KEYSTONE: the oddly-shaped stone placed at the top of an arch

I spent much of yesterday and most of today driving to Pittsburgh.  In case you didn’t know it, Pennsylvania is a very wide state.  Thanks to frequent rest stops and impulsive needs for coffee and other goodies, my back is only mildly agitated by so much driving.  But the drive was really a good one.  Pennsylvania, the Keystone State, is really quite beautiful … and it wasn’t snowing!

I’ve always been fascinated with the Keystone State designation.  Wikipedia tells us that its name is rich in tradition:

Pennsylvania has been known as the Keystone State since 1802,[108] based in part upon its central location among the original Thirteen Colonies forming the United States, and also in part because of the number of important American documents signed in the state (such as the Declaration of Independence). It was also a keystone state economically, having both the industry common to the North (making such wares as Conestoga wagons and rifles)[111][112] and the agriculture common to the South (producing feed, fiber, food, and tobacco).[113]

All of that is meaningful and passes muster, but it is when I put the term keystone into its architectural setting that I find the designation to be even more impressive.   When architects design an arch their primary issue is stability.   If there isn’t something central to the arch which holds it together, the arch will collapse.  It is the final stone laid in the creation of the arch … the keystone … that it all comes together.   I’m told that the mortar used in such construction is almost superfluous.  The pressure of the two sides of the column pressing inward upon the keystone cause the stability.

I saw a Gothic arch being reassembled at one point and it was amazing how much modern technology and equipment was required to keep the arch from falling down until the keystone was put back into its proper place.  Slowly the engineers began removing the technology, and I suspect they were holding their breaths (I know I was.)  But the concern was unnecessary.  The arch was secure and the keystone played its proper role.

Just think, then, what is the significance of Pennsylvania being the Keystone State.   Citizens of the State (referred to as a Commonwealth on its seal) have to be proud to know that the nation looks to Pennsylvania as the glue which holds the confederation together.  (Or, at least did so in the nineteenth century.)   There are times when that significance is not lost on us in the 21st century, either.  Has there been a national election in the recent past where the nation has not held its breath to see what was going to happen in Pennsylvania?   Ohio, Florida and California have a similar significance, but Pennsylvania frequently casts a vote that is a deciding vote in tight races.   This year’s senatorial race in the Keystone State  held that distinction.

We spend enough time in Pennsylvania these days that the terrain has become quite familiar.   I know that I’m going to drive through the tunnels beneath four mountains before I get to Pittsburgh.  And I pretty much know the location of important rest stops along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  I even knew there was something wrong when Glenda, my GPS traveling companion failed to tell me to get off the Pike at Exit 57.  She must have fallen asleep or something.

I’ve lived in The Empire State, the Ocean State, the Constitution State, the Pine Tree State, the Bay State, the Wolverine State, the Sooner State, the Green Mountain State, and the Lone Star State.   Each title has some significance, but it is the Keystone State which “holds things together.”   I hope it can keep that characteristic for a while longer.   The walls are a little shaky right now.

Photo Credit: keystone state

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