The Long Shadow of the Ellipsis

On a hill above Sycamore Shadows, near where Musty Groves shot Frida Goblocks’ pet rabbit, Flopsy Sue, three circular mounds rise twelve feet above the landscape. From the ground they resemble first-day pimples; seen from the air they form a perfect ellipsis, causing you to wonder if the ancient Americans who created them worshipped punctuation. Standing in the soybean field next to the earthworks—soybeans this year, at least—I understand why people visit Stonehenge.

For over 200 years scholars have scratched their heads while poring through books and squinting at manuscripts, looking for clues to the origin of the mounds, coming no closer to the truth than local resident and consummate idiot Curly Dowd. When Dowd isn’t hunting Bigfoot or fishing for mermaids, he “studies” the earthworks, attributing their creation to extraterrestrial visitors, Lovecraftian creatures who travelled light years to bestow the gift of punctuation.

“There’s a semi-colon or comma out there somewhere,” Dowd says, “undiscovered—in the woods, maybe. My dream is to find an ampersand.”

Castoreum College professor Gideon Bowman (1783-1849), amateur ethnologist and first owner of the land, would question the Kishwaukee Indians about the earthworks. They had no tale to explain the origins of the mounds, saying only that “a man of old” had built them.

“They are,” a tribal elder told Bowman while shrugging his shoulders.

Undeterred, Bowman excavated two of the three mounds in 1823. So carefully did he dig, it remains uncertain which pair he excavated. Seeking answers, Bowman found nothing: no burials, no tools, no ceremonial pipes, only dirt and mystery, and a pocket knife he had lost the previous year.   

The mounds repeat themselves in other places. Near the rear of the Girded Loin Restaurant—free coffee with meal every Tuesday—in the oldest section of the burying ground, close enough to the kitchen window for people to associate the scent of meatloaf with dead pioneers, a mysterious headstone leans to the right. No name or dates clutter its face, only the same ellipsis, a tribute to the mounds carved in sandstone.

Everyone knows the story of Aedre Bowman’s mysterious “appearance” in 1800 standing next to the same headstone, which she believed was that of her mother. If Aedre was in her mid-twenties when found by Slumber Nichols the next morning, her birthdate would have coincided with the probable date of the headstone; her mother may have died in childbirth. Not even Aedre could explain the ellipsis, however.

In 1932 a ne’er-do-well looked at the same headstone, caring little for mystery. Henri “Dreamy” Rêvasser imagined the ellipsis as three creatures. Adding only feet, he named them Imaginunchkins. At the time of his death on the beach at Normandy—he died of heatstroke while sunbathing in 1947—they rivaled the popularity of Mickey Mouse. The mounds again, delighting thousands of newspaper comic strip lovers, printed on shirts, toys, and watches.

Three dots, three mounds, three perfect circles. Our Stonehenge, flowing through everything we know. One day, we may discover the truth. Until then, it sure is fun to wonder.

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