Saturday, August 3, 2013

What Is It? Where Is It? (Jun-ly): The Lifting Stone

Due to the time demands of putting on our 17th annual Celtic Festival, we combined the June and July "What Is It? Where Is It?" into one Jun-ly post and charged readers with guessing what the above object is and where it is located at Graeme Park.

The where is pretty easy if you're at all familiar with the house. It sits atop a stone pillar on the north, or former garden side of the house - you can just make it out there over on the far left corner of the building.

This isn't its original location though, as you can see in this 1958 HABS (Historic American Building Survey) photograph where it is absent.

I couldn't find the specific citation of where it originally was located on the property, but we've always know it to have been "at the entrance."

Now the more interesting question here is "What Is It?" Early 20th century references have called it "the lifting stone" and it has been described as being used by Governor Keith to test the strength of both applicants for work and slaves he was considering for purchase.

In 1912, in their book The Colonial Homes of Philadelphia and It's Neighbourhood, Harold Donaldson Eberlein and Horace Mather Lippincott provided the following description:

Lofty sentinel sycamores in front of the mansion, indicate what was once the entrance to the courtyard. All around are ancient trees, many of them doubtless survivors from the primeval forest. Not far away is the great "lifting stone," a mushroom-shaped boulder with which Sir William always tested the strength of an applicant for work. If he could not lift it - and it is of substantial weight - he was not employed.

A few years later, In his 1917 book, Old Roads Out of Philadelphia, John Tomson Faris, described its location and function as:

Crowning a gatepost before the farmhouse of the present owner of the property, Morris B. Penrose, is the curious mushroom-shaped boulder used by Sir William as a test of the strength of applicants for work. Those who could not lift the stone could not hope for employment.

In 1937 the writers involved in a New Deal Federal Writers' Project, Philadelphia, A Guide to the Nation's Birthplace, identified a more sinister explanation for the stone:

In front of the house is Sir William's "lifting-stone," a large mushroom shaped boulder which he used to test the strength of slaves before purchasing them.

The stone was placed in its current location, a reconstructed pillar from the garden wall, by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania during one of its early restoration phases on the house. It is cemented in place and we do not know the weight of it, but it appears quite heavy. We don't have any anecdotal evidence as to whether or not anyone was ever able to lift it, other than to assume that if Keith wouldn't hire anyone who couldn't and we know he had laborers working here, that they must have been able to. Regardless, it is a fun story to tell and is usually met with doubt by visitors.

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