall facing Old Chapel Road. Middlebury College is also the location of Patrick Dougherty's So Inclined art installation. 
·   Keene State College in Keene, NH: Surreptitiously placed flat up against the side of Butterfield Hall facing Winchester St. is where this college fulfilled its contractual obligations. This is the same Keene of Jumanji/Pumpkin Festival fame.
·   Gordon College in Wenham, MA: You can find this stone a little ways in front of Frost Hall close to the edge of their quad. They hide theirs in a freestanding bush.
·   Tufts University in Medford, MA: Located between Barnum Hall and Ballou Hall at the north corner of the President’s Lawn, this stone has actually been incorporated into a campus tradition. Students who graduate with degrees in cosmology kneel at this stone while professors drop an apple on their heads. Once again, gravity-related humor is so underrated.
·   Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, MA: This stone is placed at the side of Shrader Hall off Wendell Ave. It is set flat against the wall of that building like a man about to peek around a corner.

Colby College, Waterville, ME