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The Mystery of the Merchant Ball:

Investigating the Legendary Restless Gravestone of Marion

by
Nicholas Reiter and Lori Schillig

17th December, 2001



Merchant Photo 1 A most wondrous legend, based on mysterious but undeniable facts, haunts the extensive and historical cemetery in Marion, Ohio. Since the end of the 19th century, local residents have puzzled and marveled over a sizeable family grave marker that perpetually rotates, as if spun by a giant unseen hand. Like a loose antique bed-knob twirled idly on a Saturday afternoon by a bored child, the massive granite sphere marking the plot of one of Marion's early affluent families has rotated spontaneously over the decades. Local scholars, sextons, engineers and thinkers have confronted the mystery, however no earthly solutions have ever been forthcoming.

(click pic to enlarge)

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in November of 2001, we made an expedition to the modest sized mid-Ohio town to make our own attempt at clarifying this graveyard enigma. We were accompanied on our expedition by lifelong Marion resident and fellow mad scientist, Mr. Joe Caudill. What we discovered during our stay there may offer some tantalizing potential for a solution to the mystery. You, the reader, be the judge! First, however, let's examine the background of the tale...

In 1896, the family of Charles B. Merchant decided to erect a family marker in their plot at the Marion Cemetery that would be as distinguished as their family's contributions had been in the early industrial and railroad years of the city. Designers and contractors were employed to erect a monument consisting of a nearly 48" diameter black granite sphere resting in a socket atop a rectangular granite pedestal. The massive ball was placed onto its pedestal, and was then polished in place. Best estimates placed the total weight of the sphere at around 5200 pounds - over two and a half tons. The austere monument became the focus and pride of the eastern portion of the Marion Cemetery.

Merchant Photo 2 It is said that within two years, members of the Merchant family and the sextons noticed that the gigantic ball had shifted slightly, exposing the 8 inch diameter unpolished spot that was a result of the on-location polishing procedure. The "Bald Spot" began to creep more and more into view! The ball was on the move. The Merchant family, concerned that the contractors had slipped them a shoddy job, requested that the ball be raised with a crane, and reset. In 1898, this operation was performed, and the joint at the base was sealed with a bead of tar. However, as months passed, the ball began it's trek once again. Neither 5200 pounds of friction nor sealing tar could prevent the slow drift that was as unstoppable as a glacier.

(click pic to enlarge)

As the 20th century unfolded, generation after generation of Marion residents would continue to watch the Merchant Ball and mark it's continuing change of orientation. Months would creep by as the unpolished "bald spot" tracked incessantly around and around, generally depicting a horizontal N-S axis of rotation. Opinions differed as to the rate of movement. Most claimed it to be averaging several inches per month, and no firm conclusions have been offered as to whether the movement is continuous, or if it comes in discrete spurts. All who watched and wondered had their own explanation. Spirits? A curse? Perpetual creeping from expansion and contraction of the granite? Among the more level-headed of the local citizenry, the latter explanation seemed to be a common fall back position. Unlike many local legends across the country, we note that the Merchant Ball has avoided one common fate in particular - vandalism. We presume that it's immense size, and potential for instantly crushing flat any who might dare to dislodge it have dissuaded many would be daredevils. This aura of imposing size and accompanying fear of being flattened have also appeared to rule out another explanation for the spinning - vandals. No evidence, either from local observers or police docket, exists to say that the ball has been spun over the years by occasional midnight raids of a football team! (Which - we note - would roughly be the number of people required to budge the sphere!) It must also be mentioned that a similar, but slightly smaller granite ball monument lies in the same cemetery, near the western edge. However, no record or rumor exists that says that this other sphere has ever budged one iota. In 1929, the Merchant Ball achieved international fame with it's coverage by Ripley's Believe It or Not.

The thermal expansion and contraction theory carries some reasonable potential - except for one easy to observe fact...

