The Mysterious Motivational Rocks of Dogtown, Massachusetts

Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0
Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Bill and Melinda Gates have the Gates Foundation as their legacy. Andrew Carnegie funded more than 2000 libraries. The Rockefellers changed the Manhattan skyline. And Roger Babson carved some rocks in an abandoned ghost town.

Roger Babson was a successful entrepreneur and investor who amassed a fortune after founding Babson’s Statistical Organization, which analyzed stocks and bonds and revolutionized the financial services industry. In fact, his unique insight into the financial world meant that he was one of the first people to predict that the stock market was going to plummet in 1929.

When his prognostication proved true, Babson wasn’t one to sit idle. He came up with a plan to leave inspirational quotes on large rocks in the woods in Dogtown, Massachusetts, a place where colonists, including Babson’s ancestors, had once settled. His master plan was twofold: First, it would help people who were financially suffering by providing gainful employment for stonecutters in the area. And secondly, the inscriptions, which he called his “Life’s Book,” would serve to inspire those who were down on their luck—though, with no context, all-caps inscriptions like “IF WORK STOPS VALUES DECAY,” “USE YOUR HEAD,” and “HELP MOTHER” seem vaguely threatening.

His family thought so, too. In his autobiography, Babson noted:

“My family says that I am defacing the boulders and disgracing the family with these inscriptions, but the work gives me a lot of satisfaction, fresh air, exercise, and sunshine. I am really trying to write a simple book with words carved in stone instead of printed paper. Besides, when on Dogtown common, I revert to a boyhood which I once enjoyed when driving cows there many years ago.”

Babson’s family members weren't the only ones who didn't find the rocks charming. When one of the masons he employed carved a rock on land owned by Dogtown resident Leila Webster Adams, she was none too happy. “Just look at that horrible thing; just look at it!” she told reporters. “Whoever heard of such foolish warnings?”

To be fair, Babson’s legacy isn’t just rocks—he also founded Babson College, a private business school in Massachusetts. His other big claim to fame was his 1940 presidential run. FDR's popularity couldn’t be overcome; Babson earned just 0.12 percent of the popular vote. These days, he has faded into near-obscurity—but his rocks are still there. The next time you’re in the Gloucester, Massachusetts, area, stop by the Dogtown hiking trails and see if you can find all 24 of Babson’s Boulders.