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Controversies & Enigmas

Gravity Monument

The Story... The Story Continues

The once proud gravity monument, a campus curiosity since it was placed on the western side of the Physics Building in 1963, now rests in a storage building at the Briarcliff Campus beside bales of hay, old tires, and concrete saws.

Rough-cut from Etowah Cherokee pink marble, the five-foot high monument was given to Emory in 1962 by the Gravity Research Foundation of New Hampshire. The inscription states that the monument's purpose is "to remind students of the blessings forthcoming when science determines what gravity is, how it works, and how it may be controlled."

The monument was accompanied by a $5,000 grant to Emory's physics department and soon became a quirky landmark. But two years ago, when Isamu Noguchi's granite sculpture Beginnings was loaned to the Carlos Museum and installed as part of an outdoor sculpture program on the Quadrangle, the gravity monument–deemed at odds with Noguchi's aesthetic theme–was moved to storage.

Faculty, alumni, and students started to miss the "pink tombstone" out in front of the old Physics Building (now part of the Callaway Memorial Center). They began making inquiries about where it had gone and when it would be returned.

"People have fond memories of its wackiness, its whimsical, quixotic nature," says University Secretary Gary S. Hauk. "There were two reasons for the monument's removal: the visual clash with the Noguchi sculpture and the question whether it was suitable for a major research university to have something that frivolous at the heart of its campus."

Babson College founder Roger W. Babson started the Gravity Foundation in 1948 to stimulate research into the confounding natural law. Babson, a financial consultant, writer, and philanthropist, often was ridiculed for his far-out scientific ideas, such as building gravitational shields under aircraft to protect them from crashing. (A 1962 plane crash in Paris that killed more than one hundred Atlantans motivated Babson's gift to Emory.) Similar monuments were erected at several other colleges.

Dean of Alumni Judson C. Ward Jr., then dean of faculties, was offered the monument by the foundation and accepted. "I'm just amazed that this thing has kept people's interest through the years," Ward says.

For nearly four decades, the monument was a familiar part of the Quad's landscape. In the fall of 1992, the subject of Emory Magazine's very first Enigma–a space devoted to quirky or unexplained features of the University–was the gravity monument, "one of the most obscure icons on campus."

"When it was removed, we thought it would be put back there or somewhere else," says Raymond C. Duvarney, chair of the Physics Department and of the Campus Development Committee.

Professor Emeritus Robert H. Rohrer Sr. '39C would certainly like to see the monument returned. In 1999, a marble bench was installed in his name beside the gravity monument outside the Physics Building, where Rohrer attended classes as a student and taught engineering and physics for fifty-five years.

"I was right there when the gravity monument came to Emory, and I'd be delighted to have it back by my bench," says Rohrer, who was chair of the physics department in the early sixties and believes they used the foundation's $5,000 gift to purchase lab equipment. "We had a lot of fun with that monument. When we first put it in, the students tied it down with ropes and stakes so it wouldn't ‘float away.' "

Rohrer doesn't believe the monument's mission is outdated in the least. "What gravity is and how it operates is a well-respected topic in physics these days," he says. "It's the most mysterious force in nature."

Although physics classes are now held in the dental school, with research and faculty offices in the Rollins Research Center, they will soon move to the new Science 2000 building, a possible site for the monument's relocation, says Duvarney.

"Everyone needs some constancy in life," he says. "Here's a constant–gravity. And now, gravity has disappeared."–M.J.L.

Source: Emory Magazine, Autumn 2000


Gravity has returned to Emory

Gravity redux

The pink marble, tombstone-like gravity monument, which stood for almost four decades beside the former Physics Building prior to being placed in storage four years ago, has been relocated to a courtyard next to the new Math and Science Center.

"It's a nostalgic and memorable symbol of the old Emory," said Ray DuVarney, associate professor and chair of physics, who led the drive to have the monument returned to campus and is planning a rededication ceremony, possibly during Alumni Weekend this fall.

The five-foot high monument was given to Emory in 1962 by the Gravity Research Foundation of New Hampshire, along with a $5,000 grant to the physics department. Babson College founder Roger W. Babson, an engineer and inventor, started the Gravity Foundation in 1948 to stimulate research into the natural law.

The gravity monument was placed on the western side of the Physics building (now part of the Callaway Memorial Center) and soon became a quirky landmark. For nearly four decades, the monument was a familiar part of the Quad's landscape, the site of casual meetings and practical jokes. In 1999, the monument was placed in storage after it was deemed to conflict aesthetically with an outdoor sculpture on loan to Emory.

Alumni, staff, and students began inquiring about the monument, which was being kept in a building at the Briarcliff Campus beside bales of hay, old tires, and concrete saws. After an article about the monument's removal, "Defying Gravity," ran in Emory Magazine in Autumn 2001, alumni wrote letters demanding that it be reinstated.

"Without frivolity, we are left with the self-important, self-congratulatory, self-admiring folks that eventually become so tedious and burdensome," wrote John W. Stephenson '70C. "Please don't let it get too far away. The monument could continue to be a rendezvous place for that late-night kiss."

Mark S. Abner '86Ox-'88C, said without the gravity monument, Emory "is missing its greatest anchor. Gravity is eternal! Emory needs its Sphinx, its perfectly provocative pink pedestal posing its profound riddle. Emory clearly needs less seriousness and more gravity!"

After the decision was made to place the gravity monument in the Math and Science Center courtyard, Professor Emeritus Robert H. Rohrer Sr. '39C—in whose name a marble bench was installed beside the gravity monument in 1999—requested that his bench be relocated as well.

"I was right there when the gravity monument came to Emory, and I'd be delighted to have it back by my bench," said Rohrer, who was chair of the physics department in the early sixties.

Gravity continues to baffle scientists, says DuVarney, who still don't know much about what it is and how it works. "Gravity is an enigma that's wrapped up in time. They are intimately connected," he says. "Understanding is a never-ending search."

But DuVarney is reassured that the gravity monument is back in its rightful place beside the new home of the physics department, which moved to the Math and Science Center when it opened in the fall of 2002.

"I just think it's appropriate for it to be here," DuVarney says. "It's something old right up against something new. The past gives perspective to the future."–M.J.L.


Source: Emory Magazine, Summer 2003

 

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