Any engineer or mechanic who has worked with stone or abrasives knows how materials abrade when in a state of friction against each other. When dealing with dissimilar materials, the harder will always wear away the softer over time. When the materials in contact are the same, the wearing is shared equally. A bar of ceramic and a grinding wheel it is held against will sacrifice each other equally as they wear away! Granite pressed against granite to the tune of 5200 pounds is no exception. Even with an exceptionally slow creep or rotation, one would expect to see deep grooves or scratches that would give away every movement ever made by the ball.

The Merchant Ball bears the same pristine polish to this day as it did over 100 years ago. There are no grooves or scratches on it, except for the lone bald spot. Even the very slight lip around the edge of the bald spot, produced when the polishing was being carried out, is undamaged. In our minds, this can only mean one thing...when the Merchant Ball spins it is spinning without friction. This, in turn, implies two possibilities. Either the ball is rotating on an unknown cushioning layer, or it is levitating very slightly!

What We Found:

On November 18th we were escorted to the Marion Cemetery by our friend Joe Caudill. The feeling of the afternoon was one of late September, not mid - November. A warm haze softened the bright sunlight and sent many of the local folk into the yards and parks for a day of exuberance before harsh early winter decided it was time to arrive.

The Merchant Ball is a unique experience for the first time visitor. It commands a broad slope in the older portion of the extensive cemetery grounds. In a semi-circle around the Ball, a series of eleven small stone spheres are placed, as individual grave markers. The placement of these smaller balls invokes a miniature solar system, or perhaps an atom. Or, we mused, maybe it pays homage to a far more ancient human pastime - the stone circle...

With cameras whirring, we circled the Ball several times on foot before making a reverent approach. One is not inclined to walk right up and touch it - no, the roundness assures that one naturally wants to orbit the Ball for a while first! The impressions arise and one is prone to free associate..."how does it stay perched there?" "Will it roll off and chase me like Indiana Jones?" "Does this immense orb rise up in the moonlight, when no one is about to watch?"

Lori made her survey first, with intuition honed and dowsing rods prepared. Criss-crossing the area, Lori soon realized that there existed very little in the way of either psychic impressions, or dowsing rod reactions. It certainly did not seem as though the monument was placed on any spot of particularly noticeable "Earth energy" or a Ley line.

Merchant Photo 3 Some have speculated that the Ball sits on a weird geo-magnetic or Earth energy "vortex". Using both our Hall magnetometer and a compass, Nick paced off the area as well, finding only a very slight magnetic deviation (perhaps 20% distortion of the Earth's field) at a spot just west of the main monument. This corresponded to a point about halfway between the Ball and the next large pedestal type monument to the west.

(click pic to enlarge)

We also looked for unusual electrostatic charges or potentials on the granite surface of the Ball, but found nothing of any importance.

What we discovered next, however, may have profound implications, and was discovered quite by accident! Nick, who is prone to endless raccoon-like chattering about this and that, noticed that when he walked between the Ball and the pedestal monument to the west, (see photo) a distinct change in the timbre and tone of his voice could be heard. We all repeated the procedure of talking whilst walking toward the Ball from the west. The effect was uncanny, and noticeable by all the party.

The unusual acoustic effect appeared to occur only when one's voice is directed toward the Ball, and one stays in a line between the ball and the monument to the west.

The properties of the effect were similar to what one hears when one is inside that which in acoustic science is called an anechoic chamber. In an anechoic chamber, sound waves are absorbed so that the subtle echoes were normally hear - the ones that give our voices their specific qualities - are diminished. Sounds and voices become tinny and distorted to the ear. What did this mean for the Ball? Well, for starters, it gave us a valuable clue. The Ball is an efficient sound absorber or scatterer.

We next found that the Ball appears to also be a directional amplifier of sound vibrations as well. By using our ultra-high gain microphone, we walked toward the ball whilst listening to the amplified level of background noises through our instrument. We discovered that at a point a few inches away from the curved surface of the granite Ball, background noise amplitude increased noticeably! Furthermore, the level of this amplifying effect was greatest around the lower half of the ball, immediately above the lower pedestal surface.

