Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Blarney

It was 1999 and I was walking across Tulane's campus between classes and saw a stone with a plaque on it in the entrance to a courtyard between buildings. Curiosity got the best of me, and I walked over.

"Tulane's Blarney Stone.  Removed and returned to its rightful location, April 1994."



Oh, man.  If there was ever a need for a little bit of sleuthing, it had to be this.  I asked first in one place, then in another, walking into nearby offices and asking people I had never met if they knew the story behind it.

Finally, after a number of blank stares and strange looks, someone suggested that I go ask the resident silverback - a professor emeritus whose name escapes me.  "He's bound to know," I was told.

As is the case with all emeritus professors, his office was not accessible through normal means.  The small door under the staircase opened up to a tiny office overstuffed with old papers and a teetering bookcase on the verge of collapse.

The white-haired man in the tweed jacket with patches on the elbows seemed startled.  "Can I help you?"

I asked my question to Dr. Edmund Meritus and he laughed.  And immediately dropped into storytelling mode.

It was the aftermath of WWII, and there were a huge number of older student at Tulane using the new GI bill to fund their education.  During this time, there were a number of unexplained things that appeared overnight, including a small boulder that simply appeared on campus one morning.

The engineering department adopted it as their totem, which, at the time, assured that the other departments would work to steal and/or deface the totem.  Each time it was stolen, the thieves would look to secure the stone in a way that would prevent future boulder raids.

Times were different then.

Eventually, the engineers decided to stop this nonsense, once and for all.  They stole the stone back from architecture, proceeded to drill a hole in the base (schist fractures easily, so this had to be done carefully), inserted a pipe that was cemented into place, and connected the other end of that pipe to the underground high-pressure steam pipe, located twenty feet underground.

It stayed there.

Generations passed. 

The geology department put together a rock garden, and without actually asking the engineering department for permission, went through the administrative route, and got approval to abscond with the stone.  A work order was placed, and the facilities guys got out the backhoe, exposed the base of the pedestal to which the stone had been cemented, and yanked the stone out of its base.

Remember the high-pressure steam pipe?

Yeah.  Engineering did, too.  Fortunately, it was accompanied by a monster BOOM, but nobody was hurt.  The backhoe driver changed underwear, the pipe got fixed, and geology got their piece of schist for their rock garden.

It was, after all, a different age, with different rule, and the department loyalty meant less. So once the Blarney Stone had been incorporated into Geology's rock garden, it was forgotten. 

Except for the emerite. He remembered. And passed the story off to his graduate students. Year after year.

Finally, a graduate student got the hint, and recruited several of his cohort to steal the rock.  After some minor planning, and perhaps a dram of courage or two, the four of them waited until midnight to make the heist.  They comprised the Committee for the Recovery of and Restoration of the Blarney Stone.

They backed the truck up with no lights, attached the ropes and pulleys (this is a BIG rock) and proceeded to begin the process of lifting the rock into the back of the truck bed.

At which point, predictably, Mr. Campus Security Officer strolled by, making a nightly rounds.

They froze, hoping that Mr. C.S. Officer would not see them.

No such luck.  There was no opportunity to flee; the truck was blocked in.  So the leader of the pack did the only thing he could do. 

He pulled out his clipboard, and showed the officer the Requisition Form, signed and in triplicate (it was an undergraduate paper he was supposed to be grading), granting permission to relocate the stone from Geology to Engineering.  Her further explained that the truck had only been approved to drive on the campus grounds to undertake the extraction after hours. 

By the end of the discussion, Mr. CS Officer was nodding, had a bogus phone number of a nonexistent professor, and was lending a hand putting the rock in the back of the truck.

The next morning, the chair of the Geology Department chair was apoplectic over the theft, and filed a campus police report, claiming that a schistose stone was stolen overnight from the rock garden in front of the geology building.  The value of the stone was listed as $0.00.

Oddly enough, the Campus police never solved the crime....


The story was over, and Professor E. Meritus watched me to gauge my reaction.  In the process, he threw down the gauntlet.... would I be the one to re-initiate the stealing of the Blarney Stone? Would I be willing to take on the challenge of starting an internecine war over the possession of a worthless rock?


Photo used without permission, stolen from http://tulane.edu/about/traditions-pre-sept-2014.cfm 

The stone is now cemented into place, complete with its brass plaque, in the U-shaped courtyard of one of the buildings on campus.  The Engineering department is now defunct.  Professor E. Meritus is now removed from his spot under the stairs. 

And I still want to steal the stone back.  Just to start the process all over again.  Anybody got a diamond rope saw I can borrow?




2 comments:

Elessann said...

Hi Crorey, Can I add your version of the Blarney Stone history to the University Archives? Cheers, Ann

Crorey Lawton said...

Sure! (That's a stolen photo, though...)