There’s a grassy field in Elbert County, Georgia, about 40 miles outside of Athens. It’s the highest point in the county and indistinguishable from all other such fields across that general area of America in most respects: green and lush in some places, with barren rocky patches in others. In the middle of this field, however, you will find a massive stone edifice. It consists of a central slab of granite with four equal-sized slabs radiating out from the center tablet and another slab across the top connecting the 5 vertical slabs. From the heavens it must look like a four-pointed compass rose among the greens and blues of rural Georgia. It has been there since 1980, and no one is quite certain why.
When Joe H. Fendley Sr. of the Elberton Granite Company was approached by the strange man who called himself Robert C. Christian in 1979, Fendley was certain that the man was unwell. He was neatly dressed, seemingly in his advanced middle years, but was talking of a monument of vast proportions, engraved with the wisdom that would carry the world forward. He had been planning it for twenty years, he said, and representing a group of “loyal Americans.” Fendley was certain that he was not from the area; he had never seen him before, and he drove a rental car from the airport.
Mr. R.C. Christian, upon agreeing to the intentionally inflated sum quoted to him by a wary Fendley, was then sent to talk to the president of the Granite City Bank, Wyatt Martin. Martin, finding him intelligent, sober, and serious about the project, proceeded to work with him to arrange for payment for the materials, and the project began in earnest.
It’s been said that it’s hard to appreciate how massive the edifice is until you’re standing before it. It’s more than 19 feet tall and weighs well over 200,000 lbs, and it looms. Despite that, occasional bouts of graffiti notwithstanding, it’s generally a peaceful place. If you visit the stones at noon, you’ll be treated to the sunlight shining through an opening in the cap stone and landing upon the current date – the Guidestones, in addition to their engraved messages, function as an astronomical clock and calendar. The center stone has more openings, aligned to the solstices and equinoxes, through which you can view the North Star. Fendley in fact needed to consult with a University of Georgia astronomer in order to correctly align the stones as specified.
There are twelve languages upon the tablets – eight living ones (Arabic, English, Hebrew, Hindi, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, and Traditional Chinese, and four more dead ones (Babylonian cuneiform, Classical Greek, Egyptian Hieroglyphs, and Sanskrit). No one is certain why those specific languages were chosen, living or dead.
The four tablets, the compass rose’s four points, have one living language on the broad sides of each, and they say the following:
- Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
- Guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity.
- Unite humanity with a living new language.
- Rule passion — faith — tradition — and all things with tempered reason.
- Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
- Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
- Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
- Balance personal rights with social duties.
- Prize truth — beauty — love — seeking harmony with the infinite.
- Be not a cancer on the Earth — Leave room for nature — Leave room for nature.
At first glance, none of that looks too bad. Of course, it’s good to respect nature. Of course, tempering your passions with reason is good and wise advice. The only people who appreciate useless officials, one might think, are the useless officials themselves.
But then, you find yourself focusing on the rest of it. Five hundred million people sounds like a lot, but even at the time of the monument’s construction in 1979 and 1980, the planet’s population was nearly four and a half billion. Less than 50 years later, it’s at nearly 8 billion. That’s a sharp reduction in the global population. “Guiding reproduction” smacks of eugenics. And it seems like something might be a bit more sinister here than a message of peace and love for humankind.
The precise purpose that these stones were meant to serve is unclear, but there are a number of theories suggesting various interpretations, some of which are… darker… than others. Yoko Ono has been quoted as calling the message on the stones “a stirring call to rational thinking,” a statement that echoes a message engraved on the monument: “Let these be guidestones to an age of reason,” which may have been a reference to Thomas Paine, 18th century Deist and rumored Freemason. Writer Brad Meltzer has theorized that given the monument’s construction during the cold war, this was perhaps a message to the remnants of humanity that managed to struggle through and survive an apocalyptic nuclear event. Ono and Meltzer appear to be in the minority, however.
Most secret societies known to the conspiracy theorist community (the Illuminati, some remnant of the Knights Templar, Freemasons) have been suggested to be the group behind the Guidestones at one point or another, and some believe involve Satanism (more the general belief in it than in the modern-day Church of Satan) a belief taken seriously enough that in the same month that this episode was written, then Georgian gubernatorial candidate Kandiss Taylor tweeted that if elected, she would “will bring the Satanic Regime to its knees— and DEMOLISH the Georgia Guidestones.” During the race, her intention to do this was her pinned tweet, indicating a level of seriousness on the topic. Indeed, at the time of the stones’ original unveiling, a local minister commented that it was of the devil. This particular fear has been around since its earliest days.
A clue on the intention behind the stones may lay in the identity of R.C. Christian. Martin is, in fact, the only person living who knows Christian’s identity, and he agreed to keep that identity secret. He needed Christian’s actual name for the purpose of financing, and has said that he intends to go to his grave without revealing who the mystery man was. Martin and Christian remained in contact via letter for many years, the last of which he received in the early aughts. Martin has commented that he suspects that Mr. Christian has died in the interim. Despite Martin’s reticence, there are, of course, theories.
