Alice in Journalismland: The story behind the story, part one.

For several months, I had been hearing about a large stone that was being donated to the Grand Island Historical Society. As the recording secretary of the historical society, I dutifully added the information about the stone to the society’s minutes whenever it was mentioned. I did not think too much about the stone, however, because I was busy with other projects. Early this month, the stone became my project when the editor of the Island Dispatch asked me to write a three-part series about the stone and about the people involved with finding it and with it being donated to the Grand Island Historical Society. 

Ricky Hoover and his parents, Rick and Cindi.
The Hoover family

Ricky Hoover and scout leader Scott Swagler

On Saturday, October 4th, I did the first of several interviews with people who had been involved with the stone. I interviewed Ricky Hoover, a 15-year-old Boy Scout who had been preparing a large stone to be donated to the Grand Island Historical Society. It was to be his Eagle Scout project. I also talked to Ricky’s father Rick and to Ricky’s Scout leader, Scott Swagler. We sat in the restaurant at Byblos Niagara. It used to be the Holiday Inn, until the Holiday Inn went into receivership and was sold to a company from Dubai. 

Scott and Ricky were working on some of the details of the Eagle Scout project. There were forms to be filled out. They discussed how the project would be funded. It was very interesting to hear the details of an Eagle Scout project. Before long, I was able to ask questions of Ricky, Scott, and Rick. Since my first article was about Ricky, I wanted to know as much as possible about this young man. I found out that Ricky’s first passion is music. He plays the guitar and goes to perform at a variety of benefits. He also plays the guitar at the church that he and his family attend. It is called “The Chapel at CrossPoint.” It is an enormous church, with an attendance ranging from 3,000 to 4,000 persons each Sunday. It is called “nondenominational,” but I’m not entirely sure of what that means.

Ricky told me about everything that he learned in the process of preparing the stone for donation. He said that the experience was fantastic. The stone, he was told by Cathy, the lady who donated it, was buried in the ground. “We had to dig it out. A tree was growing around it.”

Before removing the stone, Ricky, along with Helen Black of the Grand Island Historical Society, went to visit Cathy. He found out that there are connections between people. Cathy’s sister is his Spanish teacher. Cathy’s husband also plays the guitar at the Chapel at CrossPoint. The two had never played together. At Cathy’s house, Ricky and Cathy’s husband enjoyed a jam session.

Then it was back to the stone. The stone was in an apple orchard and near the creamery or, at least, what used to be a creamery back in the long-ago time when Grand Island was a farming community. Scott, the scout leader, suggested that there may have been a crushing wheel on the premises that ground up apples, with seeds and everything else that might have made the apple cider less than appealing. On the other hand, the crushing wheel could have been used to grind up and crush grapes. 

Another option is that the stone was brought to its resting place from another site. Before there was a hotel on the east side of Grand Island, with the City of Tonawanda on the other side of the river, there had been an old mill on the site. All that is left now is an historic marker for a smoke house. At the end of Whitehaven Road, along the river, there was a sawmill. Much of Grand Island’s plethora of white oak ended up at that sawmill. The trees may have been sacrificed for the construction of masts for ships. White oak is considered to be a very sturdy type of wood. Unfortunately, in the nineteenth century, people were not very knowledgeable about why clear cutting one species of tree is a bad idea, especially a slow-growing species of tree, such as white oak.

Ricky told the story of removing the stone and of building the base:

Ricky was fortunate in being able to get a good deal of help with this large project. “I had friends help me dig it out. It was fun. The ground was wet. It was late May. A tree was growing over it (the stone). We didn’t want to wreck the yard or the tree. That was the challenge. We couldn’t use the tractor. Everything had to be done by hand. We dug it and removed it. We transported it to River Lea.”

“We then discovered that we needed to build a base. We needed to have the stone to make sure the measurements were right.” The base, in the form of a cradle or a stand, would have to be made out of steel. 

 “It (the stone) is oblong,” Ricky said. “We measured it to get a basic idea of how to make it fit with modifications. We were right. It is oblong. Making the base took two to three months.”   

Ricky, however, did not know how to make a steel base, until he meet Erik Carlson, who quickly became one of Ricky’s biggest supporters. Erik is involved with a business called Rus Industries in Niagara Falls. Erik offered a large amount of assistance to Ricky. He donated steel for a base for the stone. He also helped Ricky with making a design for the base. He taught Ricky the skills that he would need to make a good decision about which base would be the best choice.

“I came up with a couple designs, and I figured out which would work and last the longest,” Ricky said. In the process, he learned how to use a variety of tools. He also learned how to weld and to use the auto CAD (computer assisted design).

Ricky was able to work with materials donated by the community. “Everything was donated, including the wood and the paint,” Ricky explained. “Mr. Carlson helped me build it.”
 “I learned a lot about design and about actual machines. I learned about working with an instructor. I felt that it was a great experience. I liked building the base with Mr. Carlson.”

“Welding was fun,” Ricky said. “It is hard because you can’t see with that big black mask on. All you see is this glowing light.” 

He suggested, as a simulation, putting on a black blindfold and stare at the sun. I would add, “Don’t try this at home” because staring at the sun can produce a variety of vision problems.

Ricky said that planning interpretive signage to go along with the stone is part of his Eagle Scout project. That part has not yet been completed. “I am still working on the research for the signage.”

Another part of the discussion between Ricky and Scott centered on keeping a large stone on a metal base in a garden for years. Scott suggested that paving stones were necessary. The pavers need to be put under the steel to keep it from rotting out. Ricky said that would definitely be done.

Scott explained to me that all of the requirements for the Eagle Scout rank must be completed before the young man’s 18th birthday. He told Ricky, “You’re moving along fine.” He and Ricky said that there were only a few more merit badges that Ricky needed to earn, in addition to the completion of the Eagle Scout project.

“I was happy to help out the community,” Ricky said. “It was a good experience. I learned a lot.”

tomorrow’s story: How a small boy found the stone and the controversy surrounding what type stone it really is.

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