Black squirrels, a giant brain and a rock

Deanna Stevens

Trademark locations on campus boast myths and legends

Hidden among the trees surrounding Taylor Hall these little critters can be seen in Kent and surrounding areas.

Credit: Beth Rankin

Smoke coming from the sewers. A rock that changes color almost nightly. Squirrels in cute black outfits. A giant, man-eating brain.

These urban-legend landmarks are anything but myth. These are trademarks on the Kent State landscape.

Black squirrels are rampant on the Kent State campus. Once, the gazillion woodland creatures on campus numbered fewer than a dozen.

In February 1961, Larry Woodell, former superintendent of grounds, and M. W. Staples, a retired Davey Tree executive, imported 10 black squirrels from Canada. A second trip to London Park by Woodell and Staples later increased the number of squirrels.

By 1964 the Record Courier noted about 150 black squirrels in the area, according to the College of Education Web site.

A few fun facts about the rodents are:

– They are thought to be a color phase of the gray squirrel.

– Corn is their favorite food.

– Black squirrels do not like being crowded by their own kind, so the young move away.

Since 1981, Kent State has celebrated this unofficial mascot by throwing the Black Squirrel Festival. The festival is held in the Student Center plaza as a way to introduce students to the campus and other organizations. This year’s festival will be held Sept. 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The campus radio station has also recently paid homage to the little critters by changing its name to Black Squirrel Radio.

Painting the rock on Front Campus, another landmark, has become both fun and a form of rivalry for many organizations on campus. The campus rock, or boulder, is famous for its various works of art. All students are allowed, and welcome, to paint the rock.

Beth Gittons, assistant director of Greek Affairs, said, “I think, at different points in time, it is a very good barometer of what’s going on on campus.”

From abstract works of artistry to the declaration “I love you, Erin,” the campus rock is a way for students to express themselves.

“One thing that sticks out in my mind happened when two members of the Sigma Phi (Epsilon) fraternity were killed in a car accident,” Gittons said. “The brothers painted the rock with the fraternity’s colors, and the initials of those who passed, and it said ‘We will remember.’ That was, as a chapter, a way of dealing with the loss, which speaks volumes of the importance of the rock.”

While this rock isn’t for decorating, the “Behind the Brain” sculpture spruces up Terrace Drive, providing a unique meeting place.

Located by Merrill Hall, the artwork was designed by Professor Emeritus of Art Brinsley Tyrrell and installed by Tyrrell and other art students in 1999.

The plaza is surrounded by a garden with a variety of plants along with a small, tranquil waterfall. A sculptured library of books forms the backs of seats that partially surround the brain.

Where there is smoke, there is usually fire, but not in the case of the smoking sewer grates. The smoke comes from the underground tunnels that connect buildings on campus. These tunnels, which are used for utilities, run underground to make the campus look better.

“We feel very strongly about not bringing a lot of attention to the tunnels because they are very dangerous,” Michael McDonald, director of campus environment and operations said. “They are the equivalent to high voltage towers underground.”

Thus, the myth about the tunnels being part of the underground railroad is also not true.

Contact general assignment reporter Deanna Stevens at [email protected].