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What’s with those multiplying monoliths?

A believer’s take on the strange shapes that have popped up in Utah and Romania.

In an undated image provided by the Utah Department of Public Safety, a monolith is shown embedded in the rock in southeastern Utah on Nov. 18, 2020.UTAH DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY/NYT

I want to believe, I really do.

When it comes to unexplained phenomena, I’m usually all in. Bigfoot? You bet. Ghosts? Yes. UFOs? Absolutely. When Richard Dreyfuss’s character turns a plate of mashed potatoes into a replica of Devils Tower in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” that seems totally natural to me.

So news that an obelisk of stainless steel had suddenly appeared in a remote canyon in Utah was very exciting. Here we go! At last, relatives of the extraterrestrials captured when a UFO crashed in Roswell, N.M., in 1947 are coming back to retrieve their loved ones.


I raced to a computer to get a good look at the thing. I was immediately disappointed. Some have said the 10-foot-tall silver prism evokes the monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” I’m not so sure. A monolith is stone. This is sheet metal, riveted together at the edges. If anything, it looks like an appliance, something you can buy at Costco.

Nevertheless, people have been captivated by the tower, with many making a pilgrimage to see it and, like the apes in “2001,” to caress it. Can you blame them? With the world ravaged by a virus that’s killed nearly 1.5 million people, this is a welcome, if bewildering, distraction.

But I’m pretty sure that’s all it is. Or was. Just 10 days after it was discovered on a lonesome stretch of red rock desert, the pop-up structure disappeared. But not without a trace. The New York Times published blurry photos, shot by adventure photographer Ross Bernards, of four men knocking it down under cover of darkness.

A US Bureau of Land Management spokesperson confirmed that “an unknown party or parties” removed the monolith, and gave no indication that the responsible party or parties were from another planet.


I know, I know, a similar metal column has now appeared in eastern Romania, and this one’s even taller — 13 feet — and one side faces Mount Ceahlau, a magical place that’s known as “the Romanian Olympus.” I’m still not buying it. This feels like an art-school project or prank.

Have you seen “The Simpsons” episode that parodies “2001”? Homer is an ape and, while all the other apes are learning about fire, Homer uses the monolith as a back-scratcher and then falls asleep against it.

I want to believe there’s life out there somewhere, but I’ll need more proof than a fabricated metal piling. If another one turns up in Area 51 or adjacent to Elvis’s grave at Graceland, call me.

Mark Shanahan can be reached at Follow him @MarkAShanahan.