Christian told Martin that he chose the pseudonym “Christian” simply because he was a Christian, but it’s been suggested by Jay Weidner that R.C. Christian is meant as a reference to the Rosicrucians, or “The Order of the Rose.” Rosicrucians are a gnostic order, which incorporate teachings from a number of faiths, and despite the name are generally not thought of as “Christian.” Their likely fictitious founder, Christian Rosenkreuz, whose life is laid out in a series of anonymously written books in the early 1600s, would surely make a reasonable root for the name “R.C. Christian.” The Rosicrucians, an order that still exists today, possess an alleged secret wisdom, and “study the laws of nature in order to live in harmony with them.” Which is certainly in keeping with the commandments on the Guidestones.
R.C. Christian also wrote a book, “Common Sense Renewed” which was sent to a number of influential thought leaders and politicians, wherein he speaks of philosophy, expanded communication, and “ideal world conditions” that mirror both the beliefs of the Rosicrusicans.
A number of local people believe that media pioneer and philanthropist Ted Turner is the mysterious figure behind the Guidestones. It makes sense, in a way: he has ties to Georgia, and has long been concerned with the fate of mankind. He has championed implementing population growth to combat the overuse of resources on our planet, and would have made his infamous “doomsday tape” – the tape he created to play in the final hour of the world on his CNN, around the same time as the Guidestones were created, so certainly the apocalypse was on his mind. He was certainly wealthy enough to do it. There’s no evidence that it was, in fact, Turner, but it seems like that also wouldn’t have been out of character.
Perhaps a better suspect for our mystery man was discovered by filmmaker Christian J. Pinto. In his documentary Dark Clouds Over Elberton, Pinto interviewed Wyatt Martin, and was allowed to view one of Christian’s letters to Martin, as well as a glimpse of the papers in the box where Martin stored his paperwork and correspondences relating to the Guidestones. Upon analysis of the footage, he spied a post mark upon one of the letters: Fort Dodge, Iowa. Another envelope had a return address from that same city in Iowa.
That address, Pinto discovered, was associated with a Doctor Herbert Hinzie Kersten. He lived there both when the Guidestones were commissioned in 1979, as well as in 1998, the date on the letter shown to Pinto.
The more conspiracy-minded among us might rightly ask, could this be a ruse of some sort? Certainly. But in that 1998 letter to Martin, Christian referred to himself as being 78 years old. Kersten, born in 1920, would have been 78 in 1998. Our other main contender, Ted Turner, would have been only 60 at the time.
Kersten was additionally a self-proclaimed conservationist (indeed, it’s literally engraved on his headstone), and was deeply concerned with human population growth. He was of the belief, among other things, that people with lower IQs should be paid to be sterilized to improve future generations of humans, very in keeping with the tenants of the Guidestones.
Martin also reports that Christian’s grandmother was originally from Georgia, though Christian himself was not. Herbert Kersten was indeed not from Georgia, but neither were his grandparents: his paternal grandmother, Maria VanDenBoom Kersten, was born in Germany and died in Wisconsin, and his maternal grandmother, Nancy Greenbury Gore Hinzie was born in Mississippi and died in Texas. They certainly lived in the American southern states, however, and perhaps as far as Christian knew, one or the other was from Georgia. Ted Turner is not “from” Georgia either, but he did live there for a number of years. He was born in Ohio. Ted Turner was also fairly recognizable and very intelligent; at the very least he was probably not foolish enough to go in person if he was involved.
Kersten died in 2005, which matches Martin’s belief that the last communication was in the aughts. Ted Turner is still alive today.
There is, of course, nothing saying that both Herbert Kersten and Ted Turner were or were not both part of this “small group of loyal Americans.” This need not be, entirely, an either/or scenario. Certainly, some group must exist: it’s questionable whether Kersten, successful though he certainly was, would have had access to the kind of money required to purchase the land and raise the megalithic structure alone.
There’s a lot we can’t know about the Guidestones, who found them or what their precise intention was, but in a sense, perhaps the original intention doesn’t matter here. In 1979, R.C. Christian looked to be at least middle aged, and if his claim that this plan had been evolving over 20 years, he’d have to be at least as old as he looked, as would the people he planned it with. The stones are more than 40 years old now. With all the sponsors now likely in their senescence or deceased, and with no clear affiliation with modern Rosicrucianism (or any of the other numerous other groups suspected of having a hand in the guidestones), perhaps this has become a test of the perception of the viewer. Some see the threat of eugenics and enforced population control, and others see a way into a better world after our survivors crawl out of the rubble left behind by this society, moving forward into a second chance for humanity and the planet. Some see a well-meaning group of flower children wanting to better humanity, and some see a secretive cabal exerting control over the world. A Rorschach test made of granite, aspirations, and fears, not guiding us by the words engraved on those immense rock slabs but by showing us who we are, what we fear, and where we wish to go next.
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Peterson, Lesli. “Georgia Guidestones: 10 Weird Things You’ve Got to Know.” 365 Atlanta Traveler, 26 February 2022. Retrieved 22 April 2022.
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Taylor, Kandiss [@KandissTaylor]. “I am the ONLY…” Twitter. Posted 2 May, 2022. Retrieved 24 May 2022.
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ABOUT EM HILKER
Obsessed with all things dark and weird from a young age, E. Madelyne Hilker has used every opportunity to steep herself in mysterious lore, and is working on her first novel Hallow Earth. She works as a new media producer by day and crochets like a madwoman by night. Maddy lives in small town Ontario, Canada with her family and a large collection of houseplants.