Grinnell College Celebrates Excavation of Peace Rock Buried in April 1914

April 26, 2017

Grinnell College has a rock star of its own — and you don't have to buy a ticket to see it.

The College's rock star, better known as the Peace Rock, was lifted out of the ground at 11 a.m. Tuesday, April 25, 2017. It inched it's way to the surface exactly 103 years after students buried it on April 25, 1914, to protest the end of the annual Class Scrap — a fierce fight that pitted men in the second-year class against men in the first-year class.

The Peace Rock was lost underground for more than a century until Professor of Anthropology John Whittaker and students in his Archaeological Field Methods class used ground-penetrating radar and other tests to locate the rock.

They found what appeared to be the granite boulder near the McGough Construction trailer behind Carnegie Hall and the site where McGough is building the College's new Humanities and Social Studies Complex.

The class began excavating several weeks ago with the help of other faculty members and anthropology majors and local historian Byron Hueftle-Worley, who has taught a class about the Peace Rock at the local library.

Crowd watches as John Whittaker oversees the forklift drawing the Peace Rock out of it's hole.
Today, McGough Construction and Bolander, a subcontractor, used a forklift to lift the boulder, which weighs about 1,600 pounds, out of the excavation pit and set it on a sturdy pallet.

Hueftle-Worley gave a short talk about the Peace Rock, and Whittaker said he'd like to see the boulder displayed on campus with a plaque explaining its colorful history.

Then more than a dozen members of the Grinnell Singers serenaded the crowd gathered around the Peace Rock with "Sons of Old Grinnell." Soon students were reaching out to touch the rock, and a few went so far as to kiss it as though it were the Blarney Stone.

The history of the Peace Rock begins with Grinnell Class Scraps that date back to the 1880s and often left students with black eyes and broken bones, Hueftle-Worley said. But in 1913, a student was killed in a Class Scrap in Wisconsin, prompting Grinnell College's then-President John Main to proclaim the evils of the Class Scrap and call for its abolition.

The Peace Rock first appeared on campus in 1913, when the planned Class Scrap was replaced by a gathering of men in the first- and second-year classes on a farm with a large granite boulder about 2.5 miles west of town. After a night of celebration, they pushed a large piece of the boulder into a cart and pulled the cart by hand back to campus. They unloaded the stone, declared the Class Scrap was dead, and announced that the Peace Rock symbolized the end of the fighting.

Upper-class students who didn't want the Class Scrap tradition to end began to attack the Peace Rock in April 1914. First, they covered it with red paint, then tried to blow it up with dynamite purchased at a local hardware store.

The final assault came on April 25, 1914, when students dug a pit, rolled the Peace Rock into the hole and covered it with dirt. A page in the 1916 yearbook features a photo of two students posed near a sign that said "Class Scrap Departs April 25 for Grinnell, China."

More than a 100 years later, the work of Whittaker's students continues. They will soon start excavating the bottom of the pit in hopes of finding artifacts that might have been buried with the Peace Rock.

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