Over the past several months, a stormy border war
has been brewing between the states of Ohio and Kentucky, over the status of, wait for it… a rock?
Here is a brief recap for those of you unfamiliar with this improbable tale. For centuries, a large boulder submerged in the Ohio river would jut out of the water when its levels were low, allowing daring individuals to brave the waters to carve in it a record of their feat. The rock, while situated on the Kentucky side of the river, held a special place in the heart of the nearby Ohio town of Portsmouth
. However, the water level of the river rose in the 20th century thanks to a newly built dam, and the location of the famous rock was lost.
It had not been seen for nearly a century when Steve Shaffer, an Ohio native, set out to rediscover the rock. After numerous dives into the river’s depths, Shaffer found the famous Indian Head Rock
and brought it ashore with the help of some friends and some pulleys. Shaffer, an historian, now keeps the rock in a Portsmouth garage.
While the salvaging of the rock may have been a well-intentioned attempt to study its etchings and revive interest in local history, Shaffer’s success has sparked a raucous debate in both states. Both legislatures have considered resolutions on the rock, Ohio’s
praising the rock as a special piece of state heritage, Kentucky’s
calling for the rock to be returned to its rightful place in the river. Shaffer concedes that he should have taken out a permit before removing the rock, and this is the technicality that a Kentucky grand jury seized upon to indict him.
Because the rock is officially listed in Kentucky’s registry of state antiquities
, the state argues that Shaffer needed a special permit from the University of Kentucky to tamper with it. Shaffer could never have dreamed his rock would incite so much controversy, and simply stated when he heard the jury’s decision:
“I obviously need to talk to an attorney.”