Monday, October 06, 2014

Knapsack/Sentinel 10-9-14

Notes From My Knapsack 10-9-14

Jeff Gill


Carved in Stone, but Cast Aside



This almost brings to an end my short series on various statements or sayings carved in stone around the village of Granville: one more to go!


There are mortuary inscriptions on tombstones in the Old Colony Burying Ground and on over at Maple Grove Cemetery, which are a discussion in their own right (hmmmm). I've been looking at what I call public statements, stone carved phrases put where the general population can see them, largely on school buildings, along village streets from the Denison campus, and even within the campus but placed up where a casual passer-by, student or local citizen might have their attention drawn.


Newer buildings don't have the same sort of expectation hanging onto them, so the intermediate and middle and high schools don't have much in stone carving. The elementary school on Granger St. has a phrase that links the old hub of public education in this community to the more current thoughts about what safeguards our nation.


Along College St., Denison University has a set of four gateway inscriptions, plus the observation I discussed our last time together in this space about what's carved above the main, central doors of Swasey Chapel itself.


Just inside the doors of Swasey is a replica of an inscription that once was in as central a location as Granville offers, just above the "Four Corners" at Broadway and Main, where Main terminates at College and "the Drag" begins, heading up the hill more formally labeled Presidents Drive.


It had been the Centennial Memorial, constituting a gateway to the Denison campus from 1931, and it proclaimed the institution to be "A Christian College of Liberal Arts."


I wrote about that phrase for "Denison Magazine" back when the Board of Trustees decided to replace the Centennial stone. A look back through the files put some context I wasn't expecting on that word "Christian" and why it was carved in stone at the college entrance.


Simply put, Denison was in the process of cutting its ties with the Baptist church; just before 1931 there were still promotional materials that said Denison was "a Baptist school built on Baptist ideals for Baptist students." A near disastrous co-operation for fundraising with the denominational body for what is now known as the American Baptist Church, and an awareness that a Baptist identity was starting to limit their appeal to prospective students, all contributed to the Board determining that the school's appeal should be framed more generally, hence "A Christian College," intending to communicate a greater openness to difference.


Fast forward 75 years, and Denison had visitors disappointed in two directions: parents thinking that the school was what in 2000 now meant "a Christian college," and other families and students turning around before driving on up, thinking "whoops, this is a Christian college."


So the Centennial stone came down, a replica of it (too large and too hard to gently dismantle, the original was not moveable) went into Swasey's narthex, and the 175th anniversary of the college's founding was marked by a new stone in 2006.


I understand why they removed the word "Christian" in the context I've described. What I do regret, though, is the loss of the verse formerly along the bottom, not cited, simply stated. It was John 8:32: "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."


That space now has the words "Commemorating the 175th Anniversary of the College." The words from John's gospel are gone . . . or are they?


We will conclude "Carved in Stone" next time!


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