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DATELINE TEXAS Up Against the Rock in Comfort BY KAREN OLSSON f ifteen slab of sand-colored limestone arrived in the Hill Country town of Comfort last July, following an arduous journey. A retired government employee and amateur historian named Ed Scharf had spent months searching Central Texas quarries and stream beds for just the right piece of limestone, before spotting this particular one at a quarry in his hometown of Helotes, a suburb of San Antonio. It took two earthmovers several hours to extract it from the 130-foot-deep quarry pit. There at the quarry, retiree Scharf and a couple of hired men toiled for a week with a jackhammer, drills, and chisels, in the middle of one of the hottest Texas summers on record, to smooth the bottom and remove an irregularity. Finally Scharf hired a crane and truck to haul the thirty-two-ton rock to Comfort’s small town park. Since then it’s raised a lot of fuss, for a rock provoking public debate, media attention, a heated late-night Chamber of Commerce meeting, and a petition delivered to the Kendall County Commissioners’ Court, with 650 signatures beneath the demand, “No Monument to Atheism in Comfort.” The rock’s transformation from quarry stone to atheist shrine began two years ago, when the Comfort Heritage Foundation, a local historical group, rededicated the town’s Treue der Union monument. That monument commemorates a group of nineteenth century immigrants who, as the marker beside the monument recounts, opposed slavery, remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War, and ultimately were killed by Confederate soldiers at the 1862 Battle of the Nueces. What the marker doesn’t fully explain is that the settlers’ opposition to slavery grew out of a curious transposition of Enlightenment idealism to the Western frontier. Many of the Germans who settled the area were “Freidenkers,” or Freethinkers: intellectuals who’d emigrated with utopian dreams or fled after the failed 1848 Revolution in Germany. Around the time of the rededication ceremony, it occurred to Scharf to erect a second monument in Comfort, commemorating the Freethinker settlers. “It began with, `Why isn’t there a monument to these people?'” says Scharf, who works part-time as A The Comfort Rock a realtor in Helotes. So with the blessing of the Comfort Chamber of Commerce \(the closest thing to a governing body in the Comfort Heritage Foundation, Scharf studied up on the Freethinkers and submitted an application to the Texas Historical Commission for an official sign. “The inscription was read publicly, it was sent through the mails, there was never a whisper of dissent,” he says. Meanwhile, after contem E.R.N. Reed plating many possible monument designs, Scharf began his search for “a natural rock that everybody could relate to.” For most of August, the unfinished Freethinker cenotaph so called to distinguish it from the already existing monument sat in the park awaiting the plaque and bronzed eagle that were to be attached to it. But late that month an article in the San Antonio Express-News about a current-day freethinker group alarmed a couple of Com 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER NOVEMBER 6, 1998