“The Rock” - Gift of the Class of 1873
“The Rock” in its original location, with its inscription. Date unknown. Photo Credit: M.S.U. Archives.
One of the university’s more famed (and notorious) traditions is that of “The Rock,” a large boulder with a prominent flat face that is used as a constantly changing painted billboard for all sorts of messages—birthday greetings, political slogans, and everything in between. However, few students are aware that the rock had its origins as a class gift.
The rock’s original resting place was imbedded in the ground very near to the tip of the Delta, lying face up so that its flat face was parallel to the ground and exposed to view. Even as the Botany Department found a better site for its gardens, the stone was felt to be an obstruction to the use of the Delta, and its removal was imminent.
The Class of 1873 extracted the boulder and moved it to campus, engraving “Class ’73” on its face. Somewhere beneath the hundreds of layers of paint, the simple inscription exists today. The rock thus became the first gift to the school by a graduating class.
Originally, the rock was placed in the “sacred space” near College Hall, between where Beaumont Tower and the Union Memorial Building now stand. In its early years it was a popular site for young couples to have their photographs taken, and it became known as the “Engagement Rock.” This tradition faded in the twentieth century as graffiti began to appear on the rock, and a new tradition evolved.
In 1986, the rock was moved to its present location just northeast of the Farm Lane bridge. Over the years, the tradition of painting the rock has been embellished with an unwritten code of etiquette, primarily that the rock is painted only at night and that the painters must stand vigil until daybreak if they want their creation to remain intact for the day. Given the rock’s popularity as a soapbox, this has of course led to any number of squabbles.