The facts are few, barely enough to illuminate a life: He went by the name of Aaron Andrew. That was not his name. He was a foreigner. He arrived with horses, goats and body bedecked in self-made medallions. He was artistically inclined, not only crafting coins embossed with his profile, but also producing a detailed relief carving on a large boulder near Moab. He camped at the north end of town in a makeshift tent built of canvas scraps and sticks. On Sundays, he would parade up and down Main Street in full military regalia, replete with sword and .40-caliber rifle. He was kind to local children. He caused no disruptions beyond a puzzled town’s conjecturing. He was evicted from town, arrested in Provo and institutionalized. He was bound with ropes at the state mental hospital. He died there.
The mysteries loom large, shadowing the truth of his existence: his real name, country of origin, age, occupational history, family connections, trials and tribulations leading to emigration, path to Moab, actual dates of residence here, reasons for rock carving, why he referred to himself at times as “King America” and “King World” and cause of death. His medical records are inaccessible, and those who remember him are nearly all deceased.
In the few pictures that exist, Aaron Andrew is a stout man with a broad face and nose, with gentle eyes and smile. He looks Eastern European. He appears proud and happy despite living the life of an itinerant eccentric. He is self-possessed, but even in the pictures of him in his military regalia, raising his sword skyward, there is a hint of mirth in his face, a sense of taking none of it too seriously.
I wish I could have known him.
I can’t seem to get him out of my head. He’s made an impression there — of man and horses and weapons — just as he did on his boulder over 75 years ago. The relief sculpture he made is militaristic and menacing, but his presence in Moab — or at least in my mind — was avuncular, unconventional and shrouded in mystery.
He spent months carving the King World rock. It depicts a man astride a horse — perhaps a self-portrait — with a sword and gun, wearing a Cossack-style hat that bears the world’s continents on its surface. His lapel buttons feature the Americas on one and Eurasia on the other. Between his head and that of the horse is a cryptic inscription reading:
Based on his inscription — and a few documented details — I have painted a picture of his life. His name was not Aaron Andrew. That was an adopted name, born of the need to assimilate. He escaped from a war-torn, oppressive place, leaving behind his trade, his roots and his suffering. Perhaps he had already lost his family; departure would be no greater grief. He abandoned fighting and fear to those who had the heart for it.
Upon arriving in America, he became intoxicated with liberty. Compared to his country of origin, here he had the life of a king. King America. King World. He traveled, moving west, exploring an exotic terrain containing a generosity of space and mind. He eventually stumbled upon Moab, entering via the grandeur of Mill Creek Canyon, gifting his handmade coins to young boys gigging frogs there. He decided to make a home.
He camped, he carved, he helped area families with chores, he befriended the town’s braver boys. He paraded, with sword and rifle, along Main Street every Sunday. And with this deplorable habit — practiced on the Lord’s Day, of all days –—he angered Moab’s most-prominent citizens. The local family that had come to love him was forced to evict him from his home.
He was told to go to Provo. There, the police and the mental hospital awaited his arrival. The freest man in the country, the King of the World, was locked up and tied up, subjected to the kind of oppression he had once fled. But guns and violence did not herald this subjugation. Instead, it came quietly and insidiously, fueled by an unspoken clause within our guarantee to freedom, a qualification in fine print: Ultimately, one’s comportment is more powerful than his liberty. Ultimately, we are only as free as our adherence to certain mores. Ultimately, eccentricity may be seen as a battle cry.
With hope and faith extinguished, Aaron Andrew died shortly after being institutionalized. Without knowledge of his given name, his medical records are inaccessible.
Now, beyond a rockbound self-portrait known only to Moabites, there is no trace of King America, King World. It’s as if he never existed … except in my mind, which is constantly calling for the necessary knowledge to breathe him back to life.