Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tabern Rock FOUND

This is a blog about 20 years in the making. It involves a possibly ancient artifact that has sat along the Manumuskin River as the centuries marched stoically by. There have been expeditions and adventures and many old timers and local legends were interviewed for the tale you are about to read. I have been seeking this object for twenty years and on 3/24/08, with my family (at a Geocache of all places) I believe it has been found.

Let’s go back. Twenty years ago I was in the employment of one of the nicest, kindest Mad Scientists you could hope to meet, one Mr. Champion Cox. I assembled control panels, I read blueprints, drilled holes, placing chip sets & buttons and such and wired everything back together so that, eventually, there was a working piece of equipment that could be utilized for industry. The time I spent with Mr. Cox was irreplaceable. He came into my life when I was in need of such a figure; he was (and is) an amazing sort of man, incredibly intelligent and very encouraging to a barely collegiate Evil Chicken. One of the things we did in between switching between listening to WMMR (me) and the local country station (him) was talk. We talked about everything; psychology (my chosen major @ the time), history, writing, books, music, movies, women, business, publishing magazines, string theory, local legends, sailing & sail boats, and making movies; we never ran out of topics; he was just that sort of man.

“So, have you ever heard of dolmens?” He asked me one day. I was screwing an actuator arm into a sheet of 1/8th thick metal.

“A what?” I answered.

“A dolmen – it’s a Breton word that means stone table.”

“Stone table?” I asked. “What do you mean?”

Mr. Cox then went on to tell me that dolmens were rock structures erected by Celtic explorers and that they pepper the New England and Eastern seaboard. He told me about a book by Barry Fell called, “America B.C.” (http://www.amazon.com/America-B-C-Ancient-Settlers-World/dp/0671679740/ref=pd_sim_b_img_3) and how it may have been more than possible for other civilizations and explorers to journey to the Americas.

“You’re kidding me.” I said.

“We have this assumption that early men were a group of idiots.” He said. “I don’t buy it. Think about it – the Phoenicians were sailors; they knew that the world was round – all they had to do was look to the stars.” He would know; he had told me about his tales of waking up while sleeping on the deck of his sailboat with ice caked onto his beard and facing full-blown headwinds with passengers who thought sailing was for wimps. They thought differently once they were back on dry land.

“So what do these dolmens look like?”

“They look like big rocks on legs – which are called ‘peg stones’.” He said. “The difference is that there is Celtic writing on the south west corner of the stone.”

“Southwest corner?”

“Yes. It was their way of identifying things.”

Mr. Cox was never prone to lackadaisical pandering. He was not kidding me. He went on to tell me stories of such a rock that existed nearby. A rock that was old – so old in fact that William Penn used the rock as marker when he was surveying the South Jersey area. He said that the rock itself had a flat top to it and rested alongside the Manumuskin River. “It could be a Dolmen.”

“How would they transport a rock like that?” I asked.

“The topography of the river was different a thousand years ago; but as a marker and a calendar it only makes sense. You float your Dolmen down stream, find an appropriate position with the sun – perhaps on a rise or hill top, and set the marker.”

“So where would it be?”

“Follow the Manumuskin. You’ll find it there on a bluff.”

How about that?

I took this information to my immediate group of reprobates that I called (and still for that matter call) my friends. We have been acquaintances for years and have shared many an odd adventure together – this seemed as good a reason as any to wander into the woods.

One such gentleman who will for our intents and purposes be called, “Dirty Bird” and I paid a visit to one of the only local places that, at the time, had quadrangle topographical maps – the Red Lion Gas Station. There was a colorful old man who questioned us as to why we wanted such a map. We spilled the beans.

“A Rock in the woods.” He said. “You two are looking for a rock in the woods.” The silence between us was palpable. Yeah, it was odd. There we were two college kids looking for some crazy stone in the pines of South Jersey.

“Tabern Rock!” he exclaimed. “You’re looking for Tabern Rock.”

“What?” we asked, “Really?”

“Some call it Table Rock ‘cause it’s flat on top. Willie Penn used it as a marker when he surveyed the area.” This gentleman was now the second person who spoke of William Penn surveying the area and using the stone as a marker. Was this a coincidence and how could you possibly know if it was? We bought our Topo-map and made plans for an expedition off of Union Road in Millville, NJ. We enlisted the expertise of one “Big Nasty Brain”, one “Eagle Fan” and one who does not have a code name – let’s just call him, “Steve”.

Yeah, Steve works.

One Saturday we started our expedition off of Union Road. We searched for hours but to no avail. We pushed on towards any place that may be close to the Manumuskin or support the elevation of a bluff for a Dolmen. No luck. We searched and searched; we were tired and FULL of ticks. Of our expedition I recall all of us tuckered out, tired and stripped to our underwear by the roadside picking ticks off of places that just shouldn’t have ticks on them. The rock was nowhere in sight.

I knew it was there – it had to be.

