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Scripture Rocks Heritage Park: Huge Boulders, Forest & Biblical Graffiti with a Strange Backstory

There is something about human nature to want to leave its mark on aspects of nature that are large and impressive. This is seen time and time again in PA at numerous spots, specifically those with boulders. Instead of leaving them be, some people come with chisels, spray paint, and more to “leave their mark” and vandalize something that is much larger than them. Scripture Rocks in Brookville is a prime example of this human impulse. 

While the story regarding this biblical vandalism is fascinating and was the main draw for us going to check it out, the natural beauty of this forested and rugged tract with house sized boulders is what will bring us back to it again. Considering this place is less than a mile south of Interstate 80 on Route 28, this is a great spot to go and get a little hike in to split up a drive, or even to stop at as a pit stop on a ride up to Cook Forest or the Allegheny National Forest, or out to the Elk herd from the Pittsburgh area. 

Scripture Rocks in Brookville is a public park area that has been dedicated to the chiseled biblical graffiti that was one man's pipe dream, tirade, and evidence of his declining mental health that would lead him to be institutionalized in a time when mental health care was rudimentary and dangerous. We have to delve into the background of the man who created Scripture Rocks in order to truly understand the full context of the place.

Douglas Stahlman's graffiti illustrates the challenges of someone living with declining mental health in a time period in which minimal adequate intervention was possible. He adhered to a particularly strange and extreme brand of religious fundamentalism that is accurately described as a cult. This is specifically evidenced with him chiseling "an order from God" that a local young woman was to marry him. Soon after he completed his final set of graffiti, he was taken away and institutionalized at the former Dixmont State Hospital near Pittsburgh. Sadly, the right treatments for his mental health were not available at that point which would have not only protected him, but possibly saved his family members as well. 

CeCe doing some light reading.

Douglas Stahlman originally grew up in the Brookville area. After moving around in his life, he eventually ended up in the state of Indiana where he started a family with a wife and children. At this point he joined up with a "faith healer," John Alexander Dowie, who declared himself to be a "prophet" as the "third Elijah." Eventually Douglas began to call himself a prophet as well. 

Douglas, following the brainwashing that this cult instilled in him, refused all actual medical treatment for both his wife and his son. As a result of this negligence, his wife and one of his children succumbed to their illnesses with the withholding of medical treatment, instead insisting on "divine intervention through faith" would heal them, without considering the fact that maybe God directed the healthcare professionals and scientists to heal people. Needless to say, Douglas was horrendously negligent and his young wife and second son died as a result. The brother of Douglas's deceased wife took custody of the children after this fiasco, and Douglas was committed to the "insane ward at the county jail." Upon this development following Douglas's criminal negligence and some time spent in the ward, his mother in Brookville took him back in. A great rundown of Douglas's life can be found at this link. 

He ended up going on a mission tours of the country with Dowie, the charismatic cult leader and then stayed in Brookville. Between the brainwashing, possible guilt from making the absolute wrong choice that likely ended up killing his wife and child, and the trauma of that loss, his mental health was likely further compromised from what it was. He carried his religious mission to Brookville through creating altars and chapels on some of the giant boulders across town. Once he stayed in Brookville, he used his mission to create inscriptions on the rocks from 1907-1913, on which he wrote biblical passages, coupled with "statements from God" that commanded a young woman in the area to marry him:


(parts of the inscription have been defaced, showing signs of struggle with the family)



I underlined and bolded "her own" because this specifically talks about how this was not a relationship, but rather her being stalked by Douglas, by his own admission, but that "God commanded" that they have a relationship. He then proceeded to inscribe the following rocks with one bible verse that refers to retribution coming to those who rise up against someone, and then further verses that demand subservience by women and servants, likely as further threats to the poor young woman that he was harassing. 

His final known rocks, before he was institutionalized, state that God commanded the murder of his ex brother-in-law (the man who rescued his remaining children that were left after Douglas's willful negligence).  Needless to say, things were not going well with him. It is impossible to understand the totality of Scripture Rocks without the cautionary tale of its creator, which specifically illustrates the need for comprehensive and open access to mental health care, which Douglas (and the people that were either killed or harassed in his orbit) would have surely benefitted from. Now back to his creation, Scripture Rocks. 

The chiseled graffiti at Scripture Rocks in Brookville is Douglas's handiwork and Mother Nature is weathering and wearing it away back into smooth rock after just over a century. The local area has come together to create a small nature park to show off the boulders, which are truly impressive. Set into a heavily forested hillside, the boulders are massive and hiking around them is largely on the easy side, with light elevation change. The beautiful landscape itself is worth going out of your way to see and hike. 

In addition to the biblical graffiti of Douglas Stahlman, a small Native American campsite was located on the 4.5 acre site, in addition to some 19th century quarrying and exploratory test digging for possible coal mines was also undertaken on this tract. 

The biblical graffiti is an added novelty that adds on to an already impressive location. I came for the graffiti, but was mostly impressed with the house size boulders strewn about a beautiful second growth and mature forest. I will be back again to see the beautiful landscape. I have always been impressed by the wooded landscape of the Brookville Area, yet there are not a ton of opportunities to enjoy the landscape on public land. 1.5 miles of hiking trails await visitors to Scripture Rocks. This is a nice little place to check out if you happen to be in the area, especially en route to Cook Forest State Park, the Elk Herd, and the PA Wilds and Allegheny National Forest, or even if you are on a long drive on Interstate 80 and want to stretch your legs a little bit with a short hike. They also have a lovely picnic area at the trailhead for the park. The trails are also pet friendly, so be sure to take your dog and clean up after them!

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