Even boulders need TLC

Friday, October 2, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

I began my day Thursday writing about a boulder, one of the last things on earth you'd expect to disappear.

Later in the afternoon, when I went to check on the big rock for this column, it was gone.

Here's my story:

A longtime Enquirer editor and news hound, Denny Doherty, tipped me to this boulder in a demolished city garden off Fort Washington Way.

The boulder, I found out, was headed for the scrap heap. Nobody wanted it, said Don Gindling, the project's supervising engineer. The city passed on it. The highway's contractor didn't even want to smash it for gravel.

I was interested in the boulder because it was inscribed with names. I thought I'd write about who owned the boulder and how it had come to this sorry end. I'd check with the names. And, if space permitted, I'd make a couple pithy comments about the gardens I'd like to see when the Fort Washington Way project is completed.

I found the boulder amid piles of construction debris at Third and Elm, near the demolished garden. A pretty little thing, the garden greeted drivers exiting the highway, giving them a glimpse of color amid all the downtown concrete.

The boulder is light gray granite with black flecks, stands 21 inches tall and measures a squat 35 by 37 inches. Might be 500 million years old, I figured, rolling up my tape measure. And it certainly weighs a ton. My scrawny frame couldn't even budge it.

Across the face of the boulder was the following inscription, cut deep into the rock: Donated by: General Electric Co., Phyllis & John Smale, Cincinnati Bell Inc. That's what caught my attention.

Back at the office, I found out that the boulder had been sitting in this small garden next to the Third Street ramp since 1988. Donations for the garden were collected for the city's bicentennial celebration. The names on the rock were especially generous donors, and were honored with a boulder placed amid day lilies and daffodils.

Now the garden is gone. Bulldozed and flattened. Only the boulder remained, amid bits of concrete, broken wine bottles and weedy piles of gravel, sand and mud. Or at least it was there until Thursday afternoon.

I called the names on the rock, the city and the people running the Fort Washington Way project. I wanted to know what would become of it, or whether just anyone could perhaps, well, adopt a boulder. "The park board owns the rock," John Deatrick told me. He's the Fort Washington Way project engineer.

"We are trying to be sensitive with it," he added.

John Deatrick knows the boulder carries lots of political weight. GE and Cincinnati Bell are Queen City icons. John Smale used to run Procter & Gamble. His wife, Phyllis, helped round up the money to fund the Cincinnati City Gardens project that bankrolled the flower plantings on Fort Washington Way.

"We just don't want to throw that boulder out with the trash," the engineer said. "I guess we'll have to find a place to store it."

My column was taking shape. I had a bona fide snafu involving the rich and powerful, bureaucracy run amok, colorful details. But when I went to check on the rock for a photo, it was gone.

A woman working at the construction site told me she saw some Cincinnati Bell men drive up in a truck, grab the boulder and rumble off.

Seems after I called the phone company for a comment, Bell spokesman Wayne Buckhout got busy. He alerted his forces that a rock "with our company's name on it was sitting all forlorn. We sent out a crew of guys who know how to move rocks."

They put it in storage. Wayne Buckhout says Bell wants to place the boulder in a small park behind the company's Seventh Street building.

At this point, I have not found anyone else who wants to lay claim to the boulder. So maybe later this month, you can check it out.

The story of the lonely boulder has a two-part ending. New home in a park. New problem for the Fort Washington Way construction crew.

"Geesh," John Deatrick worried to me. "Now we're going to have to look at every boulder out there to see if it has a name on it."

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.