Volume 77
Number 3

Turning Point

12 Hours on Unit 21

Outreach in Action

War of the Winds

A Sense of Place

Enigma: Defying Gravity

Emory University

Association of Emory Alumni

Current News and Events

Emory Report



Sports Updates





















































THE ONCE PROUD gravity monument, a campus curiosity since it was placed on the western side of the Physics Building in 1963, now rests in a storage building at the Briarcliff Campus beside bales of hay, old tires, and concrete saws.

Rough-cut from Etowah Cherokee pink marble, the five-foot high monument was given to Emory in 1962 by the Gravity Research Foundation of New Hampshire. The inscription states that the monument’s purpose is “to remind students of the blessings forthcoming when science determines what gravity is, how it works, and how it may be controlled.”

The monument was accompanied by a $5,000 grant to Emory’s physics department and soon became a quirky landmark. But two years ago, when Isamu Noguchi’s granite sculpture Beginnings was loaned to the Carlos Museum and installed as part of an outdoor sculpture program on the Quadrangle, the gravity monument–deemed at odds with Noguchi’s aesthetic theme–was moved to storage.

Faculty, alumni, and students started to miss the “pink tombstone” out in front of the old Physics Building (now part of the Callaway Memorial Center). They began making inquiries about where it had gone and when it would be returned.

“People have fond memories of its wackiness, its whimsical, quixotic nature,” says University Secretary Gary S. Hauk. “There were two reasons for the monument’s removal: the visual clash with the Noguchi sculpture and the question whether it was suitable for a major research university to have something that frivolous at the heart of its campus.”

Babson College founder Roger W. Babson started the Gravity Foundation in 1948 to stimulate research into the confounding natural law. Babson, a financial consultant, writer, and philanthropist, often was ridiculed for his far-out scientific ideas, such as building gravitational shields under aircraft to protect them from crashing. (A 1962 plane crash in Paris that killed more than one hundred Atlantans motivated Babson’s gift to Emory.) Similar monuments were erected at several other colleges.

Dean of Alumni Judson C. Ward Jr., then dean of faculties, was offered the monument by the foundation and accepted. “I’m just amazed that this thing has kept people’s interest through the years,” Ward says.

For nearly four decades, the monument was a familiar part of the Quad’s landscape. In the fall of 1992, the subject of Emory Magazine’s very first Enigma–a space devoted to quirky or unexplained features of the University–was the gravity monument, “one of the most obscure icons on campus.”

“When it was removed, we thought it would be put back there or somewhere else,” says Raymond C. Duvarney, chair of the Physics Department and of the Campus Development Committee.

Professor Emeritus Robert H. Rohrer Sr. ’39C would certainly like to see the monument returned. In 1999, a marble bench was installed in his name beside the gravity monument outside the Physics Building, where Rohrer attended classes as a student and taught engineering and physics for fifty-five years.

“I was right there when the gravity monument came to Emory, and I’d be delighted to have it back by my bench,” says Rohrer, who was chair of the physics department in the early sixties and believes they used the foundation’s $5,000 gift to purchase lab equipment. “We had a lot of fun with that monument. When we first put it in, the students tied it down with ropes and stakes so it wouldn’t ‘float away.’ ”

Rohrer doesn’t believe the monument’s mission is outdated in the least. “What gravity is and how it operates is a well-respected topic in physics these days,” he says. “It’s the most mysterious force in nature.”

Although physics classes are now held in the dental school, with research and faculty offices in the Rollins Research Center, they will soon move to the new Science 2000 building, a possible site for the monument’s relocation, says Duvarney.

“Everyone needs some constancy in life,” he says. “Here’s a constant–gravity. And now, gravity has disappeared.”–M.J.L.



© 2001 Emory University