Monday, July 28, 2014

Inside the Pyramid

The photographs that accompany this article may be somewhat disappointing if you were perhaps expecting the lost sarcophagus of Cheops.
However, the pyramid in question is one very applicable to this blog – namely the monument to the Watch Tower Society positioned quite close to the grave of Charles Taze Russell in the United Cemeteries, Pittsburgh.

These photographs were taken when the monument was vandalised and one whole section prized open. The structure is made up of four triangular sides, all balancing towards each other, with a capstone on top to hold it all together. It was therefore designed to be hollow, on a concrete base of about five feet in depth. The base is level, whereas the land on which it is built is sloping – hence part of the base can be seen at certain edges of the monument.
All readers should be familiar with this pyramid monument, with its open books on all four sides. It was designed to be in the center of the plot reserved for Bethel family members and WT Society pilgrims. Future articles will provide more detail of what was intended, and how thing ultimately worked out.

As originally planned, the monument was going to hold a special cache of WT Society publications relating to the era of Pastor Russell.
This was mentioned when the idea was first mooted in the 1919 convention report. The relevant paragraph was a statement of intent: “Within the structure, incased (sic) in a block of granite, will be a sealed metal box in which is a complete set of Karatol Scripture Studies, the Memorial Tower, and one of every tract, photographs of Pastor Russell, a copy of the Society’s charter, and many other things to interest the people who at some future date may open the pyramid and find them.”

When the monument was completed and the event covered in the New Era Enterprise for February 10, 1920, the plan had not changed. The Enterprise reported:  “Within the monument is a hollowed stone which contains a copy of all the Society’s literature, photographs of the Pastor, a copy of the Society’s charter and other data which some day in the not far distant future may perchance come to light, now effectually sealed up.”
Years later, when George Swetnam wrote an article A Man and His Monument for the Pittsburgh Press in its Family Magazine section for June 25, 1967, page 7, he wrote about this cache of material: “Near the top of the hill on Cemetery Lane, between Babcock Boulevard and U.S. 19 in Ross Township, is one of the strangest monuments to be seen in all the Pittsylvania County. It is a granite pyramid, perhaps ten feet square, and it is filled with books and magazines and other papers, hermetically sealed to await the end of time.”

For a certain type of person – and I must stress that I would not include either practicing JWs or Bible Students in this – it all proved to be a temptation too far.
The monument has had its share of difficulties, for example there are marks on one side which suggest a meeting of monument and sledgehammer at one point. But once someone worked out that it really was hollow, and that the four sides leaned in towards each other, it wasn’t rocket science to then prize open one side and topple it over, to reveal the hollow area and any contents.

The monument was very quickly repaired, but not before the above photographs were taken.
Shards of stonework were found in the area, suggesting that there had indeed been a container inside it, which had been broken open and the contents stolen.
Personally, in spite of all the accounts, I had always wondered whether or not the box of publications really had been placed inside the pyramid? Maybe at the last minute someone had thought better of it? Maybe they were entombed in the concrete base built by J Adam Bohnet originally? Having now visited the site in person, and seen the photographs of the interior, and also having spoken personally with those responsible for the pyramid’s repair and resealing, I am now convinced that, yes, there was a container of publications in there, and yes, they were stolen when the pyramid was vandalized.

What does this mean? Actually, on sober reflection, not a lot.
The cache of material was only added in 1920 when the monument was completed and sealed. It would therefore only contain material that could be obtained by conventional means at that time. Since the Society’s offices had moved to Brooklyn, then back to Pittsburgh, then back to Brooklyn in this era, and since attempts to complete the reprint volumes at this time involved pleading with the public to loan certain issues, it is unlikely that anything unique would have ended up entombed. In reality this means that any serious collector today would likely have all the material in duplicate form already. The only thing that made the material special was that it came from the pyramid. But you can’t exactly advertise that on eBay can you? You can imagine the advertisement - what will you bid for materials stolen by defacing and breaking into a cemetery monument? There are no doubt a couple of crimes there.

So someone somewhere may have a cache of materials. But nothing that couldn’t be obtained from elsewhere, with an illegal provenance – and even then, how do you prove that provenance? Of course, there may be some sad individual gloating over his hoard out there somewhere. If he is reading this, all I can suggest is that he might consider seeking medical help.


Edward said...

Question: when did this vandalism take place?

jerome said...

According to the book "Watch Tower of Allegheny Historical Tour" the break-in occurred in the year 2000. This is based on what the cemetery management and certain reliable sources from local JWs claim. There are other claims for the 1990s, but it seems likely that these were earlier attempts - whether by the same people or not who knows - but the actually successful attempt that really opened the monument was in 2000.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to note that the
pyramid monument to the Watch
Tower Society purportedly sanctioned by Charles Taze Russell and executed and completed in 1920 by J.A. Bohnet is not unique. There is a much earlier one dating to 1900 and is found in England. Not surprising, since this man had a lot of influence on Russell. Perhaps Russell borrowed the idea from him. His name is Charles Piazzi Smyth.

jerome said...

Anonymous probably does not have access to the restricted Truth History blog 2, but the photo of Smyth's pyramid gravestone was published there in July 2011.

The idea was catching. A British Bible Student also had a pyramid gravestone for his family in a cemetery in Yeovil, Somerset.