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American Indian Voices
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By JULIE SHAW
NEWARK -- On this mound, a Native American shaman might have stood above drums
drumming and rattles rattling and hundreds of people standing in the earthen
circle below, all waiting for the moon to rise beyond the circle, beyond the
adjoining octagonal mound, ascending above the horizon.
Evoking this image while standing on the observatory mound at the Octagon
Earthworks in Newark, Bradley Lepper explained how a line from the mound
through the circle and through the octagon points to the spot where the moon
rises at its most northern point on the eastern horizon. It's an occurrence
that happens once every 18.6 years.
The astronomical and architectural achievements of the Native Americans who
built this earthen complex were tremendous, said the archaeologist from the
Ohio Historical Society in Columbus to a group of visitors. It was the first
Octagon Earthworks open house day, and Lepper led the group on the public path
that skirts part of the earthen circle, then past the path's end to the top of
the observatory mound.
Typically, visitors aren't allowed to climb the observatory mound because the
Moundbuilders Country Club operates a golf course on the Octagon Earthworks.
They're supposed to stop at the end of the public path. But on this Saturday
in April, the club and OHS agreed to make it a golf-free day and to promote
the site's access to the public.
The controversy over the public-private privileges of the Octagon Earthworks
site at the country club has been raised to the forefront of discussions once
again by Barbara Crandell's June 26 visit to the observatory mound and
subsequent arrest by Newark police officers. A jury trial on this case has
been scheduled for Sept. 19. (A trial was originally slated for Aug. 19.)
The voices on the earthworks are various. From archaeologists to Native
Americans to the Ohio Historical Society to members of the private golf club
to other stakeholders, views differ on the significance of the earthworks and
to whom they belong. And they differ even within those groups.
A great marvel
It is a curious dilemma to say the least. An archaeological ancient marvel
used as a modern-day 18-hole golf course by members of a private country club.
"People in Newark, Ohio, have no idea or don't appreciate the significance of
this site," said Richard Shiels, a professor of history at the Ohio State
University-Newark and a member of the Friends of the Mounds. The local
citizens group's goals include increasing public access to the earthworks and
ending the lease that allows the country club to operate a golf course on the
Shiels, who is not Native American, points to the world-class status of the
Newark Earthworks in "The Seventy Wonders of the Ancient World," a 1999
compilation of ancient marvels edited by Professor Chris Scarre of England's
In its heyday, the Newark Earthworks comprised the world's largest complex of
geometric structures built from earth and clay covering about four square
miles. The earthworks were built some 2,000 years ago by Native Americans who
were called Hopewell Indians by archaeologists.
It has been customary to name various cultures or groups by the last name of
the owner on whose land earthworks have been found. The name Hopewell came
from Capt. Mordecai Hopewell, who owned a farm in Ross County where earthworks
were excavated in 1891.
Today, what remains of the Newark Earthworks are three distinct sites no
longer connected by earthen parallel walls: the Octagon Earthworks, which
includes a 50-acre octagon, 20-acre circle and the observatory mound; the
Great Circle Earthworks; and the Wright State Memorial.
The rest of the earthworks, including burial mounds, was bulldozed away with
the onset of development.
The first settlers to the Newark area had destroyed portions of the earthworks
for farmland, roads, canals and railroads. McDonald's, meat markets,
convenience stores and numerous homes now stand in the area where those
earthworks used to be.
Perhaps the fact that the earthworks were created from earth rather than stone
or concrete diminishes their importance to people today.
People here might think, "our ancestors didn't build this. If you say this is
important, then you say the Indians are important," suggested Lepper.
As a member of Moundbuilders Country Club for five or six years, Steve
Buchholz, 54, of Buckeye Lake says he finds the earthworks interesting but
doesn't appreciate being disrupted during a golf game.
"I'm interested in it, but I'm not really sure what the story is," Buchholz
"I'm respectful of people's ancestry and beliefs, but some people are not
Hopewell Indians, have some fraction of Indian ancestry, could have been
hostile to Hopewell Indians, have some other motives (for coming here)," he
added. "They feel like they're entitled to walk out on any piece of property.
It doesn't matter who leases to who. What if they came to your backyard and
smoked a rabbit?
"They think they can walk in the middle of a golf game. I've been here three
or four times when people have walked out on the golf course. They totally
disregard their own safety and the game so they can climb on the mound, roast
a rabbit, smoke or whatever they do," he said.
Sacredness of site
In conversations, archaeologists tend to speak of the astronomical and
architectural wonders of the Octagon Earthworks and point to evidence or
excavations to support their inferences. Native Americans, meanwhile, usually
speak of the mystical, spiritual qualities of the earth and nature and the
connection to their people.
M.C. Hapi, OHS education specialist with the Newark Earthworks, paints a
picture of the Octagon Earthworks as a symbolic site representing the balance
between heaven and Earth. She grew up learning to respect nature from stories
by her maternal Cherokee grandfather and her maternal Choctaw grandmother.
"The landscape and environment are very important to the Native American
belief system. ... The circles tend to represent the feminine and physical,
earth, creation," said Hapi.
