The Walk of Fame is an oak-shaded walkway flanked on either side by stones engraved with the names of famous men and women gathered from their birthplaces. No two stones along the pathway through the center of the Rollins campus are alike.
Rollins President Hamilton Holt created the Walk of Fame. The idea was planted in Holt when he was a child. He often traveled along the country roads around the family home in Woodstock, Connecticut with his physician father listening to stories about old farms and homesteads and the people who first settled them. The walkways leading to some of these old Connecticut houses were made of stepping stones taken from ancestral homes and engraved with the name of the ancestor. Holt liked this idea and designed an “ancestral walk” for his family home. Later, he thought it would be interesting to collect stones from famous people he had met who would be of interest to the general public.
During long auto trips through New England soliciting funds for Rollins, Holt and his colleague, Professor A.J. Hanna, began gathering rocks from the homes of the famous… and the nearly famous. If, for example, a sign at a cross road pointed to the right and read “one mile to the birthplace” of Daniel Webster or Ralph Waldo Emerson, the two educators would detour and pick up a stone from the site. In this manner, about 200 stones were collected and brought back to Rollins.
The original plan states that to be represented by a stone as a symbol of greatness, an individual must be renowned through the country or the world. Holt had once said, “To be immortal one must found a republic, win a war, paint a Sistine Madonna, compose a Parsifal, write a Hamlet, fly over the poles, discover the law of evolution or preserve the human voice in wax.”
However, this theory did not work out in practice. Fame was short-lived or obscure at best in some people on the walk; Paul Murphy of New Orleans was the greatest chess player that ever lived; and Professor Walter Gibbs of Yale was a great modern mathematician, although they are relatively “unknowns” in the public eye today.
At the head of the walk stands a millstone which Holt had shipped from near his Connecticut home. The 3,325 pound stone is inscribed with the quote from Shakespeare “Sermons in stones and good in everything.” It was hauled to Winter Park on the back of a truck by a 1934 Rollins graduate who was coming to Florida for a load of citrus fruit.
A few immortals are honored with two stones: for instance, Abraham Lincoln has one stone take from the well near his Kentucky log cabin and another from the Illinois village where he wooed Ann Rutledge. Richard Wagner is honored with a stone from his home in Munich and also one from the mountain chalet in Mornex, France where he wrote Valkyrie.
The symbol of Woodrow Wilson’s greatness is a rock taken from a front step of his Princeton home; George Washington’s is a rectangular geological specimen from the east portico of Mount Vernon.
Some of the stones have interesting histories. The white marble slab which is marked with the name “Aristotle” was obtained in the neighborhood of the Lyceum in Athens, Greece where presumably it was trod upon by the great philosopher. A stone for Oscar Wilde originated in the garden of the hotel in Paris where he died.
In 1945, the College was presented with a stone from the bunker fireplace of Adolph Hitler. Among much consternation, Holt said simply, “Of course, we’ll accept the stone. I have always wanted to have a Walk of Illfame at Rollins in which to put Benedict Arnold, Madame Pompadour, Hitler, Mussolini, and President Harding.” Regardless of Holt’s feelings on the matter, the Hitler stone is not to be located.
Since President Holt presented the first 200 stones for the “Walk of Fame” to the College in 1929, hundreds of stones have been added. The most recent additions were placed on the walk to honor the actress Annie Russell, whose name is endearingly tied to the Rollins theatre; Edyth Bush, a very generous supporter of Rollins; and Zora Neale Hurston, a black novelist and anthropologist.