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Mounds home to varying opinions Earthworks the site of a curious dilemma

Advocate Reporter

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 site.

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 Cambridge University.

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 said.

"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 Lumbee.

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 place."

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 course.

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 circle.

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 site.

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 exhibit."

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 said.

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 private donations.

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 Athens, Ohio.

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 Saturday.

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 archaeological issues.

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 plan.

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 further input.

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 input.

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 golf course."

The future

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 golf course."

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 minutes."

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 commitment.

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 betrayed."

Reporter Julie Shaw can be reached at 328-8544 or [email protected]

Originally published Sunday, August 11, 2002

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