"The square in nature is hard to find. (It represents) the spiritual, the
greater beyond. At Newark Earthworks, you see this repeated several times. ...
The octagon is two squares (representing) double heaven. It's attached to a
circle. There's harmony, the joining of heaven and earth."
Barry Landeros-Thomas, coordinator of American Indian student services at Ohio
State University's Multicultural Center in Columbus, sometimes prays inside
the circle at the Octagon Earthworks. He places a pinch of tobacco on the
ground as an offering. Tobacco is "one of the sacred items," he said.
Landeros-Thomas says he stays out of the way of golfers on the greens, and
they don't bother him since he's a big guy. He feels a connection to the
earthworks because of his Native American ancestry, part Cherokee and part
A member of the Friends of the Mounds and an affiliate of the American Indian
Movement, Landeros-Thomas would eventually like to see the country club and
its golf course off the Octagon Earthworks site. AIM is a national
organization that pushes for Native American rights, sometimes with action or
by fighting issues in court.
Christine Ballengee-Morris also goes to the Octagon Earthworks, a place that
is very spiritual to her, and offers sage.
"The earthworks are based on the earthbound, not in buildings," she said.
"They have those energies and ancestors walking there. Why do people go to
Notre Dame? Why do people go to the Vatican? It is recognized as a special
Ballengee-Morris has Cherokee and Appalachian roots. She is the director of
OSU's Multicultural Center and an associate professor of art education. She is
also a member of the Friends of the Mounds but is not associated with AIM.
Ballengee-Morris describes times when she has gone to the Octagon Earthworks
and has been ridiculed. Golfers would make "Hollywood whoop noises, make a
nuisance of themselves, aim balls at me or circle around where you are," she
said. Because of this, she prefers to pray there when fewer golfers are on the
And there's Crandell.
Considered by some Native Americans as an elder or grandmother, the
73-year-old woman of Cherokee descent regularly prays at the various mounds
and earthworks in Ohio.
"It's something made by native people, my people. It's a connection to my
heritage, my race of people," Crandell said from her Thornville home.
She has said that she went to pray at the earthworks on June 26 for the people
affected by the fires in the West. She got tired and went to rest on the
observatory mound, she has said.
The observatory mound where she was sitting lies near the fairway to the No.
10 hole. Golfers on the 10th tee inside the earthen circle sometimes first
shoot their balls toward the observatory mound, then on their next shots, try
to drive the balls toward the 10th hole, which lies on the other side of the
According to Crandell's account, she was taunted by two golfers, then asked to
leave by the country club's president, Skip Salome. Salome left and returned
with two Newark police officers. After arguing with Salome and the officers,
Crandell threw her cane at Salome, then was arrested and taken off the course.
Public or private?
At Crandell's Sept. 19 trial, the different sides will likely dispute the
wordings of the deed, leases and amendments between OHS and the country club
on the issue of public access.
In OHS' own writings, it's a public park -- but subject to regulations.
A sign at the viewing platform at Octagon Earthworks states that it's "both a
public park and a private golf club."
The 1933 deed transferring the Octagon Earthworks property to OHS states that
the historical society is "to accept, hold and preserve, as an archaeological
and historical site, to be open to the public at all times" the earthworks
The 1957 lease, which serves as the governing lease between OHS and
Moundbuilders Country Club, states that the public's right in visiting the
grounds is reserved by OHS and "subject to reasonable rules." It also states
that the earthworks should be "restored and preserved as a prehistoric
James Strider, chief of the External Relations Division at OHS, said he does
not believe the wordings of the deed and lease are in legal conflict, but
stresses that he is not a lawyer. He points to the fact that the golf club has
been operating on the site before OHS' ownership of the property.
"The golf course, with proper safeguards, coordination, can meet the needs of
preservation," Strider said.
The Octagon Earthworks site was purchased by the state of Ohio in 1892 for use
as an encampment by the Ohio National Guard, which used it as a training
ground and had rebuilt eroded portions.
The property then reverted to the Newark Board of Trade in 1908. It was the
Board of Trade that first leased the site in 1910 to the Licking County
Country Club (now Moundbuilders Country Club). The property was later
entrusted to a court-appointed city of Newark trustee, who continued to allow
the country club to use the site.
In 1933, OHS took over ownership of the Octagon Earthworks site from the
trustee. The Historical Society has since continued allowing the country club
to lease the land and operate a golf course on the site.
The country club pays an annual fee to OHS for use of the site. For the period
of April 1, 2001 to March 31, 2002, the club paid $28,786. Strider stressed
that the groundskeeping done by the country club benefits the site and
taxpayers, who don't need to pay for its maintenance.
If the country club did not keep the grounds, Strider said it "would cost
significant resources to maintain a site like that."
It's money that OHS would have to get from outside sources and the historical
society already faces a "challenging" and "severe" operating budget, Strider
The historical society's operating budget has declined over the past few years
from $21,465,000 in fiscal year 2001 to $20,887,000 in FY 2002 to a projected
FY 2003 operating budget of $20,089,000.
