Do you know the absurd story of the London Bridge? Built in 1831, the famous bridge lasted 130 years over the Thames River before overwhelming traffic demanded the construction of a new one. So, what did London do with the old one? They sold it. Robert McCulloch, an American oilman, paid over $2 million to have the bridge dismantled into pieces, shipped to the coast of California (through the Panama Canal), trucked across the desert to the edge of Arizona, and reconstructed in newly-established Lake Havasu City. Look at that photo below – that’s a lot of truckloads. Call him crazy but McCulloch recouped his bridge money by selling the surrounding desert properties to retirees. He also took several thousand bits of the bridge and put them in tiny glass bottles for souvenirs. I bought one of these bottled bits when I was a kid.
The London Bridge story came to mind this week after reading a Wall Street Journal article about Hawaii. It seems volcanoes are making their way to mainland America much the same way the London Bridge made its way to Arizona. Tourists to Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park – the 500-square mile preserve on the Big Island – are stuffing lava rocks into their suitcases as souvenirs; some over a foot long. I’d like to see the size of the volcano you could build from all the lava bits stolen (yes stolen; helping yourself to rocks in a national park is technically illegal). That volcano would be hundreds of feet taller than the paper mache science project you assembled in your youth (baking soda + vinegar = lava flow!)
This rock-robbing in Hawaii is big business. How do I know? Because the real story here is the hundreds of rocks being returned to Volcanoes National Park. Park rangers claim they’re receiving mailings every day, each containing a) a stolen lava rock, and b) a letter of apology. Turns out – if you believe this sort of thing – taking lava rocks puts a curse on your life and bad things start to happen. In one case, a tourist claimed his sons began having behavioral problems, his marriage fell apart, and his mother died; all within a few months of bringing home a lava rock.
The Hawaiian Goddess of fire, lightning, wind, and volcanoes – Pele – is responsible for the curse. She is credited with creating the Hawaiian Islands in the first place. Her domain encompasses all volcanic activity on the Big Island, and she’s known for her power, passion, jealousy, and capriciousness. Yo, don’t take Pele’s rocks!
(Note: as I was reading up on “Madame Pele” I recalled the 2014 computer-animated short “Lava”. Remember the story, about two volcanoes who fall in love – “Uku” and “Lele”? Maybe Lele was Pele in disguise – casting her powerful curse from the big screen!)
My wife and I went to Hawaii on our honeymoon thirty years ago. We saw several volcanoes but never did we consider taking a lava rock home (loading up on pineapples and several boxes of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts instead). I mean really, what do you do with a lava rock: display it in your living room as if you own a share of Hawaii?
Perhaps these rock-robbers are the same peeps who fell for Pet Rocks in the 1970’s. If you weren’t around back then, Pet Rocks were smooth stones gathered from Mexico’s Rosarito Beach. They had cute painted faces and were sold as if live animals, in little boxes with straw beds and breathing holes. They included a lengthy training manual to “properly raise and care for one’s new Pet Rock”. (The easiest commands were “sit” and “stay”.) The Pet Rock phenomenon was as absurd as rebuilding the London Bridge, yet 1.5 million were sold for four dollars apiece in a six-month frenzy. Gary Dahl – “founder” of the Pet Rock – became an instant millionaire.
My conclusion on all this rock talk? Real people are as capricious as Hawaii’s fiery goddess. London Bridge inspired a nursery rhyme (“… is falling down…”) so we sing about rocks. Hawaii’s volcanoes inspired a Pixar story so we watch a movie about rocks. But stealing rocks inspired a curse, cast on all who dare to help themselves. No thanks, Pele. Put it in stone; if I must have a rock I’ll take my chances and invest in the $4 pet-friendly variety instead.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.