Side Quest: Marietta’s Mystery Monument – ‘Speak, friend, and enter.’

Move over petroglyphs! A recently discovered mystery rock with possible ties to a secret society has been found in the lower Susquehanna.

Located upstream from Vinegar Ferry Road near Marietta, the boulder in question is engraved with an arch containing a large 2 ½ in its center. Directly below, the letters LOL are inscribed.

My first thought was that someone had found the entrance to Moria, and these were, in fact, the Doors of Durin as the carving looked very similar to the one seen in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.

Doors of Durin on the left. Mysterious carving on the right.

I immediately organized my own fellowship and made plans to visit.

It was June Llyod, Librarian Emerita at the York County History Center, who brought the carving to my attention. Her Universal York blog post included photos and general history of the area. It also provided the location in the form of the following image. The cursor marks where the boulder is.

The arrow marks the location of the rock carvings.

Using the photo as a guide, I was able to calculate the likely GPS coordinates of the mystery rock.

Once there, I said the elvish word for friend—mellon—to see if a door would open. Nothing happened. I wasn’t surprised, but I thought it was worth a try.

For those not steeped in Tolkien lore, the video clip below demonstrates what I was I was hoping for…minus the water monster.

So if these were not the Doors of Durin, then what are they?

Royal Arch Purple

Crowdsourcing the image on Facebook was a big help with the closest match belonging to the Royal Arch Purple.

The Royal Arch Purple is a “higher degree” of initiation within the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. It was founded in 1795 at Loughall in County Armagh, Ireland. It takes its ‘Royal’ title from the time when the fifth son of King George the third (also the king of Hanover) was Grand Master of the Orange Order in England.

The Royal Arch Purple is a “higher degree” of initiation within the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. It was founded in 1795 at Loughall in County Armagh, Ireland. It takes its ‘Royal’ title from the time when the fifth son of King George the third (also the king of Hanover) was Grand Master of the Orange Order in England. The term “Arch” is used in the same way as “Archbishop” or “Archetypal”, that is to say it means “chief”. The ‘Purple’ comes from the cloth that was used to cloth the Ark of the Covenant.

The enigmatic 2½ in the arch’s center represents the biblical tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh who helped lead the people of Israel across the river Jordan to the Promised Land. All three tribes are visible in the map found below.

As for the LOL beneath the arch has nothing to do with laughing out loud as the letters commonly signify today. Instead, it means Loyal Orange Lodge, usually followed by the number of that Lodge. There does appear to be a six-digit letter/number combination to the right of the LOL that could represent a Lodge number. In my research, I was unable to find an example of how they numbered their Lodges.

My second thought was it possibly represented a date or year. For example, with Masons, the current year is 3020 AD. They use the year the Knights Templar was founded, 1118 AD, and is calculated from that year, referred to as Anno Ordinis, in the year of the Order.

While not present on the stone carving that I could see the badge’s elements typically includes an eye, snake, and star.

Royal Arch Purple is a Protestant fraternal organization predominantly based in Northern Ireland but also has Lodges in Scotland and the United States.

The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland disliked the ritualism in the Royal Arch Purple and tried to suppress it as early as 1798. The main reason for the opposition to the Royal Arch Purple Degree was that many rural Lodges were practicing other degrees in addition to the Royal Arch Purple degree and the gentry deemed this as unacceptable and realized the need for a central system of degrees.

The Royal Arch Purple degree was practiced in secrecy for a period after the Grand Lodge (in Dublin) deemed the degree illegal; however, it was kept alive by the Lodges around County Armagh as it was the system of ‘travel’ closest to the original ritual put together by the founding members of the Orange Order in 1795. The Grand Lodge maintained their position in not recognizing the degree throughout the nineteenth and into the early 20th century until 1911, but it now recognizes the Royal Arch Purple as an official Order.

The Royal Arch Purple Degree is now established as a separate Order and is widely practised as a natural step of advancement from the Orange Institution to the Royal Black Institution. The Purples lines on an Orange Sash usually donate that a member has received the Royal Arch Purple Degree.

Why Is It there?

Good Question.

One Facebook user thought the carved boulder had been deposited near the Marietta River Trail Pavilion about 25 years ago during a winter high water event. He believed it had originally been near Shocks Mills Bridge approximately 1.6 miles upstream.

Shocks Mills Bridge

I personally think its current location makes sense. It’s directly on the old Vinegar’s Ferry route where people using the ferry might have seen it…if they knew what they were looking for. What I do not know is if it acted as a marker that leads to the Lodge or if this was where the Lodge once met.

What are your thoughts?

General History on Vinegar’s Ferry

James LeTort, an Indian trader, claimed ownership of 500 acres of this land in 1719. He resided in a cabin located somewhere in this vicinity, and in partnership with two other well-known traders—Peter Bezaillion and Moses Comb—operated a lucrative trading post.

Between this point and the opposite shore of the Susquehanna River, Christian Winiker (1730-1800; pronounced “Vinegar” due to local dialects) subsequently established a ferry crossing before the Revolutionary War to transport people and goods across thy river.

The present-day Vinegar Ferry Road brought local traffic to this crossing.

Later it was one of the Susquehanna ferries scouted out during the Revolutionary War in 1778 for possible troop movement. The ferry got a good report, but the York County side was deemed too steep to be practical for large groups to pass. It continued operation until the 1920s.

Artist drawing of Vinegar’s Ferry.

Christian operated this ferry business until his death, after which the enterprise was continued by his son, David Winiker (1763-1802). David’s death shortly after that of his father’s brought the development of this crossing to an abrupt end. By tradition, the ferry is said to have been used by local residents up through the Civil War era.

Visiting the Enigmatic Petroglyph

If you want to see the petroglyph for yourself, head to the Marietta River Trail Pavilion. I would recommend parking in the lot near the exit. This provides for easier access. Click here for directions.

Under normal conditions, the carving is accessible without the aid of a boat. When I first visited in February, I was able to walk to it without getting my feet wet. However, when I was there in late April, I had to wade out. It took some effort, but I did manage to keep my shorts dry. If you plan to see the petroglyph, I would strongly suggest appropriate footwear such as water socks or old sneakers. A bathing suit or a change of clothes might not be a bad idea either.

Please keep in mind that after a heavy rain, accessing the boulder could be dangerous. Please use proper judgment when you visit. It is not worth getting hurt or dying over. 

Click here are the exact GPS coordinates of the enigmatic petroglyph. Happy adventuring!


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