All of us who grew up in southwest Virginia were at one time or another taken to Natural Bridge on school field trips. In case you haven’t been there, it’s a gigantic granite bridge that was left intact as a stream eroded the limestone around it over many thousands of years. It is a priceless geologic wonder that we have been ruining since we paved Route 11 over it back in the early 1900s.
Thirty years ago, when a rock fell off it due to the decades of truck traffic, it hit a tourist on the head and killed him (or her, I can’t remember but you can google it). In response, we relocated Route 11 so it would not continue to ruin this national treasure. I’m kidding! Ha-ha! That would cost too much! Naw, we lined the underside of that rock bridge with chain link fencing, to catch the falling rocks before they killed someone else, and then painted it the same color as the rocks to disguise it. Problem solved!
Anyhow, there is (or was) a large rock in the side of the cliff underneath the bridge, about 25 feet above the stream bed, in which were carved the initials “GW.” Our elementary school teachers taught us that this was carved into the rock by George Washington when he surveyed the area as a young man.
The obvious question everyone has when seeing the location of this rock, is, how did he get so far up the side of the cliff to carve his initials? And the answer, we were taught, was that 200 years before, when George Washington carved his initials, the stream bed was up at that level, because it hadn’t yet eroded down to its current level. So George simply carved his initials at eye level!
Since George Washington’s time in the mid 1700s, until I was around 10 years old in the mid 1900s, they told us, the stream had cut another 20 feet down.
Even at the age of 10 I thought that was geological bullshit.
Okay, so now I’m 60. It’s been 50 years after they told me that story, and I would like to report that the stream has NOT eroded another five feet lower since then. (Do the math – one foot per decade is what they told us.) I know this conflicts with the Bible, but if streams eroded one foot per decade, then the James River would be the goddamn Grand Canyon.
So, I would finally like to set the record straight, by relating a scenario which I believe to be a more likely explanation for the placement of those initials.
I figure George Washington wanted his initials to be carved in a prominent place underneath Natural Bridge, way high up so everyone who came there would see “GW” and be in awe. So he stood there and looked around until he spotted the exact rock he wanted his initials to be carved on. Then he turned to one of his slaves, pointed to the rock, and said, “Go carve my initials on that there rock.” To which the slave most likely replied, “How am I supposed to get so far up that rock cliff to do it? We don’t even have a ladder.” To which George Washington probably said, “I don’t give a shit how you do it, just get it done.”
So let’s give credit where credit is due. A black man climbed up that cliff and carved George Washington’s initials.