Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Lost Rocks The Dare Stones And The Unsolved Mystery Of Sir Walter Raleigh's Lost Colony by David La Vere

Many years ago when I was a little girl I used to watch repeats of an old television show about unsolved mysteries called In Search Of... hosted by Star Trek's Mr. Spock, Leonard Nimoy. There was one episode I particularly remembered, it concerned the Lost Colony of Roanoke, and mentioned the discovery of inscribed stones that might hold the key to solving the mystery. From that moment on, in those days before the Internet, anytime I found a book or tv program about the Lost Colony I hoped to learn more about the stones, but I never did. Thus I was very happily surprised to discover a book all about these elusive stones, known as The Dare Stones.

It all began in 1937, the 350th anniversary of The Lost Colony, when a Mr. Hammond and his wife, a retired couple from California touring the rural south, pulled their car onto the shoulder of a North Carolina highway to stretch their legs and look for hickory nuts. While it isn't recorded whether the Hammonds found any nuts or not, they found something most intriguing--a 21 pound rock, most likely a ship's ballast stone, of veined quartzite, inscribed with several cramped almost indecipherable lines of Elizabethan English. Mr Hammond put his curious find in the car and later took it to Atlanta's Emory University for examination.

Among the many professors and scientists to examine the curious artifact was one Haywood Pearce Jr. who would go on to make authenticating the stone and the story it told his life's quest, for in these chiseled words lay the solution to one of America's oldest unsolved mysteries--the fate of the Lost Colonists of Roanoke and Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America.

The stone claimed to be a message from Eleanor Dare, to her father, the Governor of Virginia, John White, relating a tragic tale of sickness and slaughter. Among the seventeen dead, said to be buried on a nearby hill with another stone inscribed with all their names to mark their grave, were Eleanor's husband and child, Ananias and Virginia Dare, murdered by savage Indians in 1591.

Professor Pearce, who was also affiliated with Brenau College, which would eventually purchase the stone, and where his father, Haywood Pearce Sr., was president, became obsessed with finding the second stone, the grave marker inscribed with the seventeen dead colonists' names, and their hilltop resting place and remains. This was widely publicized and, perhaps unwisely, Pearce offered a reward.

Enter Bill Eberhardt, a ne'er do well country bumpkin and sometime stonecutter with only three years of education to his name. He claimed not only to have found the much sought after second stone but thirteen more. After making a lucrative deal with the Pearces, Mr. Eberhardt's run of good look continued until Brenau College was the proud possessor of no less than 48 Dare Stones.

So intent were the Pearces on solving the mystery that they ignored several rather obvious red flags. Many of the names mentioned on the stones did not appear on the roster of colonists, and the language and writing were not as obviously Elizabethan as the first stone. Mr. Eberhardt ignored the Pearces' injunction that he let them examine any further finds in situ and brought the stones directly to them instead. And they were all found in chronological order, like a novel written in stone which told the tale of more deaths, and Eleanor and the ever dwindling number of survivors' travels through South Carolina before finally settling with a tribe of what were probably Cherokee Indians in Georgia. Eleanor married an Indian Chief referred to on the stones as a King, gave birth to a daughter she named Agnes, whom she begged her father in another stone missive, to bring to England, before she finally died in a cave in 1599.

Eventually proof came to light that Eberhardt had more than likely forged all the stones he had found. He retaliated by trying to blackmail the Pearces--if they did not pay him $200 he threatened to tell the world that they were behind the fraud. But Haywood Pearce Jr. though devastated and embarrassed at having been made a fool of, having squandered thousands of dollars and hours on this fool's quest, and of wanting to believe so much that he had lost his scholarly and scientific skepticism and integrity, and despite his PhD and college degrees had been duped by a country bumpkin charlatan, was an honorable man, and rather than try to sweep the whole humiliating episode under the carpet, he revealed the truth to the world.

Though the tantalizing possibility remained that the first stone, which Eberhardt had no involvement with, might be genuine, the science of the day was neither able to prove or disprove its authenticity, the Dare Stones were immediately discredited and quickly sank as swiftly as if they had been thrown into the sea. They became an embarrassment and most involved were eager to distance themselves from them, put the story behind them, and drift into quiet obscurity.

Mr. La Vere has written a thoroughly engaging account of this modern-day mystery and hoax interwoven with the tale of The Lost Colonists. He presents the known facts about The Dare Stones without making any attempt to persuade or dissuade the readers, setting down the evidence and letting the reader decide what to believe. I really enjoyed reading this book and hated to put it down even when my eyes gave out at 2:00 a.m. and finished it as soon as I got up and had my wake-me-up cup of Swiss Miss caffeine-laced hot chocolate.

I hope someday some team of scientists or investigators will, with open minds, sweep the obviously fraudulent stones created by Bill Eberhardt aside, like the unnecessary clutter they are, and take a fresh look at that first tantalizing find and perhaps discover if it does indeed hold the key to solving this centuries old mystery.


CelticLady said...

I always liked watching In Search of also...such interesting shows...

librarypat said...

I remember "In Search Of.." and enjoyed it. The Lost Colony has intrigued me for years. It is not suprising that the colonists vanished but hope is always there that some trace of them will show up one day.