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Northwestern University
The Rock, 1975
The Rock, 1975

Rock Star

At a school noted for its illustrious alumni, the most colorful character at Northwestern may be the inanimate object known simply as the Rock.

Since its arrival on campus in 1902, the Rock has been cloaked in a new design almost every night. It has sported messages, opinions, jokes, and marriage proposals. It’s been papier-machéd, split into pieces and reassembled, and has been the focal point for countless rendezvous, demonstrations, and vigils.

When the University announced plans in 1989 to move it 30 feet to its current location, the outcry from students caught the attention of the national media.

“The Rock was the one enduring symbol of student autonomy,” Gary Rintel ’89 told the New York Times that year. “And like the goddess of liberty in Tiananmen Square, the oppressive authorities chose to attack it.”

Over the years, the unassuming chunk of Baraboo quartzite from Devil’s Lake, Wis. has acquired a charisma all its own.

“It’s a mystical sort of abstract symbolic presence on campus,” then-University archivist Patrick Quinn said of the Rock in 1989. “It’s the one symbol generations of students have shared.”

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