The uncanny acoustic properties of the Merchant Ball would have been enough to set our theory wheels a-turning, but one more important clue presented itself to us. We observed that even though rain had not fallen in the area for several days, there was a distinct wetness all around the joint between the Ball and it's supporting granite pedestal socket. Could it be that even in dry weather (and possibly even in despite of the tar bead that once was there) a film of water exists in the granite to granite joint?

The clues began to congeal into a theory about the mysterious movement of the Ball, one that we discussed for the rest of the day, and even up to the present. As we bid adieu to Joe and Marion, the excitement continued to grow in our minds and hearts. This was really starting to make for a fascinating and plausible explanation for the Ball's movements. One that MIGHT just have amazing implications far beyond the scope of a cemetery legend.

Our Theory:

There did not seem to be any evidence of unusual electromagnetic or Ley Line energy at the Merchant Ball. There were no disturbing intuitive or psychic impressions picked up by Lori. But what there was was a very unique set of acoustic properties, along with a potentially meaningful layer of water in the granite joint. This is what WE believe has happened:

The Merchant Ball, because of it's immense size, mass, and density has a resonant acoustic frequency that is likely very low, far below the lowest frequency that humans can hear. We calculated that it's primary resonance (the frequency at which it would "ring" like a bell) is between 2 and 10 Hz. Because of its size and shape, it also is an effective absorber or scatterer of higher frequency sounds. This much we were able to prove empirically by our observations.

We believe that on occasion, the Ball will absorb sound energy from the environment, and begin to vibrate in a complex "mode". Many natural or man made sounds could pump the Ball with energy, like a laser is pumped with light or electricity. Trains, trucks, wind, thunder, Earth tremors, or rain all can produce sound frequencies that are far below hearing's threshold. (Sometimes with a great energy density!) These infrasonic waves, along with the higher frequency harmonics in the range of hearing induce multiple resonant states within the stone.

When the Ball begins to resonate, the virtual weight of the granite mass begins to oscillate as well, as the water film between the sphere and socket forms a perhaps micron thick cushioning or lubricating layer. Like a drinking glass sliding with zero friction across a table top on a glaze of water, the Ball lifts and whirls momentarily before the mode is lost, and the resonance ceases.

We also hold some hope that the mechanism behind the Merchant Ball might involve even more exotic sound / energy transformations that would be producing a temporary anti-gravity effect! For decades, even the brightest of engineers have wondered about how the mysterious Coral Castle in Florida was built by Edwin Leedskalnin in the 1940's. To the end of his days, Leedskalnin maintained he used a secret form of levitation to move his stone blocks into place under the dark cover of night. No evidence ever existed that this eccentric genius used any power tools, cranes, jacks, or heavy machinery. Speculative claims exist that local teenagers once spied on Leedskalnin, and saw him hum or whistle to the stone blocks, that then in turn became as weightless and buoyant as balloons. Would solving the mystery of the Merchant Ball help solve this other great enigma as well?

Conclusions:

Have we solved a mystery dating back over a century? We cannot say, in truth. Until some clever researcher can photograph or measure the Merchant Ball in motion, we may never have the mystery clarified. What we do offer is a set of clues and speculations that might prove useful in the final proof of the mechanism behind the wandering Ball. We offer an alternative theory, one that may open a few new doors in the fields of gravity and sound.

We would like to thank Joe Caudill for his guidance and help, and Haunted Ohio author Chris Woodyard for being the first to bring the legend of the Merchant Ball to our attention several years ago.

Years and decades pass. Under the lonesome light of a wan late summer moon, a distant peal of thunder invokes a quick shuddering groan from the black mass of the Merchant Ball. An errant squirrel, the event's only witness, chitters and runs at the sound. Dawn arrives, and the tell-tale spot on the Ball is now nearer to the zenith. A new season of rumors, a new season of legend, begins.

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