Signature art

Speculation about rock sculptures in nearby eastern Utah centers on Jack Stirling, who was known for planting caches of faux artifacts around western Colorado decades ago.

The Daily Sentinel—In February 1955, The Daily Sentinel published an article about a find of relics that eventually was attributed to artifacts prankster Jack Stirling. The front page was found among Stirling’s belongings after he died.

They look like the Moai — the giant heads that look out from Easter Island.

But the grim visages of the carved heads of eastern Utah — that’s about all that can be divulged about their location — are less than they might appear.

And, at the same time, more. But only if you’re in on the joke.

The heads carved into rocky outcrops are almost certainly the work of one man and not, though it might seem otherwise, the remnants of a lost civilization.

“Jack Stirling strikes again!” chortled Dave Bailey, the curator of history for the Museum of Western Colorado.

Jack Daniel Stirling was a World War II veteran who planted caches of faux artifacts around western Colorado in hopes of getting the attention — and the goat — of Al Look, a Daily Sentinel staffer and amateur paleontologist, archaeologist and anthropologist.

It has taken decades for Stirling’s work to come to light. One cache was discovered in the 1950s and it was reported on the front page of the Feb. 27, 1955, edition, which quoted a cowboy named O.E. “Roxy” Chambers about finding the cache on what he called the “Whitewater Slope.”

That very front page was found preserved among Stirling’s belongings, perhaps the prankster’s clearest tell.

Another man, Vic Jensen, in 1956 found what he interpreted to be an ancient tablet inscribed with undecipherable but ornate lettering, according to Rick Dujay, professor at Colorado Mesa University and scientific coordinator of the Western Investigations Team, which is headed by Bailey.

A story about Jensen’s find caught the attention of Stirling’s daughter, Julia Vernon, who clued Bailey in on Stirling’s long-running joke.

Bailey used the information for an exhibit at the museum about modern myth-makers.

Stirling found the story about the 1955 discovery “hilarious,” Julia Vernon said.

Eleanor Vernon, who lives in the north Grand Junction house that her grandfather built, smirked when she saw photographs of the eastern Utah carvings.

“It kind of looks like it could have been made by Jack,” said Eleanor Vernon, who, coincidentally, now works at the Sentinel.

Julia Vernon said she couldn’t be certain a copycat of her father wasn’t at work because none of the eastern Utah carvings was her father’s because none of them looked like the prototypes he would carve at home.

“They don’t look like his,” Julia Vernon said. “He’d work in miniature first.”

On the other hand, the oversized stoneworks also reflect Stirling’s interest in the Moai. He kept a book on the Easter Island statues at his home. Some of the eastern Utah carvings feature headgear — large rocks left atop the heads of the rock heads — just as is the case on Easter Island.

And then there is the more modern homage.

It’s not as though there is an inscription saying, “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia,” but one of the eastern Utah carvings is almost certainly W.C. Fields, an early cinema American comedian, actor and writer known for his acerbic wit.

To be sure, said Julia Vernon. Jack Stirling was a Fields fan.

And she remembers her father heading out to the eastern Utah desert to do his work. More than once.

“There are still a couple things out there,” Julia Vernon said.


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