Gravity redux

Gravity has returned to Emory.

The pink marble, tombstone-like gravity monument, which stood for almost four decades beside the former Physics Building prior to being placed in storage four years ago, has been relocated to a courtyard next to the new Math and Science Center.

“It’s a nostalgic and memorable symbol of the old Emory,” said Ray DuVarney, associate professor and chair of physics, who led the drive to have the monument returned to campus and is planning a rededication ceremony, possibly during Alumni Weekend this fall.

The five-foot high monument was given to Emory in 1962 by the Gravity Research Foundation of New Hampshire, along with a $5,000 grant to the physics department. Babson College founder Roger W. Babson, an engineer and inventor, started the Gravity Foundation in 1948 to stimulate research into the natural law.

The gravity monument was placed on the western side of the Physics building (now part of the Callaway Memorial Center) and soon became a quirky landmark. For nearly four decades, the monument was a familiar part of the Quad’s landscape, the site of casual meetings and practical jokes. In 1999, the monument was placed in storage after it was deemed to conflict aesthetically with an outdoor sculpture on loan to Emory.

Alumni, staff, and students began inquiring about the monument, which was being kept in a building at the Briarcliff Campus beside bales of hay, old tires, and concrete saws. After an article about the monument’s removal, “Defying Gravity,” ran in Emory Magazine in Autumn 2001, alumni wrote letters demanding that it be reinstated.

“Without frivolity, we are left with the self-important, self-congratulatory, self-admiring folks that eventually become so tedious and burdensome,” wrote John W. Stephenson ’70C. “Please don’t let it get too far away. The monument could continue to be a rendezvous place for that late-night kiss.”

Mark S. Abner ’86Ox-’88C, said without the gravity monument, Emory “is missing its greatest anchor. Gravity is eternal! Emory needs its Sphinx, its perfectly provocative pink pedestal posing its profound riddle. Emory clearly needs less seriousness and more gravity!”

After the decision was made to place the gravity monument in the Math and Science Center courtyard, Professor Emeritus Robert H. Rohrer Sr. ’39C—in whose name a marble bench was installed beside the gravity monument in 1999—requested that his bench be relocated as well.

“I was right there when the gravity monument came to Emory, and I’d be delighted to have it back by my bench,” said Rohrer, who was chair of the physics department in the early sixties.

Gravity continues to baffle scientists, says DuVarney, who still don’t know much about what it is and how it works. “Gravity is an enigma that’s wrapped up in time. They are intimately connected,” he says. “Understanding is a never-ending search.”

But DuVarney is reassured that the gravity monument is back in its rightful place beside the new home of the physics department, which moved to the Math and Science Center when it opened in the fall of 2002.

“I just think it’s appropriate for it to be here,” DuVarney says. “It’s something old right up against something new. The past gives perspective to the future.”–M.J.L.



© 2003 Emory University