It appeared near Interstate 30 and Beach Street on Trinity Trail in Cowtown six days after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, when the country was still on edge about the threat of another insurrection by the former president’s supporters on Inauguration Day. Tall like a metal stud in Trump Tower, the 250-pound monolith didn’t shine or shimmer like the mysterious ones appearing around in South Texas, Florida, California, or Utah or in Belgium, Germany, Romania, or Spain. It looked as if the aliens had dragged it through manure and quickly wiped it off before erecting it for local news outlets. 

Local news stories soon followed. “Mysterious monolith appears on Trinity Trail in Fort Worth,” the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Jan. 12. “Everyone’s Freaking Out About the ‘Monolith’ That’s Mysteriously Appeared by the Trinity River,” announced Fort Worth Magazine. “Mysterious Monolith Found in Texas,” questioned several NBC outlets in Chicago, New York, and Washington. They claimed it looked like something out of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“We had some safety concerns [Monday] night after we were told about it, so we moved it away from the trail and laid it on its side,” Chad Lorance, spokesperson for the Tarrant Regional Water District, wrote in an email to Fort Worth Magazine. “This morning, when our operations folks went back out there, someone had stood it back up again. After some consideration, we decided to let it stay for the time being. We have heard there has been a steady stream of folks who have come out to see it today. It is a fun distraction for the public. 

“Also, because of where it is located, it might be an opportunity to introduce some new people to our Trinity Trails System.”

It also wasn’t really all that mysterious or unusual for The Lone Star State and simply confirmed that it was just another day in Texas. 

A relatively recent pictograph from Hueco Tanks State Historic Park outside of El Paso, Texas | Shutterstock.com

Lone Star mysteries

Texas has a long history of the mysterious and unusual gripping locals’ minds from the Smiley Tombstone in Dallas to the Witch’s Grave in Liberty Hill, to the Marfa Lights in Marfa. Over in Bexar County, the “Angel of Death” reportedly stalks an abandoned hospital, and a host of child-sized ghosts supposedly lurk inside a historic hotel in Galveston. In the early morning hours, when the moon lingers low over the South Texas horizon, the headless El Muerto allegedly appears and haunts the highways, his shriveled head and sombrero swinging with the rhythm of his wild dark mustang’s gallop

Those mysteries are only a smattering of our unusual urban legends that have spawned headlines and clicks over the years in Texas. 

In December, Ranker wrote about the “Black Eyed Children” mystery in its “15 Creepiest Texas Urban Legends” report. According to the legend, a journalist in Abilene parked his car outside of a movie theater when a couple of children appeared at his car window. They begged for a ride home. Persistent, they pleaded with him to invite them as if they were little vampires. Then he noticed their eyes, black and soulless. He drove away frightened. 

Of course, it should be noted that not all instances of children with black soulless eyes are malicious. In Texas, if your child drinks a Dairy Queen shake too fast, they might exhibit all sorts of strange behavior, including their eyes rolling back into their head. 

Closer to home, several local outlets have dropped stories about the Ghost of White Rock Lake. A pale beautiful woman in her 20s, she allegedly appears in a soaking white dress on the roads near White Rock Lake. She flags down motorists and tells them that she was in a boating accident and had to swim to shore. “She will sob quietly throughout the car ride, but will not say a word,” The Dallas Morning News reported in late January 2019. “And once the motorist reaches the address she has given, she will either have disappeared from the back seat or will jump out of the car and run up to the house without saying anything.”

The Morning News reporter Elvia Limón went on a ghost hunt with Haunted Rooms America to find her. “I wanted to have the best chance of meeting Dallas’ famous ghost, so I took a detour through the woods surrounding White Rock,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, I was not visited by any spirits during my walk before the start of the tour.

“… [The tour guide] and I were unable to interact with the ghost during our tour, so we cannot confirm nor deny she exists. But that doesn’t mean she won’t ask for a ride any time soon.”

It could also mean that, like many Americans, she simply isn’t a fan of journalists.

Strange days

A helicopter crew from the Utah Department of Public Safety & Division of Wildlife Resources were surveying bighorn sheep when they first spotted the monolith in the remote red-rock desert of Utah. It quickly began sparking debates of alien origin online as people struggled to figure out the how and the why behind the 3-to 4-meter structure.

