Lawrence’s Rock: On the trail of a lost tradition

Chelsea Johnson

One of Lawrence’s best traits is the passion of the student body. In their studies, music, extracurriculars and whatever else they can schedule, Lawrentians take it to the next level. Fortunately, this intensity doesn’t stop with sanctioned activities. Even Lawrentians’ shenanigans refuse to be boring, following in the footsteps of past Lawrence students.

Many Lawrence traditions demonstrate this trait — notably, the Rock. The Rock, as it is called for lack of a more creative name, is a campus legend. Stories abound about its adventures and origins, and the archives are filled with articles and photos dedicated to this chunk of stone. Though many reports conflict, many overlap — and in these we can trace the Rock’s history.

In 1895, members of the senior class were on a geology trip to Mosquito Hill when some saw a granite boulder and decided it would make a wonderful class gift. With the help of their professor, they transported it back to Lawrence, where they had it inscribed “Class of ‘95” and set in a foundation.

The class valedictorian, in his speech presenting the gift to the college, gave this reasoning: “The Class of ’95 desire not to be forgotten, and so we have raised this boulder with the inscription which you see upon it.”

However, the valedictorian knew his fellow classmates too well. “The boulder may be pulled from its foundation, may be destroyed from accident or intention,” he said.

Even before the class graduated, this statement proved prophetic. Oral histories tell the story of the final day of examinations, when Dr. Plantz pointed out to seniors at the end of their final exam that their gift had already been vandalized, for someone changed the inscription to “Asses of ’95,” with clay and paint.

In the years following, the Rock quickly became a campus prank and canvas. Some groups were satisfied with using the Rock to advertise events or causes, while others used it purely for amusement. Layers of paint accumulated over the years, but rumors also suggest a tar-and-feathering and a wallpapering.

The original foundation did not last very long, as Lawrentians quickly realized that with proper teamwork or equipment, the Rock could be moved from place to place on campus – all 4,700 pounds of it. This is the most oft-quoted weight, though reports also exist of it being as large as 7,900 pounds.

Though a team of students with ropes can move it, as many people proved, the preferred method of transportation was tow truck. In a 1963 article about the Rock, a tow truck operator said that he has seen “40 years of high jinks” with the rock. At one point, it was custom that where the Rock was at homecoming was its home for the rest of the year, so competition ran high.

Of course, students had their fun with the Rock only if they could find it. The Rock did not spend all, or perhaps even most, of its time sitting around on Main Green. Famously, the Class of 1967 buried the Rock in the Plantz parking lot and exhumed it for the 15th class reunion.

In addition, the Rock has been pushed into the Fox River on numerous occasions. One 1955 Lawrentian even said that the Navy threw it into the river in a wartime practice maneuver. The Rock has also spent a lot of time in local ravines; one 1946 Post Crescent article accused the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity of rolling it into a “very narrow, very steep” ravine.

Even when no one could find the real Rock, students continued to prank one another. In the late 1950s or early 1960s — reports conflict — a paper-mâché version of the Rock was balanced on the corner of Stephenson Hall for a few days until a wind blew the imposter down.

One alumnus recalls his involvement in this prank, remembering how they spent hours making the fake in a kitchen and then broke into the building to place it on the roof. But the Rock usually made its way back somehow, and the adventures persisted.

That is, until it disappeared again. It has not been seen for at least the past 10 years. What happened to the Rock? It was last mentioned in a 1998 article, and campus rumors reveal no solid answer.

Accusations range from Lawrence administration to various organizations on campus. “It’s a question we get all the time, especially from alumni who remember it,” University Archivist and Assistant Professor Erin Dix said. “But no one knows what happened to it. Maybe another class hid it, or maybe we will never know.”

Perhaps it is a secret that a few Lawrentians will keep forever, or perhaps it is a true mystery. But traditions have a way of refusing to die, and it would be no surprise to find the Rock back on campus again.