Hidden in plain sight: no stone left unturned

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You might trip over this odd, hut-like lith on your way into the library without having any idea what just stubbed your toe. Low and inscrutable, most passersby disregard the weighty tablet with its text display set to Ancient Greek.

But this quiet week in summer, we pause to wonder: what is it? What is its meaning? Why is it here? Did some passing god or classics scholar drop his iPlinth in the mulch?

A college campus is sort of a living, breathing search engine, so it’s just a matter of figuring out who to ask. One favorite go-to source is Heather Lyle, university archivist, who says the mysterious object was the original cornerstone of Doane Hall. It’s the only surviving remnant of that handsome and lamented gothic structure, built by William Howard Doane in 1878 to house Denison’s library. The building stood for 60 years, roughly where its cornerstone now rests, before being razed by Doane’s daughters to build the more commodious and modern present library in 1936.

An inscription on the stone’s side tells us it was a gift from the class of 1878, and early photographs of Doane Hall show the stone (if you squint) in the structure’s northeast corner, at approximately chest-height for easy reading.

As to that, an email inquiry to Garrett Jacobsen, associate professor of classics, yielded a gratifyingly swift translation by iPhone: “He who possesses wisdom is wealthy;” an apt epigraph for a college library. Jacobsen suspects that it’s probably not an attributable quote but rather an idea based on readings from the New Testament, which makes sense in light of Denison’s religious orientation in the late 19th century.

Given that our object is first and foremost a piece of rock, a final question went out to the geology department. Professor Erik Klemetti interrupted his summer scholarship to conduct a discreet test, which confirmed that the striated stone is marble—not of the highest order, but it’s in pretty good condition considering marble’s vulnerability to acid rain.

So, there you have it; another mystery solved by Denison’s faculty experts. Any other questions?

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3:41 AM July 21, 2011

Beth Gibson wrote:

Yes. Why is it given such a ignominious resting place?

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