“This thing is not from another world,” a Utah Highway Patrol spokesperson told the Associated Press in a Nov. 24 report. 

Shortly after it appeared, pictures of the triangular structure began appearing online. The Bureau of Land Management tweeted that installing a monolith without authorization is illegal, regardless of which planet you may have come from. Internet sleuths quickly discerned its location for Instagram users and began taking photos posing with it.

A week after it appeared, the monolith mysteriously vanished, though one Instagram user claimed he saw a group of people dismantling it; whether they were lizard people was still up for debate until The New York Times ruined the fun. 

Not so-alien origins

Soon monoliths of unknown origins began appearing and disappearing around the globe. Reports from British beach to a Romanian hillside, to a gold monolith discovered in Colombia began dominating headlines as people shared videos of the structures online. 

But not everyone was happy about their appearances. Along a California mountain trail, Christian group toppled a 200-pound, 12-foot metal monolith and replaced it with a wooden cross while chanting “Christ is king.” 

“We don’t want illegal aliens from Mexico or outer space,” one of the Christian men said in a video posted to the DLive site, according to a Dec. 10 Mic.com report. “So let’s tear this bitch down, come on!”

News outlets did their best to debunk the illegal alien origin claim. “Artist or aliens? Mystery surrounds Utah monolith’s appearance and disappearance,” NBC News reported and then followed a few days later with “Monoliths in California, Utah, and Romania aren’t gifts real aliens might send to Earth.” Not long after those reports, The Guardian dropped “Mystery of the monoliths: if only it were aliens.” A couple of weeks later, The New York Times published “Screenland A New Theory About the Monolith: We Are the Aliens.”  

It was only a matter of time before they started appearing in Texas. Texans have had a love/hate relationship with illegal aliens since the 1800s. 

Texas sightings

The first Texas monolith appeared in early December near the San Antonio airport. It was a crude wooden structure with smeared silver paint that indicated the aliens may have carried it across the Rio Grande instead of across the galaxy.

A few days later, another one appeared in El Paso’s Upper Valley. Later, photos of it stashed in the back of someone’s pickup showed up online. 

About a month after its El Paso appearance, another one appeared near the Trinity River in Cowtown. A spectator taking photos of it told NBC5, “That first one everyone saw, I feel like that could maybe be [the work of] aliens.”

NBC5 broke the story that high school students were responsible for the not-so-otherworldly object in Fort Worth. John Black, the owner of Backwoods AutMoto in Millsap, claimed that he had worked with Millsap High School students over a four-week period to build the eight-foot-tall monolith. 

“People associate them with aliens, and hey, Jim Bob got bored in the backyard and decided to build something out of the scrap metal he’s got,” Black told NBC5. “We had a blast with this.” 

Space Odyssey

The Fort Worth monolith mystery isn’t the only one to be solved since they began appearing in November. One by one, their mysteries began to unravel. A travel photographer, Ross Bernards, claimed that he was with a group of adventure athletes who removed the original monolith in Utah. They were afraid tourists would spoil the pristine desert location, The New York Times reported Dec. 1. 

But no one knows where it originally came from or who installed it in the remote Utah desert. Did they use ATVs to carry it across the desert or mules like gold miners in the 1800s? And more importantly, why did they do it? To offer a distraction from the unfounded claims of election fraud and the hatred gripping the country? 

Does it matter? 

In April 1968, Roger Ebert wrote in “‘2001’ — The Monolith and the Message”:

Q. What’s that big black monolith? A. It’s a big black monolith.

Q. Where did it come from? A. From somewhere else.

Q. Who put it there? A. Intelligent beings since it has right angles and nature doesn’t make right angles on its own.

Q. How many monoliths are there? A. One for every time Kubrick needs one in his film. Now it would seem that these are obvious observations. But audiences don’t like simple answers, I guess; they want the monolith to “stand” for something. Well, it does. It stands for a monolith without an explanation. 

It’s the fact that man can’t explain it that makes it interesting. If Kubrick had explained it, perhaps by having some little green men from Mars lower it into place, would that have been more satisfactory? Does everything need an explanation? Some people think so. I wonder how they endure looking at the stars.

Christian McPhate

Christian McPhate is the managing editor of Local Profile. He has been working as a journalist for more than a decade. His work has appeared in a number of publications, including the Dallas Morning News,...