(Photographs supplied by AW, BK, CG and DB with thanks)
The Pyramids of Egypt were all looted in antiquity, and no doubt originally contained treasures that made the risk appear worthwhile. This article is about a far more prosaic event, the breaking into and robbing an approximately seven feet high pyramid-shaped memorial in United Cemeteries, Ross Township, Pittsburgh.
In early 1921 the United Cemeteries pyramid was completed. It was in the center of four sections of the cemetery reserved for Bible Students who had worked along with Charles Taze Russell. He was buried there in 1916, slightly uphill from the pyramid which was designed as a memorial for all those on site. As people died their names were to be inscribed on the four sides of the pyramid on carved pages of open books. However, only nine names were ever recorded on the monument before the idea was abandoned.
This pyramid was hollow. It was constructed from four triangular shaped sides that were angled together with a capstone holding it all in place. Cement grouting ensured it was designed to last. And it did, for a little over 70 years.
What attracted attention, which ultimately proved most unwelcome, was the news that the hollow interior contained “treasure.” This was mentioned in the 1919 IBSA convention report, while the pyramid was being constructed. 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 the 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, “hermetically sealed to await the end of time.”
Well, it didn’t quite wait until the end of time, but it as noted above, it did survive a little over 70 years.
The photograph below dates from November 1991. The visitor who took the photograph found the pyramid still intact, although noted that the grouting was failing in places and water was seeping in. No doubt its integrity was increasingly compromised, and the structural weaknesses may have given the thief or thieves their incentive.
By the fall of 1993 or 1994 the deed was done. The pyramid was opened and its contents disappeared.
The photograph below dates from that period and purports to show the break-in taking place.
In fairness to the subjects, this was a photograph taken by young tourists visiting the site, who found the damaged artefact and posed beside it. As you do. Their faces have been obscured in this picture, because no doubt they are now middle aged highly respectable individuals. There would have to be at least three of them, because someone took the photograph. Unsurprisingly, they found the pyramid empty.
What stands out for me is how heavy the sides were. It would have taken some effort to move the one section, but once moved there was a real danger to life had it toppled over. The damage would obviously need to be repaired as soon as possible.
We travel forward to the second known break-in. This was around the year 2000. Again, and no doubt for reasons of safety as much as anything, the pyramid was repaired very quickly. But this time someone took photographs of the interior.
Obviously there wasn’t any casket of publications there, just a few granite shards that may have come from it. The person who took these photographs searched near the site in case someone had discarded parts of the “hollowed stone” the historic documents had been in. Nothing was found. He wasn’t to know that the cupboard had been bare for several years.
So we are left with the question – who vandalized the pyramid originally and stole its contents and where are they now?
I obviously have no idea, but as commented in earlier articles, the contents were unlikely to have been unique. They could only put inside the pyramid what was available in 1920, and the Society’s own library at that time was incomplete. Whatever was inside was probably available elsewhere. The only thing that made it special was that it came from inside the pyramid. But whoever stole the contents could hardly advertise this on eBay. Can you imagine the wording?
I cannot believe any active JW or Bible Student would do such a thing. We are left with perhaps a rogue collector of some sort.
So someone somewhere out there may have a cache of materials; however, nothing that could not have been obtained from elsewhere. But as I write, there may be some sad individual out there still gloating over their hoard. If perchance they are reading this, all I can suggest is that they might consider seeking medical help.