Posted on Dec 13, 2002

Floorboard with carvings by students Cannon and Potter

It makes you wonder: Were their
dorm damage deposits returned?

That might be one of many questions
raised by the recently discovered floorboards from South
College, which bear the initials of
students from the mid-1800s.

During South's renovation, workers
came across the floorboards that may have been cut down to serve as stair treads.
Several sets of initials, some with class years, can be seen. Some are complete.
Others were cut off when the pine boards were shortened. Some are carved with a
stonecutter's precision and artistry. Others are as indistinct as mysterious

With the help of the Special
Collections staff and the Centennial Catalog, the curious can speculate
on the identities of the carvers. Was “HRR” the ill-fated Henry Reed Rathbone, Lincoln's
theater guest who sustained grievous stab wounds as he tried to subdue the
fleeing John Wilkes Booth? Was “B Cannon” Benjamin Cannon, Class of 1840, who went on to become an attorney? Was “A Potter DD” Aaron Potter, the Baptist minister from the Class of 1842. And was “J Whitaker” the Jacob Whitaker, Class of 1852, who was a surgeon who served with the New York Volunteers in the Civil War?

The brash young scholars who
carved their initials for posterity certainly left their 21st-century
counterparts a conundrum. When does 19th-century vandalism become a
priceless College artifact? Perhaps in the eyes of true-life mystery lovers.

Click here to read a story about the House System and South College renovation: