The Mystery Stone remains a mystery. What do you think?


Monitor columnist

Published: 04-27-2017 11:24 PM

We walked through two glass doors, unlocked by a gentle, soft-spoken man with a trimmed white beard.

Leave your coffee behind, Wes Balla, the director of exhibitions at the New Hampshire Historical Society, told me. No use taking chances. No use risking coffee stains on the Mystery Stone, an artifact of unknown origin, discovered in 1872, that will be on display at the society’s Park Street location starting Friday.

We moved through a back room in the old gray building in Eagle Square, the society’s former home, now used for offices and storage. We passed items and scenes from another era, passed filing cabinets and black-and-white photos and dusty hardcover books.

Balla placed a cylindrical canister on a table. The kind of container that might hold those coily, ready-to-pop-out fake snakes that pranksters use to scare people.

Then he put on a pair of white cotton gloves, uncovered the rusted cylinder and pulled out a dark, egg-shaped item that had been resting comfortably in its own nest of faded white cotton.

Balla cupped it in both hands, this smooth piece of history with carvings – a face, an ear of corn, a teepee, inverted arrows and more – on each side. It looked heavy, solid. It looked artsy, symbolic. It looked old. It looked like it had a story to tell, if only the face on it could talk.

“The interpretation of what it is has changed over the years,” said Balla, who’s worked at the society for 14 years. “We have unsolicited letters and comments. We have sponsored a scientific study. It means different things to different people at different times.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

A Concord encampment story went viral. Those living there say there’s nowhere else to go
‘He was so special and unique’ – Bow family remembers Eddie Berke, 31, after Maine boating accident
Eight-year-old killed in head-on crash on Route 106 in Loudon
‘They gave it everything they had’ – Concord fire crews extinguish blaze amid high heat
‘She was valiant’ – Friends and family to gather Saturday to celebrate Concord’s Hope Butterworth
Motorcyclist in critical condition after crash in Epsom

The Mystery Stone allows your mind to run wild. No, a baby dinosaur would not crawl free if you broke it open. It’s certainly not that old. And no, an advanced civilization from another planet is not part of the formula here. At least I don’t think so.

Here’s what we know: A group of workers, hired by a man named Seneca Ladd, found the stone in 1872 while digging a fence-post hole near Lake Winnipesaukee in Meredith.

Ladd, who was given credit for the find, displayed the stone in a glass case, part of a mini museum he had created in the lobby of the bank in which he worked.

Different writings have posted different dimensions, adding to the weirdness of this thing. Can’t anyone get it right? For our purposes, it’s about 4 inches long, 2.5 inches wide and weighs 1.2 pounds.

It’s made of quartzite. It has eight carvings on four sides, including an oval face that looks like a TV alien; an ear of corn and a circle with what looks like a deer’s leg and hoof, a crown-shaped figure and what might be a bee inside the circle; intersecting arrows, a crescent shape (moon?), dots and a spiral, and a teepee above a perfectly rounded circle.

The details, crisp and clear, are amazing.

The stone was bored from each end, made with what is consistent with different sized metal drill bits. You can look straight through, like looking through a straw.

Researchers have concluded that the Mystery Stone was shaped, carved and smoothed with tools and cutting technologies that first appeared in the 19th century.

What’s strange is the stone has been identified as an out-of-place artifact, which means someone – or something – moved it to our state.

Put it all together, and you’ve got a buzz that began as soon as the stone was found. The American Naturalist suggested the stone represented “a treaty between two tribes.”

Kenneth Roberts, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of historical fiction, wrote about it. Letter writers called it a thunderstone, a reference to an object that drops from the sky. Or maybe it originated from deep in our planet and somehow worked its way up near the surface.

Another theory speculated that the rock was some sort of magnetized navigation device, perhaps 1,000 years old. The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., sought to show the stone for its own exhibition.

None of these theories, of course, were true. But no one knows for sure what is true.

Ladd’s daughter took possession after her father’s death in 1892. Three years later, in a May 15, 1895, edition of the Manchester Union Leader, a headline read, “A Mysterious Stone. . . Interested the Curious and Puzzled Scientists.”

In 1927, Ladd’s daughter donated the stone to the New Hampshire Historical Institute, in that same snake-jumping canister, and it’s been on display at various times ever since. The last time was a period between 2007 and 2014.

You can see it through June 3. You can hear Balla talk about its background on Saturday at 2 p.m. Eventually the stone will return to the gray building in Eagle Square, behind those two locked glass doors, waiting for someone to figure out its origin.

I asked Balla what he thought. How old is it? What do the symbols represent? Who made it?

Balla chuckled. He wouldn’t touch it, other than with a pair of white gloves.

“I have no theory,” he said. “I don’t spend a lot of time with things I can’t explain. In this case, I will present the evidence and people can make their own judgments.”