Outside the lines

Somewhere on the easternmost fringes of Buncombe County, Clyde Hollifield leads a taciturn existence far from the madding crowd. But his reputation casts a long shadow.

I stumbled across his name while interviewing an eccentric local writer. “Do you know any other exceptional characters?” I asked at the end of our conversation. I was promptly provided with Clyde’s name — along with the startling information that the foregoing Mr. Hollfield had built a replica of Stonehenge in his front yard. I had to call.

“I’m into that Celtic thing,” Clyde informed me nebulously on first contact.

He’s not kidding. Born 56 years ago in Salisbury, N.C., Clyde has always lived in these mountains. Intense curiosity about his Celtic heritage is evident in every aspect of his life.

Each year, Clyde dons the familial garb of the MacDuffy clan (his mother’s maiden name) and participates in the Scottish Highland Games up at Grandfather Mountain. Having absorbed the rich cultural traditions of this area by listening to his grandfather spin yarns for the locals, Clyde believes that storytelling is “the oldest form of education … telling us what people have thought important for their time.”

But certainly the crux of what makes this guy run is his voracious appetite for trying to understand human behavior. He laughingly elaborates, “We’re just cavemen driving cars,” he laughingly elaborates. “Human beings’ main occupation is still tribal warfare of some fashion. It really is. Either social climbing in a company or actually going over and whacking the other guy on the head, everybody that is not ‘us’ eats their babies, marries their cousins, are worthless and are not quite human.”

But back to the matter at hand. “Is it true that you’ve duplicated Stonehenge?” I probed. No, he admitted. It was just a plain old stone circle — but I could come have a look.

Hot damn.

Good thing Clyde gave detailed directions — he’s planted himself down a twisted gravel road laced with rusted-out junkers and dilapidated barns on a plot set firmly in the middle of nowhere. But as I pulled into his driveway, I understood why he’d want some privacy.

Unfathomable as it seemed, a great stone circle — not unlike the Neolithic monuments randomly scattered around Great Britain — greeted me at the gate. I was gobsmacked. Aside from some very ugly turkeys pecking amid the stones, the only sound was the wind soughing across the ridge. Clearly, the reproduction was not intended as a tourist attraction. Had it not been for a few reminders of contemporary civilization, I would have expected King Arthur to amble across the property, scepter in hand.

Instead, a trio of frisky black dogs yapped my arrival as Hollifield appeared on his front porch. Wary of me but immediately hospitable, the artisan talked about his hounds for a moment before I burst out with the question burning inside me.

“Why?”

“I wanted to figure it out,” he said simply — as if the hands-on learning of anything were axiomatic.

He immediately began expounding his basic theory. “Well, you can sit on the couch and talk New Age horses••t about Stonehenge being levitated, or you can get out in the yard and move some big rocks around,” he boomed.

“That one is true north, that one is the Winter Solstice, that one is Ground Hog’s Day,” he said, pointing to various stones.

“It’s astronomy, not astrology,” he declared.

The indigenous granite rocks — some gathered right out of his trickling creek, others from as far as 20 miles away — form a circle with a circumference of roughly 60 feet.

“The position of each stone marks a calendar point … the exact same calendar used by the ancient Celts and Native Americans. Most native people everywhere divided the year up into four quarters by the equinoxes and solstices. Those are the days that work astronomically. You couldn’t arbitrarily select, say, the fourth of July, because it is not an astronomical progression of the planets. But June 21 is,” he explained.

Hollifield erected the imposing phenomenon with no help: “I moved the rocks by levers, rollers and so forth,” he said, daring to debunk the mystery of the monoliths. “I erected that two-ton rock over there, stood it up by myself. So, if one person can raise two tons, it obviously wouldn’t take an army to raise 50 tons. No, those rocks didn’t have to be vibrated into place by UFOs.

“And,” he continued excitedly, “it don’t take no great brain to figure out how they moved the rocks to Stonehenge from Wales. They moved ’em by water — everybody agrees about that. But what people don’t know is that the rocks were slumped under the log rafts so they weighed just a quarter as much.” (At that point, I wondered what would happen if media bigwigs got hold of this information. Those “educational” TV shows that falsify archeological myths at the expense of naive viewers might be sending their producers straight to the unemployment lines!)

Hollifield embarked on this project in 1982 and worked on it steadily for two years. Although he claims it’s a work in progress (the piece still lacks a few stones), it’s safe to say not many people would notice.

When pressed, he admits to knowing more about this stuff than the guy on the street. Hollifield has a degree in industrial technology engineering and serves on the faculty at McDowell Tech. But a self-bestowed diploma in “hyperphysical anthropology,” which hangs on his office wall, confirms he’s not your average stone-circle architect.

Straight-faced, Hollifield explains that “hyperphysical anthropology is the study of the invisible cultures” — but he backs up the conundrum with particulars.

Hollifield has written several manuscripts about the fairy kingdom — three of which are now sitting on the desk of a New York agent, awaiting a publisher’s decision. The intricate trilogy contains more than 100 stylized illustrations intertwined with fable-like stories. Thanks to Hollifield’s cleverness, the fairies have their own language, complete with an elaborate glossary and their own mythology.

“There’s a devil, a weather spirit, a bogeyman and a trickster,” says Hollifield, showing me some of the shimmering pictures. “Old Track, for example, misleads hunters and hounds by laying down false trails for them to follow. He’s got 13 scents, nine types of tracks, seven distinct droppings and six urines.”

Incredibly, however, the stone circle and the fairy books don’t begin to convey Clyde’s outrageous array of pursuits. He’s also a puppeteer, a storyteller and a toymaker. And right now, there’s even a Clyde Hollifield retrospective on display at Old Fort’s Mountain Gateway Museum. Appropriately named Atomatoys — The Whimsical Genius of a Mountain Craftsman, the exhibit highlights Hollifield’s playful nature at its richest.

A gravity-defying egg timer; Dr. Clyde’s Magnetic UFO Detector and Anomaly Sensor; the Great Finger of the North (a compass disguised as a wooden phallic symbol); a working replica of a 1776 American village that runs on weights and gears; and a backpack still (for the well-prepared tippler) all impart a deeper insight into the mind of this homespun brainiac. Talk about outsider art!

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