The Great Seal Memorial of Somerset

One of the most interesting, and infamous, features of Somerset is the Great Seal Memorial located in Cundiff Square. I only recently learned that the official name of the monument was the Great Seal Memorial, as most people in town simply refer to it as the “Pyramid” or “Cundiff’s Monument,” since it is very clearly stated in chiseled stone that this is a monument to God… and to C. K. Cundiff. It stands as one of the most hated eyesores in the local populace, and the City of Somerset for years has sought a way to destroy it but have been unable to do so because of its location on Cundiff’s private property. For me, it is one of the strangest things I’ve encountered in any place I’ve lived, let alone in the center of a small southern town, and I absolutely believe that whether C. K. Cundiff intended it or not, that monument is the embodiment and physical symbol of the high strangeness that is an underlying feature of Pulaski County and the Penny Royal.

“Pulaski County and the State of Kentucky can boast of having the only Great Seal Memorial ever to be constructed in the United States in 1976. The Great Seal Memorial stands some 25 feet high and is constructed out of 40 tons of white Georgia marble with a giant eagle perched on top and immediately below is the ever seeing eye of God that watches over America.” (Commonwealth Journal, 06/01/78)

“The idea of the Great Seal Memorial was conceived by the Cundiff Square owner and designer, C. K. Cundiff, as he stood high upon the Great Pyramid in Egypt in 1970. The greatest symbol of strength in the world. Perhaps the same force that influenced William Barton and Charles Thompson to use the Great Pyramid  part of the Great Seal of the United States had the same effect on C. K. Cundiff.” (Commonwealth Journal, 06/01/78)

The image of Clinton Kennedy Cundiff climbing the Great Pyramid in 1970 and standing atop that ancient structure, looking out over Cairo and feeling as if he stands atop the world receiving the heritage of the Pharaohs is absurdly comical to me. Nonetheless, his subsequent actions and ambitions seem to indicate that he did indeed have visions of grandeur for Somerset. As soon as he returned from his Egyptian holiday, Cundiff began to implement his plan and purchased the property near the center of town referred to as Rub Hollow off of South Vine Street with the intent to develop it as a “city within the city of Somerset,” what he referred to as the city of Town Springs. 

“Town Springs Plaza, consisting of 25 light industry shops and offices, is presently under construction by Cundiff and Sons. The plaza in the City of Town Springs is expected to open by January 1, 1973, Cundiff said. Construction on the second part of the City of Town Springs will begin early next spring with approximately 25 two-story English townhouses to be included… the entire city of Town Springs development will be built on private land with private streets.”

From the very start of the project, Cundiff was at odds with the city council and the Mayor. He wanted to build his own city inside the city of Somerset, and he wanted his Town Springs to be the real center of town, not the Fountain Square where it was then and continues to reside. All of the articles in the Commonwealth Journal regarding the development of Town Springs in Cundiff Square, it should be noted, were in fact not articles but advertisements paid for by Cundiff. The project was completed, but the city within the city of Somerset never materialized. Cundiff ended up with a business park and adjacent apartments for lease. The spring itself, next to the Great Seal Memorial, was not the original town spring, as Cundiff alleged. And the “hanging tree” that stood over the spring which he claimed was 200 years old was planted by him at the site. The entire historical image of the tree and spring as the locus of the founding of the town was invented by Cundiff to drum up attention and tourism. He charged folks a dollar to take a picture in front of the monument, and people were encouraged to make a wish and throw coins down into the wishing well he built atop the springs. All of it was bullshit. But Cundiff didn’t care. He had a vision, and he never let anyone stop him (even if it meant murder, but that’s another story).

There are also rumors that when Cundiff Square and Town Springs was initially developed, the contractors used the unmarked portion of the Somerset Cemetary as fill dirt prior to paving the private streets of which Cundiff dreamt. The remains of hundreds of dead were rumored to have been displaced and spread beneath the entire area. Again, these are rumors, but there are numerous insiders who have told us the story is probably true. 

There was a boom in the late 1970s and 1980s for Cundiff Square, with numerous businesses locating there, but by the 1990s the businesses left and the buildings fell into disrepair. The apartments remained, but they became low-rent and uncared for. Cundiff died on May 7, 2003, leaving behind a wake of eccentricity and scandal that we won’t discuss in this article. Suffice to say, his identity is deeply woven into the fabric of Somerset, especially the darker, rarely acknowledged underbelly of the community consciousness. And not much can be said openly, for fear of legal retribution. 

There are also rumors that one of the apartments in Cundiff Square is the location where Linda Garrett and Cody Gibson were murdered in 1994. Confirming that, however, may never be possible, as the city of Somerset finally succeeded in purchasing the Cundiff Square and Town Springs property. An announcement was made on October 21, 2020 (the day we released Penny Royal) that a new four year college would be built on the property, a peculiar institution called Somerset College, which in an official statement indicated that it wished to continue the ideals of the Freemasons on which this town and the original Freemason College was initially founded. I encourage you to read the full statement here

The Great Seal Memorial will soon be torn down as construction on the college progresses. Kyle Kadel hopes to obtain part or all of the monument for preservation in his museum, but no decision has been made. It nonetheless will forever stand as a monument to the history of high strangeness in Somerset and on the Penny Royal.

– Nathan   

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