Two swastikas defaced on John Otto Rock, carved in 1915
Grand Junction police are investigating the vandalism of the swastika on the John Otto Rock in front of the Museum of the West in downtown Grand Junction.
Vandals used a concrete-like substance to cover over the two swastikas carved into a 6,000-pound chunk of granite that was placed in front of the Museum of the West three years ago after another incident of vandalism.
The swastikas were carved into the boulder about 1915 at the behest of John Otto, who a century ago worked for federal protection of the cliffs and spires of what is now known as Colorado National Monument.
Museum officials reported the vandalism to police, but no reports had been filed immediately, police said.
The swastika is an ancient symbol frequently used for good luck, but which is best recognized now as similar to the one appropriated by the Nazis in the 1930s. The swastika used by Otto three decades previous is different in that it’s turned a quarter to the left.
“This is about the third or fourth time the rock has been defaced,” Mike Perry, executive director of the Museum of Western Colorado, said Tuesday as he looked at the damage.
The vandalism makes it clear that the museum will have to take additional steps to protect the rock from new vandalism, he said.
The front of the boulder, which faces west, next door to the steps to the museum, was left otherwise intact. The 1915 date and several symbols were left untouched. Only the swastika was covered. The entire carving on the north side of the rock, which includes a larger swastika, was completely covered with the concrete-like material, which had hardened into place.
Many museum visitors are curious, if not downright angered, by the presence of the swastika, said Mary Lou Kelly, the receptionist who greets visitors as they arrive.
“A coward has to deface something,” Kelly said, likening the vandalism to “people shooting at Indian rock art.”
In addition to covering over the swastika, some new chips were seen in the rock on the front of the boulder, Perry said.
Some of the other carvings include a listing of the days marking Monday as the first day of the week, Sunday as the last. Several Masonic symbols also were carved into the boulder., as well as the letters “W W,” standing for “World Welfare,” according to the information sheet authored by western Colorado historian Dave Fishell.
“All indications point to Otto being an atheist,” Fishell wrote.
Kelly regularly hands out sheets of paper explaining the rock and its symbols to visitors, most of whom are mollified by the explanation, she said.
No one had called in any threats or otherwise warned that that the boulder was going to be defaced, Kelly said.
The only visitor who wasn’t relieved by the explanation of the boulder’s historical background, Kelly said, was David Edwards, a candidate for Mesa County commissioner, who excoriated the museum for displaying the swastika after appearing for a candidate forum there this summer.
The symbol, Edwards said, was especially hurtful to him as a Jew and a homosexual. Nazis drove Jews and homosexuals into concentration camps, where millions were murdered.
Edwards said Tuesday he had heard of no threats of vandalism or defacing the boulder.