The boulder by Highway 9 in Snohomish, traditionally a canvas for pleasantries, recently was painted with a politically charged message. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)

The boulder by Highway 9 in Snohomish, traditionally a canvas for pleasantries, recently was painted with a politically charged message. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)

A cryptic meme splashes the usually benign rock of Snohomish

“Epstein didn’t kill himself” was a far cry from the usual fare of high-school pep and community spirit.

SNOHOMISH — The rock of Snohomish went rogue.

For decades, the 7-foot-high boulder off Highway 9 and Bickford Avenue was painted with pleasantries — tributes to graduating classes or town heroes, maybe a bold invite to the prom. Nice, small-townish stuff like that.

The messages recently deviated from the norm.

For more than a week, “Epstein didn’t kill himself” was in bright red letters at the busy intersection. On a visit Monday the rock was tagged with NATO graffiti using the anarchy sign for the letter A.

What’s up with that?

The hot-button phrase refers to financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s hanging death in prison in August while he was awaiting trial on charges for trafficking minors.

The trending hashtag #EpsteinDidntKillHimself is a meme on social networks.

For some, it’s a joke. For others, it’s no joke.

It’s a rallying cry, with polar motives depending on your political leanings.

The slogan is showing up everywhere — sprayed on highway overpasses, branded on beer cans, written in snow and depicted in cartoons, such as the one depicting Bart Simpson writing it over and over on a chalkboard. A T-shirt reads, “Christmas lights are a lot like Epstein, they don’t hang themselves.”

But on the precious rock of Snohomish?

The quaint river town of 10,000 is known for antique shops, craft beer and wedding venues. It’s home of the Snohomish High School Panthers football team. Kids grow up here, move away, and then come back to raise their children.

The big rock is in a field near the park-and-ride on Bickford. A lot of people pass by and look to see what the latest message is.

“This is the first time I’ve seen it not promote something relating to Snohomish High School teen spirit and things like that,” Mayor John Kartak said.

He said the rock is not on city-owned property.

“It’s our collective billboard,” resident Erin Gualco said. “It is a load-bearing wall in the structural integrity of our town.”

Thirty years ago, she decorated the rock with other members of her Snohomish High Class of ’89.

Messages often are “congratulating somebody who has accomplished or achieved something or passed on,” she said.

She mentioned how the rock’s RIP to longtime beloved Snohomish teacher and coach Charles “Tuck” Gionet in 2015 helped heal the community. “He was huge,” she said.

She called The Daily Herald last week when she saw the Epstein phrase.

“I think it’s brilliant,” Gualco said. “Everyone is talking about it and it’s valid. This is a big thing.”

She sees it as a means to keep the conversation going about the Epstein case.

“He would have had the ability to implicate many people,” Gualco said. “People in the position of power are hoping they can sweep it under the rug and forget about it.”

The meaning behind the Epstein message depends on the viewpoint.

It could be a #MeToo shout-out or a statement for Trump 2020 and rant against the impeachment. It’s used by people of both political stripes with multiple conspiracy theories lurking behind the phrase about Epstein, whose old boys’ network included the likes of Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Prince Andrew.

Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican Arizona congressman, used the first letter of 23 tweets to spell out “Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself.”

It’s a whodunnit — who wrote the Epstein message on the Snohomish rock, as well as who painted over it. Not that it matters. Other than a red lid and empty can of high-performance enamel tossed on the ground, the trail is cold.

Facebook posts about the town’s rock got more than 1,000 shares and hundreds of comments.

“We are going to end up on Tosh.0 again,” one remark read, referring to pop culture comedian Daniel Tosh’s coverage in September of the Snohomish woman who held a garage sale to sell all her husband’s stuff after she caught him cheating.

The division between commenters was apparent, as this back-and-forth exchange illustrates:

“The memes are usually hilarious, but leave the rock out of politics and conspiracies.”

“The rock is a palette for public speech. Many have spoken through the rock. We cannot censure the rock’s artists nor their content.”

“I’m not arguing either direction on the circumstances, I’m just here about the rock.”

Andrea Brown:; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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