Vandals Restart U Tradition of Painting Presidents Circle Rock Green

The+Rostrum+rock+is+painted+green+by+vandalists+at+President%27s+Circle.+The+Rostrum+was+placed+in+1914+and+was+painted+red.+Photo+credit%3A+Chris+Samuels

Chris Samuels

The Rostrum rock is painted green by vandalists at President’s Circle. The Rostrum was placed in 1914 and was painted red. Photo credit: Chris Samuels

By Courtney Tanner

The red rock in Presidents Circle, known as “The Rostrum,” was coated in a fresh layer of green paint over Thanksgiving Break – and it’s not the first time this has happened.

The most recent incident, discovered Nov. 30 at 8 a.m., is likely an attempt to revive an old university tradition where freshmen painted the rock green each year. U Police are unsure who covered it in dark green spray paint this time, and according to archives from The Daily Utah Chronicle, no one has ever been caught in the act since the prank started.

University students first carted the large rock across campus and Salt Lake City during a pep rally, chanting “Bust Boulder” to support the football team in its 1913 homecoming matchup against the University of Colorado. According to a 1914 article in The Chronicle, the rock fell off its wagon somewhere downtown where the cheering students left it in the middle of traffic.

Later that night a group of freshmen, called “greenies” at the time, brought the rock back to campus, playfully painted it green and placed it in front of the Park Building. Administrators were furious, and though no one fessed up, the green paint was cleared off and it was restored to its original red.

The incident, though, sparked an unending feud where paintbrushes were ever at-the-ready. After the rock was dedicated by ASUU in April 1914, freshman classes annually painted it green at the beginning of the school year and upperclassmen stood with buckets of red paint equipped to cover up the vandalism before the new coat dried. The two groups took turns displaying their artistry on the boulder for the next few decades.

“That the moon is made of green cheese we cannot deny, but we do know that where we have freshman we are bound to have green paint,” reads a 1926 Chronicle article. “It is the opinion of the freshman class in general that they did not commit the crime, but who ever heard of a horse thief returning the horses?”

Students used the Rostrum, named after the Roman word for podium, as a speaking point for protests as the university developed — but the paintings didn’t stop. In fact, they occurred more often. By 1946 the rock wore coats of “black, yellow or some other hue. There were even more decorative artists who painted it in polka dots and stripes.” At this point, university administrators moved the relic indoors to the Park Building, placing it under a glass case to protect it. Then students painted the glass.

U officials threatened to bury the rock on campus, and some believe they did. Others speculate that the administration destroyed the Rostrum with dynamite. No one is sure if the red rock that currently resides in Presidents Circle, which has its own address on Google Maps, is the original one. Most agree that the authentic Rostrum was removed at some point.

An article in The Chronicle says students placed a new rock behind the Park Building in 1962. Another 4,000-pound quartz one appeared behind OSH a year later.

“A proclamation was then stated,” the article reports, “that each year the red rock is hauled away, a rock will appear the next year 500 pounds heavier.”

The green paint defacement fizzled out, though, in the 1960s, when the Rostrum took its permanent place where it currently resides in Presidents Circle. The recent November incident was the first reported case of vandalism on the rock for what appears to be at least the last 10 years, if not more.

Shireen Ghorbani with the U’s Facilities Management said her team will assess the damage and repaint the rock red in the next couple days.

“As to who did it will remain a secret as it has occurred dozens of times before,” reads a 1926 Chronicle piece, “and probably will that many times again.”

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@CourtneyLTanner