Sixty-six percent of OHS' FY 2003 budget comes from state funds. The remaining
funds come from earned revenues, membership donations, government grants and
When pressed with questions why OHS isn't looking to find a way to terminate
its lease with the country club, Strider emphasizes the historical society's
goals and tight budget as well as the country club's own history and
maintenance of the site.
"If you look at all of the responsibilities of the society and consider we
have not only to maintain the Newark Earthworks site, which is part of a far
larger site system ... the arrangement with the golf club, which existed over
90 years, isn't so unreasonable," Strider said, referring to the other 62
sites OHS maintains. "Hindsight is 20/20."
Increased public access
To increase access to the site, OHS and the country club agreed on four days
this year as golf-free open house days at Octagon Earthworks: April 13, June
17, Aug. 12 (all day) and Oct. 19 (1-5 p.m.).
The four open house dates, while better than none, raise a smirk from some
people who think the earthworks should always be open to the public.
"Four golf-free days," said Landeros-Thomas sarcastically. "That's nice. But
they were just arbitrarily chosen by OHS and the country club with no
consultation to the community."
Two of the days fall on Mondays during the work week, he added. And the first
date was a day when some Native Americans were attending a conference in
Strider said that the Historical Society is working with the Friends of the
Mounds to develop plans for the last open house this year, which falls on a
In addition to the open house dates, OHS is developing a long-term cultural
resource management plan for Octagon Earthworks to improve decision-making in
the preservation and interpretation of the site, Strider said.
OHS has hired a consultancy firm, Gray & Pape in Cincinnati, for $10,000 to
help with the plan. Gray & Pape specializes in historic preservation and
In the 2003 fiscal year (July 2002 - June 2003), Gray & Pape will assist in
putting together a group of stakeholders -- including Native Americans,
archaeologists, the Friends of the Mounds, residents who live near the
earthworks and people who work in education -- to provide insight into the
The country club will probably be part of the advisory group, but a final
decision has not yet been made, said Strider.
In addition to group discussions, Strider foresees public meetings to gain
Some ideas that may be considered and further developed include a safe pathway
on Octagon Earthworks that will allow for better viewing of the site with
netting or some other protective device to deflect golf balls, Strider said.
Also, more viewing platforms may be considered.
Funding issues may also be discussed.
The goal is for the cultural resource management plan to be written by OHS
staff by June 30, 2003, after months of advice from Gray & Pape and community
Grants in the amounts of $10,000 from the National Parks Service and of $5,000
from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to OHS will go toward the
development of the plan.
Moundbuilders Country Club President Salome said that he had no comment on the
proposal of a safe pathway for earthworks' visitors. He would not comment much
for this article because of the pending trial involving Crandell.
Salome has previously said of the co-existence of the earthworks site and the
golf course: "Our main concern is safety and liability. There could be balls
flying everywhere, every direction. ... We do have a lease there and it's a
A 1997 amendment to the 1957 lease extended the country club's right to
operate on the site from 2028 to 2078. This 50-year extension has rattled
Native Americans and others who felt that the decision was made behind closed
doors, without public input.
"Do I think OHS is partly to blame? You bet," said Shiels of Friends of the
Mounds. "It saves OHS the expense of maintaining that site."
Charles Dawes, former trustee of the Ohio Museums Association and a descendant
of the founder of the Dawes Arboretum, is furious that the country club has a
golf course on the Octagon Earthworks.
"My biggest concern personally about OHS is what appears to be the
unwillingness to address the proper use and exhibit of the mounds at
Moundbuilders Country Club. ... Those mounds belong to the people of Ohio.
They should not be under the control of a select group. ... I do come back to
outrage. They're a collection taken away from the people of Licking County."
He added: "OHS could have pursued a federal grant (for it to be) a national
landmark. There are ways to maintain the property instead of keeping it as a
The decision to extend the lease was made by OHS Director Gary Ness and the
society's board of trustees.
"It appears secretive," said OHS' Strider. But "this decision was made no
different than other decisions by the board of trustees. ... Our meetings,
while we don't openly advertise them, are open if (anyone) wants to see the
With regard to the furor generated by the 50-year extension, Strider said: "I
don't think we anticipated this properly. At the time, there was no organized
group like Friends of the Mounds."
The reason behind extending the lease until 2078 was to accommodate the
country club's needs in getting financing for renovations, said Fred Milligan,
OHS general counsel who worked on the negotiations.
"The club wanted to undertake major renovations," Milligan said. "In order to
do so and get financing for it, it needed the security of a long-term lease."
Milligan added that the state of Ohio could buy out the lease by means of
eminent domain -- the right of a government to take private property for
public use -- but this measure would involve a significant financial
The state would have to compensate the country club and its members and in the
present budget climate, that may be very difficult to do, Milligan said.
Plus, he said: "I'm quite sure members of the country club would feel
Reporter Julie Shaw can be reached at 328-8544 or [email protected]
Originally published Sunday, August 11, 2002
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