- The Scripture Rocks: Why Douglas Stahlman Carved His Legacy in Stone by Brian L. Fritz and Kenneth Burkett
This is an unusual book about the activities of an unusual man. The authors had a threefold purpose in writing this monograph. One was to present an [End Page 269] accurate biography of Douglas Stahlman and his activities. A second was to explain why Stahlman carved his legacy in stone. A third was to stimulate others to do further research. Stahlman matters to residents of the Brookville area and possibly to others because he chiseled Bible verses in over 500 rocks that surround the town. According to the authors, Stahlman’s story has become a part of “local lore and history” (4). The book is divided into three parts. One emphasizes Stahlman’s life. The second describes the archaeo-logical survey of the area around the rocks. The third reproduces Stahlman’s manuscript that he entitled “The Dedicated Rocks.”
Douglas Melvin Stahlman was born on August 17, 1861, on a farm five miles from Brookville, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania. His father was of German descent; his mother probably was Scots-Irish. He was their fifth child. During Stahlman’s adolescence, he worked on the family farm and later attended a progressive business college in Erie. Subsequently, he visited Atlanta, Georgia, and Nashville, Tennessee. After marrying Marion Estelle Alsobrook, he and his bride moved to Valparaiso, Indiana. There he attended Northern Indiana Normal School.
While in Valparaiso, Stahlman became a follower of John Alexander Dowie, a faith healer who claimed that he was Elijah, the prophet. Dowie declared that “he had come to proclaim a theocracy . . . government of God, by God, and for God” (19). Several of Stahlman’s relatives also were involved in this group.
When Stahlman’s wife and second child became ill, he refused all medical treatment for them, believing faith would help her recover. Dowie’s people held a prayer vigil. Following Mrs. Stahlman’s death, her brother and a friend allegedly beat Stahlman, took custody of his children, and declared him insane. Civil authorities confined him to the “insane ward in the county jail” (24). His confinement might have saved him from harm at the hands of a mob. In time, Stahlman’s mother secured his release and brought him back to Pennsylvania. “The death of his wife and the loss of his sons continued to haunt him for years to follow” (34).
After traveling to Maine, Massachusetts, and New York, associating with Dowieites along the way, Stahlman returned to Brookville. “According to his own account, he prayed for guidance . . ., and was spiritually drawn to a place in the woods” (38). He wrote that he found there a large rock on which he prayed 150 times during 1907 and 1908. In March 1909 he dedicated it as Altar Rock. On the following Sunday, he conducted a worship service on the rock at which he counted seventy people. A few years later, he built a frame, walls, and a roof. The structure became his home. [End Page 270]
Between 1909 and 1913 Stahlman located and named over five hundred rocks, on four more of which he built chapels where he held services. He wrote that he dedicated them in much the same way that a congregation consecrates a new building. He noted that the name of each rock, such as “Holiness, Love, and Backsliders,” came to him through a series of revelations from God. In the fall of 1911 a Brookville resident suggested that he inscribe the rocks. Stahlman and sometimes his friends removed the earth and other debris around the rocks. Once the area was cleared, Stahlman used chisels to carve into the rock its name, verses of scripture, and the verses’ locations in the Bible. A few inscriptions refer to his personal life, including a warning of death to Mrs. James Alsobrook (61), whom he accused of stealing his children. On another he complained that, despite God’s call, the stubbornness...