Mr. Cox and I made an expedition too. We jumped through local property owner’s hoops but to no avail. We even had shovels in hand just in case we had to dig in one of the corners to confirm that there was Celtic writing on the Southwest corner. We were close – each of us knew it. Someone told us about a “Table Rock” that used to be a partying spot for local kids. This piqued our interest but after talking with the landowners we knew that it was not as credible as we had hoped. I was beginning to think that someone had stumbled across it and smashed it just because it was there. I had thoughts of someone leading us to a pile of rubble, pointing and saying, “There it is.”

Time moved on as time does. Mr. Cox retired to South Carolina with his family, his sailboat and his writing but the possibility that something old, something ancient still existed in the woods of South Jersey intrigued me. Hey, who could blame me? The question continued to come up at the longest running poker game in South Jersey (which includes each member of the fruitless expedition to the woods off of Union Road).

“Remember that rock we were looking for?” I would hear from time to time.

Yes. I remember.

Then the boys from Weird N.J. published this story; http://www.weirdnj.com/stories/_ancient03.asp and it fired my imagination. THAT is a dolmen and I knew in the back of my twisted little mind that there was another similar rock formation that stood on the banks of the Manumuskin right here in South Jersey. I was sure that it was there but it was hidden – forgotten by time.

Enter the world of Geocaching.

“What’s that - geocaching?” you may ask. I direct you, therefore, Gentle Reader to “Evil Chicken’s Favorite Spots” located just to the left. Long story short, click it – you won’t be disappointed.

A Geocacher by the name of “P-Pop” (it’s a handle, a pseudonym – you know, like ‘Evil Chicken’) posted a cache back in January of this year that leads directly to Tabern Rock. We, the EC-5 (my family) have been casually cruising towards our 900th find. It ‘s not about the numbers for us it’s truly about the journey but when Mother Hen began reading the cache description from her PDA I began to get chills. Here is the link to P-Pop’s page: http://www.geocaching.com/seek/cache_details.aspx?guid=7fb87449-1387-4026-8a4d-403d9f919b8c.

This was it. I knew it. It was even in the same quadrangle that Mr. Cox, Dirty Bird and I narrowed it down to. The stone was about to be found, all that stood in our way was a 0.8 hike to ground zero; no big.

So is it there? Is it as ancient as you thought it was? Does the thing even exist after all these years?

Yes, no, and yes.

It is there. P-Pop is right. Yes – it is there!

Tabern Rock exists. It is not the ancient marker placed by Celts as Mr. Cox and I initially suspected it to be; instead, I believe, a missionary placed it there. Instead of a flat rock on ‘peg stones’ there is a solitary stone standing with a flat stone lying adjacent to the monolith. If I were a betting man (which for the record, I am) I’d say that this other stone lying nearby the monolith was actually the “podium” where the Reverend John Brainerd preached the gospel to the Lenape Indians. The podium was flat – flat like a table. This was the area where Pastor John Brainerd preached. This was the Tabernacle in the woods – dare I say Tabernacle Rock from which he preached. This Tabern Rock is the site where my mind has wandered to over the past twenty years; the site that Mr. Cox and the crusty guy from the Red Lion Gas Station had theorized so long ago.

Tabern Rock is found.

As a side note, Mother Hen saw it first. “There’s your rock.” She said. She was wrapped up in black thorns at the time that constricted her every move. She was very excited that I was so excited. Twenty years – I kid you not. I will be getting in contact with Mr. Cox to relay the news, as well as the other gentlemen who have shared this little corner of insanity with me over the span of the fullness of time.

Once we got home Mother Hen partook in the voodoo that she do so well. Here are some great sites that reference the area, the Lenape and honorable Reverend John Brainerd; http://www.usgennet.org/usa/nj/state/Lenape.htm,
http://www.usgennet.org/usa/nj/state/Brainerd.htm, And... http://www.berlinonline.com/berlin_cemetery.htm

Tabern Rock is FOUND and thanks to Mother Hen’s research it has been standing there by the Manumuskin for the last 261 years (give or take).

Thank you P-Pop; thank you. You’ve brought closure to a twenty-year old mystery in my life.



Anonymous said...

Nice story, EC. It's always nice to clear mysteries, isn't it?

mommanator said...

well written story, glad you finally found your rock! teehee
it's hard to believe you have been searching for it for 20 years or so, they can't say you give up on something can they!

Evil Chicken said...

Batona: Yes, it is - and this is one that goes back a long way for yours truly. I’m still attempting to get in contact with Mr. Cox. I can’t wait to head out there with him.

Mommanator: Finding the rock never would have happened if not for P-Pop and the world of Geocaching. Now here’s another little twist to the tale… I live within 6 miles of where it rests and I have for the last seven years.

I need to get out more.

Tammy said...

Wow, this is a great story. My dad, P-Pop first told me about this stone about a year ago and I was fascinated by the whole story. I did do some investigating on the internet and now have more to read thanks to your links. I haven't been to the stone yet since I'm in NC, but hope to get there after this tick season! I got P-Pop hooked on caching a couple of years ago and I'm glad I did. He really has some cool spots to take us to.

Evil Chicken said...

P-pop has some great caches! This one really hit home for yours truly.

Thanks for stopping by!