Skeptic Magazine article
From Skeptic, Vol. 10 No. 2 2003


Is the Slow Rotation of this Massive Granite Ball Paranormal or Normal?

Vol. 10 No. 2 2003
By Reza Saberi

Figure 1--Reza Saberi stands next to Marion Cemetery's
slowly rotating granite sphere. The white dot on the ball is an unpolished
spot that originally rested against the unpolished base.

On October 31, 2002 the Columbus Dispatch published a story about a rotating stone ball titled "Goodness, Gracious, Great Ball of Mystery." It was Halloween so it was reasonable to assume that causes other than the paranormal might be at work. According to the report, the ball, which is located in the principal cemetery of Marion, OH, is rotating slowly on its base without any apparent cause. Although the ball has been mentioned in Ripley's Believe it or Not! its movement was not presented as a paranormal phenomenon.

This ball (Figure 1) weighs 5,200 pounds (2,359 kg), is 36-inches (91 cm) in diameter, and is made of granite. It rests atop a 5-foot (1.5 m) pedestal base measuring 28 inches (71 cm) square at the top. The ball and its pedestal were erected in 1896 to memorialize the family of Charles Merchant and it has been moving ever since, slowly turning upon its base, revolving about a horizontal axis in a direction from north to south. It was not known that it was turning until the spring of 1904 when the cemetery employees noticed that it had apparently shifted a little. Since then it has been carefully watched and measured, revealing that it is actually turning continuously. The movement of the ball is very slow--about 2 inches (5.08 cm) annually. There is no evidence or probability of a hoax since the ball requires heavy machinery to move it.

The ball was never securely fastened to the base. The white circle on the ball represents the unpolished spot where the ball was originally placed on the unpolished base. It was assumed that the friction between the two rough surfaces would prevent any displacement. Now the rough white spot is nearly halfway up the south side.

Since I do not believe in paranormal phenomena such as ghosts, demons, haunted houses, aliens, UFOs, and all other such Western folklore, I decided to visit the cemetery and find out for myself. I took my level, tape measure, and rope and went to the cemetery. Driving around I found two other balls (Figures 2 and 3). These two balls do not rotate and I quickly found out why. Ball 2 (belonging to the tombstone of A. & M. Meklingel) is laid in a deep cup-shaped socket that provides maximum surface contact which creates more friction with its base. I could not see if it was cemented to the base. Even if it was not cemented, movement would be very difficult due to the large contact surface. Ball 3, belonging to the tombstone of J. F. Morrow, was clearly cemented to the base and therefore could not move at all.

Figure 2 (left) Ball 2 rests in a deep socket which makes for a large
contact surface and more friction between ball and base. I could not
see if it was cemented to the base. Figure 3 (right) Ball 3 was
clearly cemented to its base.

According to the manufacturer the "paranormal" ball is not cemented to its base but instead simply rests on the flat surface. The base has a 1-2 [degree] gradient in a north-south direction. At the time of my visit, rain from 4 previous days had collected under the ball and was still visible.

There have been many non-paranormal explanations for the ball's movement such as vehicular vibration, tidal force, the pull of the Moon, and the wind, which cannot satisfactorily explain the rotation of the ball. For example, the ball was moving before the invention of the automobile, and the effect of the Moon's gravity, wind, and tidal force is insignificant.

I think the ball movement gets its energy from two sources: contraction and expansion caused by weather. Since the ball is on a flat surface, it has minimum contact with its base (Figure 4a), in contrast to ball 2 that is in a cup-shaped socket (Figure 4b).

During three seasons of the year (autumn, winter, and spring) when it rains or snows and the temperature drops below freezing, any water that is collected under the ball on the unpolished surface of the base freezes and thus expands and raises the ball. When the ice thaws, which is usually on the side facing the sun, it causes the ball to tilt or roll slightly in that direction. When repeated many times, this phenomenon gradually moves the ball (about 0.0054 inches [.0137 cm] per day). You can appreciate the power of contraction and expansion by considering how this phenomenon has changed the surface of the Earth and flattened high mountains over a long period of time.

But what about in the summer time when the weather is around 80-90F (27-32C)? There is no documented report of measuring the movement of the ball only during the warm seasons, so we do not know if the ball moves in the summertime. However, even if it was found that the ball also moves during the summer, there is an explanation for the cause. In the summer the side of the ball which is exposed to the sun expands a little bit more than the other side, thus the center of gravity of the ball advances a little bit, giving rise to a slight creeping. In other words, the circumference of the ball is lengthening on the side that is exposed to the sun resulting in a pulling stress between the ball and the base on which it rests. This causes the ball to move a fraction of a millimeter.

If anybody has a better theory to explain this, I would be very happy to hear from you.

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