The scrawl on the back of this mid-1890s photograph reads, simply: “‘88 Rock, campus background – Beloit.” I prefer to view the image as Beloit’s homage to Rodin’s famous bronze sculpture, “The Thinker.” Perhaps our man in the derby hat is quietly brooding over the embarrassing mispronunciations he made in his Latin recitation. Better yet, he sits pondering the past – he hears the sharp pounding of nails into wood and the rasping scrape of a mortar trowel as Middle College rises one brick at a time and Beloit builds its college. Or, listening closely, he hears the echoes from recent memory, when in solemn ceremony, the class of 1888 “planted” their stone legacy on top of an Indian mound, only to find it toppled downhill sometime later by raucous “Preps” from the college academy. Then again, perhaps our man in the derby hat envisions the future – in a year or two, when women students will step along the same well-worn paths the men have trodden since 1847. Or later, when a bugle blares, a flag snakes up its pole, and soldiers march on the Pearsons lawn through two world wars. Still later, in 1953, he watches flames leap hungrily through the chapel roof while the bells continue to chime in its clock tower. Over there, long past sunset and more than a decade on, a much smaller, yet just as powerful blaze flickers from a cigarette lighter, an arm thrusts high, and a draft card flutters to the ground like an illuminated moth. When an electric guitar solo splits the air like a lightning bolt of sound, our man holds on hard to his derby hat. What is that infernal racket keeping the college’s neighbors awake? Through billowing clouds of dust he can just make out the gyrating dancers of a 1980s Folk and Blues festival. After momentary panic, he’s back in position on the rock, once again gazing ahead. And there, on the path by Eaton Chapel, one student, two, then three, walk quietly, single file, ears plugged, eyes intent on something small and rectangular in their hands. Possibly this journey through time is too much for him to take in. Just when needed, a furry gray critter familiar to every Beloit student past, present, and no doubt in the future, darts in front of his legs, races up a shagbark hickory, and begins to scold. Our thinker feels at home.
And what about that rock? It’s still there, waiting patiently for another far-seeing student eager to ponder past, present, or future.