Headmaster’s Thoughts July 2019

“Many have no happier moments that those they pass in solitude, abandoned to their own imagination.” –Dr. Samuel Johnson.

I first noticed the significance of location when we lived in North Salem, in Northern Westchester. We lived on Route 121, and, on the same road, about a mile away, was the famous “Balanced Rock.” This huge boulder is very close to the road. So close, in fact, that you can read the large sign describing it from your car while traveling on Route 121. Some people claim that it is a “dolmen.” These are huge tombs over burial grounds and they are traditionally supported by three or more uprights. The “Balanced Rock” is made of granite and weighs about 175 tons, supported by 5 small upright rocks. Obviously a “dolmen.”

Apparently, “dolmen” are of Viking origin and are burial markers. Originally, the Vikings put their dead onto one of their longboats and then set the whole thing afire so that it sailed, gloriously burning into the seas. Unfortunately, they soon found out, this practice depletes their navy of their best boats. So, practical as they were, instead of depleting their supply of ships, they buried their deceased in a seated position under the ground, and then marked the site of their mass graves with a “dolman.” These tombs markers are found in various places in Western Europe, always near, and here we come to their crux of this essay, a major highway. And a car park! And (drum roll please!) a nearby cafeteria.

To get back to where we used to live, it seems quite clear to me that the Vikings brought this huge rock from the Upper Hudson Valley to North Salem. They must have come down Federal Highway 84, across on Highway 684, and then turned off at Exit 6A onto Route 121. Obviously! The place is easily accessed, there is the “Balanced Rock” parking space for visiting Vikings, and a nearby “Dunkin” (then known by its previous name of Dunkin’ Donuts) for coffee and sustenance for relatives of the bereaved.

With this discovery in mind, I began to look into the locations of all the great earthworks and “Henges” around the world. And, indeed, they are all near major highways, all have parking nearby, and all have a fast food store in the vicinity. Indeed, most of them have a place to park for large recreational vehicles. Clearly beneficial for those who came to a distance to respect their deceased ancestors. Just park the Winnebago!

Look at Stonehenge in England! You can get there on the A 130 via the roundabout turnoff for Stonehenge. The A130 is a major road, nearby is the Stonehenge carpark, and (I know you would appreciate this) a fast food snack bar and gift shop. The icing on the cake for the Druids, in picking this location, is that there is a regular tourist bus every half hour from Bath. So convenient! Hence Salisbury Plain was where they erected their Henge Temple to the Sun, and beneath which they buried their Druid dead, who incidentally, are traditionally buried in the kneeling position.

This position is repeated throughout the world. From Tulum in Mexico to the “Kummakivi” near Valtola in Finland (another even larger “Balanced Rock”), these ancient temples and burial grounds are all situated on major highways, have regular tourist buses to them, and a gift store, and snack shop nearby. Every one! I rest my case. Incidentally, the Incas of Tulum buried their dead in an inverted position because they revered feet. Not many people know that.

I am reminded of the words of the powerful Egyptian Pharaoh, Rames the Great, who ordered that the Temple of Abu Simbel be built near the dual carriageway from Cairo. “Let them come,” he said, “and eat hummus from the hummus shop and drive their coaches to the site so that they know who is buried here, and stay at the Super Eight.” I think that explains it all. Interestingly, the Ancient Egyptians buried their dead crouching in a feline position, often with cats. You might not have been aware of that.


Ronald P. Stewart


York Prep School