Tucked humbly to one side of what is now the Callaway
Center, for 37 years it rested, a 5-foot-high block of Etowah Cherokee
pink marble. Then it was gone, displaced for five smaller blocks
of granite. Now it’s returned.
“It” is the Gravity Monument, one of Emory’s more
eclectic pieces of campus lore, which has a new home in the courtyard
adjacent to the Math & Science Center. The piece had been in
storage since 1999, when it was removed from its previous home just
off the Quadrangle to make room for the Isamu Noguchi outdoor sculpture
“Beginnings,” loaned to Emory from 1999–01.
The Gravity Monument carries with it an interesting history and—while
perhaps not “controversial”—is held in wildly
varying degrees of esteem by University faculty, administrators
and alumni. Some remember it fondly; others view it as an embarrassment.
Some explanation is in order.
Donated to the University in 1962 by the New Hampshire-based Gravity
Research Foundation, the Gravity Monument’s stated purpose,
inscribed on its face beneath a set of scales, is “to remind
students of the blessings forthcoming when science determines what
gravity is, how it works, and how it may be controlled.”
If that sentiment sounds a bit anachronistic, there is good reason.
The Gravity Research Foundation was founded in 1948 by Roger Babson
(also founder of Babson College, an undergradate and graduate-level
business school just outside Boston). For all his success as an
engineer, entrepreneur, writer and philanthropist, Babson drew no
small amount of ridicule for his devotion to furthering research
Babson believed that, once properly understood, gravity could be
harnessed and used to propel vehicles through perpetual motion instead
of a fuel-consuming engine; he even envisioned spacecraft that turned
the force of gravity against itself to effortlessly break free from
the earth’s gravitational pull (indeed, the monument was donated
to Emory in sympathy for the 1962 Paris plane crash that killed
more than 100 Atlantans).
Such ideas seem the stuff of science fiction, and this is why some
in the Emory community consider the monument a testament to pseudo-
or even antiscience, unworthy of display at a top-tier research
“Those who like it seem to find it charming and eccentric;
those who dislike it
find it naive and irrational,” said President Bill Chace.
“To me it’s a nostalgic and memorable symbol of the
old Emory,” said Ray DuVarney, associate professor and chair
of physics. DuVarney chaired the University Senate’s Campus
Development Committee when the monument was displaced in 1999 and
strongly advocated its reinstallation at its new home.
DuVarney points out that, despite the aspirations of its founder,
the Gravity Research Foundation is viewed as a legitimate scientific
institution. It hands out awards each year for the best essays on
“gravity research,” and past winners have included top
physicists at major research universities— names like Ron
Adler and Stephen Hawking.
DuVarney also said that gravity remains a valid field of inquiry—scientists
still do not understand how it operates. “People say [in response
to the monument’s inscription], ‘You can’t control
gravity,’” DuVarney said. “How do you know that
if we still don’t understand what gravity is?”
The monument so enchanted Robert Rohrer, 1939 graduate of Emory
College and longtime professor and chair of physics, that he specifically
requested a marble bench named in his honor be installed next to
“I was right there when the Gravity Monument came to Emory,
and I’d be delighted to have it back by my bench,” Rohrer
told Emory Magazine in 2001.
Rohrer’s bench will be moved to the Gravity Monument’s
new location at the Math & Science Center, said DuVarney, who
also plans to organize a “rededication ceremony” for
both the bench and the monument, possibly during Alumni Weekend
For his part, even though he doesn’t buy into the claims of
pseudoscience put forth by the monument’s detractors, DuVarney
feels people should perhaps not take it too
“I’m thinking,” he said, “about calling
[the rededication ceremony] ‘Gravity and Levity.’”