175th Anniversary of Oberlin College and the City of Oberlin: 1833 - 2008

Oberlin Rocks

It’s been reported in Oberlin history that 39 members of the class of 1898 pulled a seven-ton glacial rock out of Plum Creek and rolled it toward campus to present it as a class gift. The rock remains on what is now Tappan Square across from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

During the 1897-98 academic year, the men’s senior class took a general geology course. One of their tasks was to gather and name a collection of more than 50 different rocks.

Among the places the students frequented to obtain their rock samples was Plum Creek. One of the students recalled going to the creek as a child and sliding off a “very interesting boulder” that was located between Morgan and South Professor streets. The boulder was noteworthy because it had three distinct rock formations. The students’ professor, G. F. Wright, wanted the senior class of 1898 to bring the rock to campus and place it near Finney Chapel facing the First Congregational Church [now First Church in Oberlin]. The male members of the class met and agreed to take on the task.

However, they had a few obstacles to overcome. Chief among them was to keep the class of 1899 from finding out and possibly thwarting their efforts. Thus, the men decided to get the rock at night. They also bore the risk of breaking curfew. However, the dean of men simply told them: “Go to your rooms at 10 o’clock as required. I can think of no other rule or regulation which tells students when they are to get up.”

With that, the 40 classmates met the night of December 3, armed with picks, spades, crowbars, lanterns, a wheelbarrow, and chains, and headed to Morgan and South Professor. A few women classmates learned of the secret rendezvous and provided coffee and a sack of sandwiches.

The men proceeded to dig, push, roll, and pull until they eased the rock into the wheelbarrow—some several hours later. By 5 a.m., en route back to campus, it began to rain. The mud-soaked men wheeled the boulder to a safe spot and cleaned themselves in time for a 6:30 a.m. wakeup call for breakfast. Later that day, several classmates placed the big rock in its current home.

A bit perturbed that the class of 1898 acquired the rock undetected, the class of 1899 threatened to “blow up the boulder with nitroglycerin,” so for a time, the class of 1898 kept vigil. During a College-wide service in Finney Chapel, a student explained the geological significance of the rock and presented it as a class of 1898 gift to the College and thereby ending any effort to rid the campus of it . These days, the rock often receives a fresh coat of paint with thought-provoking words or an admonition. But that’s another story.

Sources: Oberlin Alumni Magazine, March 1954, Oberlin Review online, vol. 130, March 8, 2002 issue