alsobrook at the rocks

David Alsobrook reflects upon the work of his great-grandfather, Douglas Stahlman.

By Jess Weible

BROOKVILLE — Since it opened in 2016, Scripture Rocks Heritage Park has attracted thousands of visitors from near and far to wander through its trails and admire the landscape, the geology, the birds and the many rock engravings done by one of Brookville’s most enigmatic figures, Douglas Stahlman.

However, Tuesday, Nov. 28, the park had a very special guest, Douglas Stahlman’s great-grandson, David Alsobrook.

Alsobrook grew up in the Atlanta suburbs and has lived there for most of his life. He graduated from Florida State in Tallahassee and married his wife, Debbie, with whom he has four boys. Alsobrook has worked most of his career at Cisco Systems in product management and business development.

Until recently Alsobrook knew nothing about the mystery behind his lineage. In fact, it wasn’t until Brian Fritz, co-author of “The Scripture Rocks: Why Douglas Stahlman Carved His Legacy in Stone,” called Alsobrook one day offering a manuscript copy of the book.

“I will say it was really cool when Brian called me on the phone,” Alsobrook said. “It was completely out of the blue. Most people don’t get that kind insight into something like that.”

Alsobrook’s grandfather was Stahlman’s younger son, James. It was shortly after giving birth to James that Stahlman’s wife, Marion, died of blood poisoning. According to the local newspaper, Stahlman had dismissed his wife’s doctor in favor of the practices of faith healing to cure his wife. He was arrested on charges of being insane and dangerous. His wife’s brother, James Alsobrook, ultimately won custody of Stahlman’s two sons, Glen and James. It was soon after that Stahlman returned to Brookville and began to formulate his “rock plan.”

Today, Scripture Rocks Heritage Park has had thousands of visitors, and was recognized with the American Association of State and Local History’s 72nd Annual Leadership in History Award. Fritz had told Alsobrook about the plans to build the park and the History Center updated him with its progress, but once he saw his great-grandfather’s work on a Roadside America’s list travel destinations in Pennsylvania, he decided it was time to take a tour for himself.

The History Center’s Executive director, Ken Burkett and JCHS Board President Eric Armstrong, guided Alsobrook and his wife on their tour, explaining their process for uncovering the rocks as well as piecing together from their extensive research the context behind each of Stahlman’s engravings in the park.

Alsobrook and his wife noted with admiration the size and spacing of the lettering and the beauty of the landscape. “You read about the extent of it, but it’s different when you actually see it,” he noted. “This was a lot of work. The fact that he did all of this in about two years, it’s amazing the amount of intense focus and effort.”

Alsobrook added that despite the dismissive language that many people have used in describing Stahlman as “crazy,” his commitment and faith in his work and in God was evident. “Most people don’t have a masterwork, but you can definitely say this is a masterwork,” he said. “I think people appreciate it more now. He is like an awful lot of people throughout history who were not appreciated until after they died.”

Although Stahlman seemed to be very troubled, Alsobrook says he connected with his great-grandfather’s ability to find spiritual understanding through the contemplation of the natural world. “I’m a Christian and have usually felt my strongest connection to God when I’m out in nature,” Alsobrook revealed. “So I certainly appreciated and enjoyed taking advantage of the opportunity my great- grandfather wanted to create for me and many others this week in Brookville.”

Alsobrook and his family enjoy traveling across the country and around the world. Every time they visit an area, he likes to find museums or hiking trails to learn about the geography and history of the area. However, he admitted that he’d never seen anything quite like Scripture Rocks Heritage Park. “This is unique,” he said. “I’ve been around the U.S a lot and many other places in the world and this is pretty unique. And it’s even more incredible when the history is also connected to you.”

For Alsobrook, his experience visiting the park sparked his curiosity to know the rest of the story, particularly how Stahlman lived out the rest of his days at the Dixmont Hospital and how Ella Alsobrook raised Alsobrook’s grandfather, James, and his older brother, Glen, on her own after the passing of her husband in 1909. “How did she end up going to Nashville and then Atlanta?” he wondered. “I assume part of it was trying to get away. How did she do that? I would love to hear that part of the story. A lot of people have their bootstrap stories. They, effectively, start a new life. My grandfather and great-uncle both did well for themselves. So, it struck me, how did they do that?”

Though Alsobrook wishes he had the opportunity to ask his grandfather these questions, he remains grateful for the information he has gotten due to the efforts of Ken Burkett, Brian Fritz, Eric Armstrong, and many others who made Scripture Rocks Heritage Park possible.

“Most of the time when you see a big park like this, you think the state runs it. But this is a small town effort to put this together. Someone just said, ‘We’re going to go do this.’ And then a bunch of people took their time to do it. It’s really cool.”

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