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Houghton Ball

09/02/04 12:00AM By Joe Citro
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(Host) Today Commentator Joe Citro tells listeners of a Mysterious Sphere located in Connecticut.

(Citro) The Grove Street Cemetery in Putnam, Connecticut contains one of New England's most baffling anomalies. Today, however, it's generally overlooked and mostly forgotten.

On top of a six-foot granite pillar there's solid granite sphere about three feet in diameter. The ball weighs about four thousand pounds. This upside down exclamation point marks the Houghton family plot. What's weird - and what seems impossible -- is that the two-ton stone sphere. . . is rotating.

Why? What could move an object that size when gravity should lock it firmly in place?

This puzzling phenomenon came to the public's attention when someone reported vandalism in the graveyard. It appeared as if a rifle bullet had struck the polished sphere, knocking a circular chip out of its side.

Closer examination revealed the "chip" was actually an unpolished circle that normally would rest atop the supporting pedestal. If the ball were seated properly, it would be invisible.

In short, the ball had indisputably moved.

This, of course, let vandals were off the hook; how could they manipulate a 2-ton ball?

Certainly it could have revolved unnoticed hundreds of times in the four decades it had stood there. However, all bewildered observers could determine for sure was that between 1930 and 1970 the sphere had rotated a good 2 an a half feet. But how? What could turn this miniature earth?

In 1971 four members of David Philips's folklore class at Connecticut State University decided to get to the bottom of things. Soon theories - other than supernatural - started pouring in: maybe rotation was propelled by the stone's expansion and contraction in the sun's heat? Maybe wind turned it? maybe water trickled in, formed ice under the ball, lifted it slightly, jogging it along? maybe the earth's magnetic fields generated an irresistible attraction?

A graduate student in physics from Yale was consulted. He reasoned that the ball's inertia compelled it to stay at rest, while the rotation of the earth actually turned the pedestal underneath the ball.

Well, maybe.

But this theory contradicts the "Law of a left-hand universe." In the northern hemisphere objects should turn counterclockwise. The Houghton ball is moving the other way.

Most people dismiss the whole phenomenon as simple seismic shenanigans: the result of vibrations from heavy trucks, earth tremors, or construction equipment.

But so far, no explanation precisely fits. It's one mystery that the sphere moves; another that it moves clockwise.

So what's the answer? Maybe it's supernatural, after all.

This is Joe Citro.

Novelist Joe Citro is a native Vermonter. He lives in Burlington.

Copywright 2004 Joseph A. Citro
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