Tuesday, December 19, 2006


(August 2002)I was watching the various works of art which had been rendered on each and every car or a passing train, and it got me thinking about graffiti.
It seems humans have always had an urge to leave their mark on things. The first known graffito (that’s the singular form) was left at the Sakkara pyramid in Egypt about 3500 years ago. It says, roughly, “I am very impressed with Pharaoh Djosers’ pyramid.”
The Vikings left graffiti all over the place. By the 1800’s scholars were actually studying the stuff. The word “graffiti” was first coined by archaeologists studying Pompeii. In the late forties, there were actual scholarly studies of Kilroy
Graffiti was used by urban gangs to mark their territory. So-called modern graffiti traces its origins to the late sixties, and took off in the seventies with artists like Taki183, a NYC courier who left his name all over the city.
Around these parts we don’t have anything that approaches the spray-paint artists of major cities. I went looking for local graffiti and didn’t have much luck. There are a few names under several bridges. On the bike trail, someone faithfully maintains a few scratchings on the giant pole that carries electric lines across the river. The word “knites” is regularly reworked onto the metal surface. I don’t know if that’s some sort of clever satire, a secret code word, or the name of a roving band of FHS dropouts who can’t spell.
Of course, the granddaddy of Venango County graffiti locations is the Indian God Rock. The rock (for those of you not already in the know) can be found a bit past the eight mile mark on the bike trail going south from Franklin. Explorers in pre-colonial times used it as a landmark because it’s big and it had, at one time, Indian markings on the exposed side.
A Captain Eastman copied the markings down. There were cougars and panthers, severed heads, a female and various bows and arrows. A Mr. Schoolcraft interpreted those as symbols of triumph in hunting and war, but it’s hard not to wonder if they translate as “Cornplanter Rox!!” or “Senecas Rule!”
Plenty of people have traveled to the IGR over the years, in part because when the French explorer Celeron claimed this territory for France, he left his own marks in the form of lead plates (pre-manufactured graffiti), one of which was supposedly buried near the IGR. No one has ever found that plate, but not for lack of trying.
The IGR is fully out of the water now; when the river rises, it can claim the bottom feet or two of the enormous chunk of stone. There’s a large face, steeply angled, facing upriver. The 1890 history of Venango County notes “Like all other works of man, this monument is fading and perishing.”
Well, yes. It was fading and perishing because everybody and his brother were carving their OWN names into the thing.
Travel to gape at IGR (and its surrounding subsidiary rocks) today and you won’t see a trace of Native American hieroglyphics, but you can peruse a century and a half’s worth of graffiti.
There is some stone-carved artwork. A hand pointing downriver. A donkey’s head. A large rooster. Something that wants to be a fish, I think, and another symbol that may be a peace sign or a Mercedes-Benz symbol. There is even a Masonic symbol, which I suppose indicates that IGR is a possible staging area for when the Catholic church and the Illuminati create the New World Order by helping space aliens dominate the UN, or something.
Mostly, though, the rocks are covered with names. Some, like F. Adsit and C. Sidlauska, are carved deep into the stone. Some are barely scratches; CH or CS, from this year, will probably not survive till October.
Many have dates attached: D. R. Shaw, 1908; Seth Randolph, 1875; R. I. Hagan, August 1, 1893; C. E. Barnes, 1869; Tony, 1988. Some of the names are good local names: RJH Johnston (1860), J. H. Mitchell (August 13, 1885), C. H. Cole, J. C. Duffield, A. Witherup (1881). A few signers made their mark for some larger group. Someone in 1959 carved some Greek frat letters. Oil City and Alleghany City are both on the rock, as is someone called the T.A.T. Crew.
Some are simply mysterious. RYE ’41 could be initials, or the name of a town, or even a last name. Many have been worn down by time and the elements. Someone recorded a name and the date April 22, 1883—only the date remains legible. NK and CH recorded their initials in a heart. As near as I can tell, Kilroy has not been there. At least not yet.

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