Rock: [rok] – noun
Mineral matter of variable composition, consolidated or unconsolidated, assembled in masses or considerable quantities in nature, as by the action of heat or water.
Sure, Merriam Websters dictionary defines a rock pretty well, however, at MSU that word embodies a deeper meaning. If I was asked to name three monuments that are a staple of Michigan State’s culture, I would say the Sparty Statue, Beaumont Tower, and The Rock. Painted at least every other day with messages of various sorts ranging from “I Love You” to information about an event taking place on campus, the Rock has become our campus’ tangible Twitter. Whether on a bus, by foot, or on a bike, every student takes a few seconds to read what the rock displays for us on that day. The act of reading it and acknowledging its presence has become an unconscious act for many of us students. The history however is unknown to most.
William J. Beal writes in his book “History of the Michigan Agricultural College” (1915), “There are so many pleasing things about college life that are ever afterward fresh in the memory and cherished by it, that something is due in return. To commemorate those days in a worthy way should be one of the last duties of the senior class.” The Rock was in fact a gift of the class of 1873. The graduating class wanted to leave their legacy on campus and therefore began the excavation of an 18,000 year old pudding stone that was left behind as glacial evidence. This enormous stone was located in the current Beal Botanical Garden (what used to be the orchard). The students spent the majority of the afternoon digging up the stone and then moving it to its original location using a team of 20 oxen. It was placed north of the MSU Museum next to Beaumont Tower (what used to be south of the armory, upon the site of the old botanical building).
Of course, with any activity of this size, something is bound to go wrong. The Tuesday, June 5, 1900 MAC Record explained what happened that night…
“During the night, however, the stone mysteriously (?) sank below the surface of the ground; a flower bedecked mound of earth, with a slab bearing the inscription “’00 Stone Dead,” marked the place where it had previously stood. The seniors say the juniors did it. Nothing so trivial, however, can daunt the seniors in their purpose, and they promise that ere they graduate they will raise the stone and have it properly inscribed.”
The Rock was eventually raised and on it inscribed “Class of ‘73” as a memento to their senior year.
There it stood for over 150 years. Over time it acquired the name “Engagement Rock” for many proposals took place here. In the 1970s students began to use the rock for other purposes. Controversial messages began to appear on the Rock which immediately sparked disagreement between students and alumni. In an effort to monitor this activity, the administration moved The Rock to just outside the Department of Public Safety building. There was an effort to sandblast the rock but not only did students protest, but there was rain which did not allow for the process to take place, and that very same day the rock was returned to the original location. The university would bi-annually sandblast the rock to remove any graffiti but this would cost between $300-400 per time which eventually was out of the University’s budget. The rock would become a permanent graffiti message board. In the mid 1980s, with the continual painting of The Rock, it was moved to its current location on Farm Lane next to the Auditorium. Now it has come to represent the freedom of speech at MSU. Students camp out to paint it and eyes are turned everyday to see what it has to say.
The evolution of what The Rock has come to symbolize on campus probably would have astounded the graduating class of 1873. What will it stand for in the future?… only time will tell.