Matt Mysliwiec was already planning to return to his hometown of Holliston to catch up with friends sometime this fall, before the weather gets too cold.
But Tuesday, he heard news that upended his plans: Holliston’s legendary geological landmark — the fabled Balancing Rock — had finally lost its balance. Sometime on Tuesday, the fabled 5-ton boulder fell off its perch atop a larger rock formation, where it had been, seemingly teetering but unshakable, for centuries and quite possibly eons.
Mysliwiec decided to move up his trip. He simply had to see it for himself.
The fall of Balancing Rock brought a sudden end to the beloved Holliston icon, a naturally occurring oddity that has been celebrated for generations and is now wrapped in local lore.
“The fact that that thing is down now is just huge,” said Mysliwiec, 30. “I know it’s a rock, but it sort of has a status symbol with it, as far as the town is concerned. . . . I guess you could say it’s a bit of a town legend."
Located on a grassy patch of private property along Washington Street, Balancing Rock sits in front of a 55-plus residential community that was erected nearby and named after the landmark. For countless years, people passing through and those who grew up nearby have stopped to take pictures of themselves pretending to push the rock, which is about 20 feet by 10 feet.
The boulder’s plunge from the granite outcropping that long supported it has left both former and current residents reeling, and searching for answers.
Theories abound about how the rock suddenly tumbled. On the Facebook page for the Holliston Reporter, the town’s local news outlet, some have speculated that it could have been a mild earthquake or vibrations from passing truck traffic on adjacent Route 16 that did it in. Others have said perhaps the tremors from a blasting site in the next town over was the culprit.
But the leading hypotheses appear split between a shocking act of vandalism and a much less shocking natural phenomenon, like erosion.
“One’s only led to believe what could have caused it,” said John Cronin, chairman of the town’s select board. “A lot of people have been comparing it to the end of an era, like it was when the Old Man of the Mountain came tumbling down in New Hampshire several years ago.”
Many have been saying that the rock’s nosedive is emblematic of the times — another watershed moment in a year marked by a series of catastrophes.
“I can’t believe the balancing rock in Holliston fell," one person tweeted, after hearing the news. “2020 really trash."
On its Facebook page, the Holliston Historical Society wrote, “Another thing to blame on 2020!”
Cronin, in so many words, agreed.
“Another sign that 2020 is just not our year,” he said, laughing. “Things are just not in balance."
Part of the reason so many are lamenting the rock’s spill to the grass has more to do with the town’s place in the history of the United States than it does the peculiar way in which it seemed to magically float.
According to Joanne Hulbert, the town’s historian, one story about the rock posits that in 1789, while passing through Holliston during a visit to Massachusetts, General George Washington himself attempted to tip the visual curiosity off its ledge. Eventually both he and his soldiers gave up, and Balancing Rock stayed put.
Hulbert admits the legend about Washington trying to move the rock is more word-of-mouth than historical fact. But it is documented — in his own diary — that the nation’s first president did spend time in town, she said.
When asked how she was feeling on Tuesday about the era’s end, Hulbert replied, “extremely sad.”
“Like we should have a funeral," she said. “It has been an icon and a center point of Holliston’s history for a long time.”
The rock remains apparently unharmed in the spot where it fell. But people in Holliston are grieving. Some have reached out to the town to share pictures of themselves standing next to the formation. Others have been offering to use heavy machinery to restore it to its original place, and pretend Tuesday never happened.
Town Administrator Travis Ahern said the town hasn’t made any decisions quite yet. But he’s not ruling anything out.
“If that’s the direction the town is wanting to go, we will certainly have people willing to help us do that,” said Ahern. “It’s part of the history of Holliston, and visually something people have tied to the town.”
Until then, it may be time to change the rock’s moniker.
“Maybe it’s the un-balancing rock,” said Hulbert.