Getting Stoned at Salisbury House

If you think that the title of this post is in reference to biblical punishments or the drug culture of the 1970s, you’d be wrong. I am talking about a little known area of Salisbury House called “Friendship Hall.”

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Friendship Hall

Between 1923 and 1928 when Carl Weeks was building Salisbury House, he was also engaged in one of his favorite hobbies: rock collecting. Whenever Carl was traveling, he would bring home a rock from the area he had visited.

During this time he got an idea. Why not start a Rock Club? Since he had over 45,000 retailers selling his Armand Cosmetics products, he could ask them to join his Rock Club. Thus, Carl suggested that they each send him a rock from their part of the world. This was the start of the “American Rock Club.”

Carl also had a monthly newsletter for his cosmetics business called “The Armand Broadside.” This paper went out to all of his retailers, promoting his business. He decided to utilize this existing network for his rock collection as well. It was a perfect plan.

Was Carl successful? Like most things in his life, he knew that the only way to find out was to try it. Within a year, his collection had grown to over 250 rocks. Some of the rocks sent were accompanied by a letter explaining where it had come from.

Now, Carl had a problem. How should he display such a large collection? Being in possession of a creative mind, he got another idea. Why not incorporate the collection into the walls of the house he was building?

In a little known area of Salisbury House, there was a hallway being planned. It would connect the main house to the garage. This was the ideal place for the rocks. Carl had his workmen inlay the collection into the walls of this hall. He called it “Friendship Hall,” after those who had answered his call for rocks.

Years later, after the family left the house in the 1950s, no one could identify any of the rocks. A plot map was never made. This is where I come in.

My name is David Ross and I hold a degree as a “Certified Gemologist -AGS.” I have always been fascinated by rocks and gemstones. As a tour guide at Salisbury House, I saw the rocks and learned that the stories of the stones had all but disappeared. I thought, I can help with that. Little did I know that the adventure I was about to take would lead me to discover wonderful things.

I received permission from the director of the museum to examine the rocks, identify them, and match them with their corresponding letters. This task, though I didn’t know at the time, would take over four months.

I felt like Sherlock Holmes. I let the rocks tell me their stories. By using the process of elimination, I was able to identify most of the rocks and match some of written correspondence in the Salisbury House archives to the stones. I took pictures of each section of the walls. Then I numbered the rocks, identified them, wrote a report and cross referenced the stones with the letters.

I found a piece of the Rock of Gibraltar, marble from the Temple of Jupiter in Athens, two stones from the Temple of the Sun in Mexico, a piece of copper ore, basalt or lava from Idaho, pipestone from Minnesota, an Iowa geode, water stones, and to my surprise, marble from the Parthenon in Greece.

The privilege of getting to examine the collection, for me, was the thrill of a lifetime. I hope when you visit Salisbury House you will experience the thrill of discovery too. I hope you get to see this wonderful collection for yourself. Get stoned at Salisbury House.

Rock from Gibraltar

Rock from Gibraltar

 

Temple of Jupiter

Temple of Jupiter

 

Temple of the Sun

Temple of the Sun

 

Pipestone

Pipestone from Minnesota

 

Geode from Iowa

Geode from Iowa

 

Water Stones

Water Stones

About David Ross
David Ross is a tour guide at Salisbury House in Des Moines, Iowa.

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