Bibliophilia: Dogtown & the Fight Against Gravity

A "Babson Boulder" in Dogtown
A “Babson Boulder” in Dogtown

There’s a small section of Cape Ann Massachusetts that the locals refer to as Dogtown but was once known as the Common Settlement. It was originally settled by farmers who enjoyed it’s distance from the sea as a buffer against pirates but had trouble planting due to its poor terrain. After the war of 1812, when fear of pirates was absent, many people moved away from Common Settlement in search of better land. After many families left the settlement it became reduced to abandoned houses and widows who didn’t see any reason to move. Many of the widows who stayed in the settlement would keep a dog for company but after the dogs started mating they soon outnumbered the people and Common Settlement became Dogtown. But there is more to the story of Dogtown than that.

As the dogs began outnumbering people, and after many of the widows died, they turned feral and intimidating. The abandoned houses of soon became a safe haven for vagabonds and other itinerants. Thomazine Younger, also known as “Queen of the witches,” was one of the last Dogtown citizens. Younger would curse the oxen that passed the settlement unless paid a toll by the driver. In 1830 the last person found in Dogtown, Cornelius Finson, was half dead lying in a cellar-hole. He was removed and taken to a poor-house where he died. A place once thought to be a haven was now one to be avoided at all costs. The story of Dogtown is the story of degradation; or, at least it was until  the Great Depression when Dogtown found a way to rise up and redeem itself. Enter Roger Babson.

Roger Babson is a man who made a fortune on the stock market by applying Newton’s laws of gravity to the economy. And while that is an equally compelling story (click through for a podcast by Nate DiMeo) I’m more interested with what Babson did with his fortune. With his fortune, Roger Babson established The Gravity Research Foundation to help him find a way to fight gravity. Babson hated gravity. He hated it so much that he even wrote a paper titled Gravity – Our Enemy Number One. You see, Babson lost both a sister and a grandson to drowning, or as he saw it to gravity.

Yes, they say she “drowned”, but the fact is that, through temporary paralysis, or some other cause (she was a good swimmer) she was unable to fight Gravity which came up and seized her like a dragon and brought her to the bottom.

Beyond the personal grudge he held with “Gravity” he saw it as the force responsible for millions of other injuries.

Gradually I found that “old man Gravity” is not only responsible for millions of deaths each year, but also for millions of accidents which Mr. Foss probably had in mind. Broken hips and other broken bones as well as numerous circulatory, intestinal and other internal troubles are directly due to the people’s inability to counteract Gravity at a critical moment.

As a way to inform students of the Gravity Research Foundation and to encourage academic thought on gravity Roger Babson had stone monuments erected at various universities across the nation. Ironically a few had to eventually be moved or better secured as they would be constantly knocked over by drunk students. Interestingly enough these were not the only stone monuments that Babson ever commissioned in his life. In fact the majority of the stone cutting he ever commissioned took place in Dogtown Massachusetts.

During the Great Depression Dogtown still carried a stigma  but Roger Babson found a way to erase it for good. Scattered throughout the land are large boulders and Babson had the idea to employ out of work stonecutters to engrave each boulder with an inspirational saying. Babson found a way to take a town that sank the lowest it can sink and raise it up with people who were also facing the hardest times of their lives. It’s interesting to me that Babson would choose a rock to be a symbol of inspiration. For if a rock, nevermind a boulder, is anything it is subdued by gravity. I like to think Babson figured that as long as we’re stuck down here with the rocks they might as well remind us that one day we’ll figure out a way to fly.

Today Dogtown is known as a popular outdoor recreational space.

So what do you think? Have you ever heard of Dogtown before? What is one way you have been a victim of “old man Gravity”? Please leave some comments below so that we can continue our conversation on pirate buffers, oxen curses, and Gravity- our enemy number one.

– Jet Fuel Blogger, Lucas Sifuentes

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