The Rock

The Rock, famous for its almost daily changes of color and message, first came to Northwestern as a drinking fountain. The Baraboo quartzite boulder, quarried at Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin, was given to the University by the 1902 graduating class of the College of Liberal Arts to provide future students with a ready source of fresh drinking water. The presentation of the fountain was originally scheduled for June 16, 1902 (Class Day), but actually took place on June 18 (Alumni Day). Representatives of the class of 1902 presented the fountain to the University “with the confidence that even when the granite rock has crumbled, Northwestern’s name will still be known and honored.” Although the monument functioned as a drinking fountain only until the 1930s, when the pipes froze, its placement directly between University Hall and Harris Hall gave it an enduring function as a campus meeting-place.

It is unclear when the Rock first began to serve as a place for students to express themselves. Overly exuberant freshmen of the 1920s or ‘30s whitewashed it, but were forced (by the sophomore class) to clean the paint off. In 1951, when a student covered the Rock with paint, it was considered vandalism. Photos of the Rock from the early 1960s reveal sundry splashes of paint, and by the mid-1970s, painting the Rock had become the ritual that it is today, with student groups taking turns decorating it with slogans, logos, and announcements of events.

By the mid-1980s, though, the situation was getting out of hand, as painting activities spread to the trees, sidewalk, and (on students’ feet as they walked through wet paint) into the classrooms. Despite the opposition of campus traditionalists, the administration began plans to move the Rock from its prominent location. The move took place in August, 1989. During the 20- or 30-foot trip to its new home, the Rock crumbled into several pieces--the result, perhaps, of the corrosion of the original water pipes. The pieces were mortared together and the Rock was safely installed—in a cement bed behind a stone wall. The Rock still serves as a meeting place, billboard, and venue for such events as rallies, political demonstrations, and theatrical productions on the University’s Evanston Campus.

The Rock: With Members of Donor Class of 1902
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Quick Facts

Date: 1902