Sermons in Stone
by Mary Seymour ’80 | photos by Scott Cook
You may have walked past without noticing. Or you noticed and wondered why Aristotle and Cleopatra are buried on the Rollins campus. Maybe you vaguely recalled something about stones collected from famous people and brought to Rollins for display.
Whatever you do or don’t know about the stones circling The Green, pay close attention now.
You’re about to stroll the Rollins Walk of Fame.
Walk Softly and Carry a Big Stone
HAMILTON HOLT, ROLLINS’ LARGER-THAN-LIFE EIGHTH PRESIDENT, CAME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR THE WALK OF FAME. He’d already created a small-scale version at his summer home in Connecticut, lining a walkway with stones gathered from ancestral New England homesteads. Using a hammer and chisel, Holt and his father inscribed each stone with the name of the associated ancestor, hometown, and date of settlement. They unashamedly dubbed it the “Ancestral Walk.
Holt, always game to chase a bigger idea, decided to expand the walk’s reach. He collected 22 stones from the homes of famous Americans, including George Washington, Calvin Coolidge, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Holt debated whether to lay the stones at his Connecticut residence or give them to Rollins. He chose Rollins, and that—in the words ofWalk of Famer Robert Frost—“made all the difference.”
On October 18, 1929, Holt dedicated the Walk of Fame at Rollins, presenting the 22 stones he’d recently gathered; by the end of the year, the number of stones had more than doubled. They represented the birthplaces or former homes of an impressive litany of Anglo-Saxon men, with American Red Cross founder Clara Barton thrown in to represent the fairer sex.
Holt and Rollins Assistant to the President A. J. Hanna began collecting stones during fundraising trips in the United States and abroad. Rollins faculty, staff, students, and alumni joined the chase; historic igneous chunks started rolling in almost daily. Buffalo Bill. Christopher Columbus. Benjamin Disraeli. Helen Keller. Edgar Allan Poe. By 1931, the path held more than 200 stones.
To keep standards high, Holt declared that the Walk of Fame’s goal was “to have every man or woman, living or dead, whose services deserve the eternal remembrances of mankind, represented in our Walk.” In other words, Holt clarified, “one must found a republic, win a war, paint a Sistine Madonna, compose Parsifal, write a Hamlet, fly over the Poles, discover the law of evolution, or preserve the human voice in wax.”
While a few skeptics dismissed the Walk of Fame as a publicity stunt, its reputation grew. The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Boston Herald, and Los Angeles Times published stories about the walkway. Mrs. Thomas Alva Edison, wife of the famed inventor, was so impressed that she built a similar walk at her winter home in Fort Myers, Florida. The first stone she placed came from Hamilton Holt’s home and bore his name.
The Big Stone
THE HUGE, UPRIGHT MILLSTONE THAT HEADS THE WALK OF FAME had a long journey to its resting place. Hamilton Holt came across it in the center of East Woodstock, Connecticut, and paid $2 for it. The stone sat in Holt’s summer house for several years, until he decided to give it to Rollins in 1933. Allen Stoddard ’36 and Franklin Wetherill ’34, two Rollins students heading to Florida to pick up citrus fruit, loaded the 3,325-pound stone on their truck—a feat that required four men, a tractor, and a team of horses. For their efforts, the students received a whopping $40 from Rollins.
Inscription on Stone:
Sermons in stones and good in everything (from Shakespeare’s As You Like It)
Arrived at Rollins: 1933
From: East Woodstock, Connecticut
Weight: 3,325 lbs
Age: Nearly 400 years old