Pristine Petrified Phenomenon

From Kook Science

The Pristine Petrified Phenomenon, sometimes referred to as the Henderson Co. Petrified Gentleman or simply P.G., was a Portland cement statue that was exhibited as a petrified body in 1903, first by A. W. Sitton, its apparent discoverer, and later by a syndicate incorporated as the Pristine Petrified Phenomenon Company at Asheville, North Carolina.

The Petrified Gentleman and His Touring Company

It was first claimed that the petrified remains of the unknown soul that would become known as the Pristine Petrified Phenomenon were discovered in March 1903 in the ground at Sitton's farm near Boylston Creek and Mills River in Henderson County, North Carolina, 23 miles (37 km.) south of Asheville. The petrifacted stone man was, in later press retelling, excavated by ditch-diggers working in Sitton's employ, and the find was given some credence by virtue of the fact that a tree root had apparently grown around it in the years since it had been buried. Sitton was then said to have exhibited the petrified man to anyone willing to pay ten cents, first at his farm directly, and later at Brevard in Transylvania County, the nearest town south.

From the start, the area papers questioned the authenticity of the find, suggesting it had already been toured years ago in not just North Carolina, but as far afield as Waco, Texas, where one editor claimed to have seen an alleged petrified man with an identical death wound. In particular, the Charlotte papers made contention that the Henderson Co. man was the same petrified man as had been shown in their city during 1896, which at that time was claimed to have been discovered near Columbia, South Carolina on the banks of the Saluda River.

The incredulity of regional news editors notwithstanding, Sitton continued to show the man to paying audiences until he received and accepted an offer of $3500 from a syndicate of businessmen in Asheville, who then conveyed the Phenomenon there. The syndicate was D. G. Noland, E. A. Reisecker, John Mackey, Henry Reed and Pat Carr, incorporators of the Pristine Petrified Phenomenon Company, which filed papers in early May 1903, their articles stating simply: "The object and intention in the formation of this company is to put on exhibition the petrified body of a man discovered and found in the county of Henderson, Boylston Creek, and all such other fossils, curiosities, articles and things of whatsoever kind the directors may choose."

After a short stint in Asheville, the Phenomenon was taken on a tour to St. Louis, Missouri, and then onward to New Orleans, Louisiana for an exhibition at the United Confederate Veterans Reunion of 19-22 May 1903, and from there back east to Columbia, South Carolina, and north to Spartanburg, S.C., before finally returning home again to Asheville, where the company determined it would remain while they considered the finances of their operation, having found the venture was less profitable that they had hoped. Later, stories would circulate that the owners did not anticipate that several other exhibitions of identical character would appear in New Orleans: it was reported that anywhere from six to thirteen other supposed petrified remains were on display at the Veterans Reunion, most, if not all, seen to be obvious frauds.

The Phenomenon did take one further tour, being sent to Morganton in July 1903 and then to Charlotte, where it was again decried as being the same man as was shown in 1895.

Faced with the failure of their business venture, the syndicate sued Sitton and a partner named John Long for fraud, seeking to recover the outlay of $3500 they had spent on such an unprofitable fraud. It was reported that evidence was given at the grand jury trial that the Phenomenon had been produced by a Californian manufacturer of such petrified men, whose products had been buried across the country, only to be discovered and exhibited by certain enterprising people. Despite this, Sitton was not demonstrated to have committed fraud, and, in the aftermath of this loss at trial, the Pristine Petrified Man Company ended their operations and abandoned the statue.

It was last known, in 1926, to be in the basement of 16 Church Street in Asheville, formerly the home of Noland Brown Undertaking Co.

Press Coverage

Discovery (April 1903)

Incorporation (May 1903)

  • "THE PETRIFIED GENTLEMAN GETS INCORPORATED.", Asheville Weekly Citizen (Asheville, NC): 7, 12 May 1903, 
  • "The Petrified Man in Trouble.", Monroe Journal (Monroe, NC): 4, 19 May 1903,, "Neither the railroad authorities nor the express company care to assume the responsibility for handling 'the mysterious body of stone,' with the result that the corporation has been in executive session almost continuously during the past twenty-four hours. It was the purpose of the managers to make a tour of the object of petrification, but this decision of the express and the railway companies interferes with the programme. It seems that since the incorporation of this impressive concern a valuation of more than $10,000 has been placed on the petrified man, and it is this valuation that has caused the common carriers of the country to hesitate." 

Continued Incredulity (May 1903)

  • "RIGHT UP TO THE PETRIFIED MAN; MUST PUT UP OR SHUT UP", Asheville Weekly Citizen (Asheville, NC): 6, 19 May 1903,, "Some days ago the esteemed Charlotte Observer declared the petrified man a fake — charged him to his face with being made of plaster of paris, with having once been dug up out of the mud of the Saluda river in South Carolina, being exhibited in Columbia until some one discovered the fraud and the public gave him the merry ha-ha. To this the incorporators and alleged purchasers of the aforesaid p. g. made answer with many affidavits as to his genuineness attached, and hinted at a libel suit unless justice were done the man of stone. The Observer printed the reply and said nothing that day, but the next day it returned to the attack, reiterating its charge that the Henderson county p. g. is the very same petrified man who was exhibited in Charlotte in 1895 by gentlemen who claimed that their curiosity had been unearthed near Columbia, S. C. It adds: 'This happens to be one of those cases that precludes argument. When the Columbia petrified man was in the city, winning many sheckles for his owners, Mr. W. I. Van Ness almost broke his back carrying the heavy body upstairs into his studo so that he could make a photograph. He made the picture and it is a capital photograph. Alongside of this photograph the Observer is able to place several pictures made of 'Squire Sitton's man; and the two petrified men are one and the same gentlemen. This statement is made with the full knowledge that there is such a thing as a libel law; and if there is a suit over this unfortunate affair this paper feels safe unless the owners and backers of Squire Sitton's man can prove to the jury that the two petrified gentlemen were twins who wore an alleged bullet hole apiece in their right shoulders, who had chipped off places on identically the same places on their body, and who turned out their toes and turned up their noses and crossed their blessed petrified hands exactly alike. The pertinent question is, where have they been keeping th fake all this time, and why did they bury him so close to his former resting place?" 

The Grand Tour (May-June 1903)

A Poor Business (July 1903)

Pristine Portland Cement Phenomenon (November 1903)

PPP Co. vs. Sitton & Long (Nov. 1903 - Apr. 1904)