Monthly Archives: January 2012

A myth understanding

As organizations grow and age they soon acquire various myths or legends that attach themselves to the organization and become a part of its heritage and lore. For Wheaton College this is no different. Many Wheatonites, if asked, could readily cite one or two of these myths and the first would most likely have to do with Wheaton College and the Underground Railroad. For those not in the know, for decades it was purported that Wheaton College was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Supported by Wheaton’s history as an abolitionist school, for many years there was no “hard” evidence to support this myth. As reported in this blog, evidence is now known and this myth moved to the fact category.

Other myths that are associated with Wheaton College range from the mundane to the bizarre. Myths are perpetuated and maintain a life of their own because they often contain some elements of truth or plausibility. One such mundane myth is that the Billy Graham Center is sinking. The rates and speed often vary, but the myth states that the Graham Center was built on an ancient aquifer that was naturally swampy (true). Since the BGC is so large and weighty it is too much for this hydric soil. Billy Graham CenterThe land around the BGC naturally attracts water and the adjacent parking area has been known to flood in heavy rains, stranding and ruining dozens of vehicles over the years. Novice historians will note that when the land was cleared and prepped for construction that air hammers rammed dozens and dozens of telephone poles into the soil to serve as pylons for the massive new structure (true). Myth has it that the pylons are decaying and the building is sinking at the rate of an inch or so a year. This all sounds well and good. It seems plausible. Yet, when one brings mathematics into the equation it quickly calls into question the veracity of the myth. If the BGC was opened in 1980 and it is sinking an inch a year then it would have moved 32 inches deeper into the ground. That’s nearly 3 feet! Even if the rate of sinkage was one-eighth inch it would translate to a building that is four inches lower than when it was built. This is half of a step, something we all would notice.

Another myth that continues to capture the attention of students for many decades is the existence of a secret satanic library in “attic” of the Billy Graham Center. When the fifth floor of the Billy Graham Center was used for storage and off-limits students would sneak onto the floor in search of the legendary occult library. Does or did such a library exist? Yes and no.

From 1974 to 2004 the Billy Graham Center operated a library as an extension of its mission. This library, like the museum and Graham Archives, collected materials related to missions and evangelism. In the course of its work it received a large donation of books on cults and the occult from a scholar. The Graham library placed the donation in boxes in a storage cage on the top floor of the Graham Center until they determined what to do with this gift. After several years other priorities took hold and the donation remained untouched. To exacerbate the delays further in 1997 the staff of the Graham library was reduced significantly due to funding shortfalls.

In 2004 further budgetary issues caused the remaining Graham library staff to be let go. At that time the staff of Buswell Memorial Library became responsible for the collections of the Billy Graham Center Library and Buswell’s collection development librarian soon began going through the backlog of the Graham library including the languishing “secret” donation. The quality of the collection was inconsistent and some of volumes were not suitable for addition to the college’s collection. Others were deemed outside of the curricular needs or research interests. Useful books were cataloged and added to Buswell Library’s collections and shelves. And, others were deemed unsuitable for retention. It was some of these latter titles that were the most provocative and intriguing to the eyes of students as they sneaked around and peered into the storage cage. Some of these title were related to the occult and occult practices.

So, was there an “occult library?” Yes, sort of. Was it secret? No. Did it allow for really spooky fun? Just ask the dozens of students who made their way to the storage cage or who keep the story alive.

Other myths include slave tunnels around Blanchard Hall and, even, horses being buried behind Blanchard. There are myths related to notable individuals, such as Wes Craven lived on Elm St. while living in Wheaton, thus helping to inspire the title of his noted horror film. With myths the only limit is the limits on one’s imagination.

Robert E. Webber

One of the more controversial professors at Wheaton College was Dr. Robert E. Webber, who influenced a generation of students and a large segment of evangelicalism. Raised in a Baptist church in Pennsylvania, he attended Bob Jones University in the late 1950s before enrolling at Reformed Episcopal Seminary, finishing in 1960 his graduate education at Covenant Theological Seminary. He began teaching theology at Wheaton College in 1968. Youthful, energetic and sympathetic to the concerns of students, he was a popular and highly effective lecturer. As he studied ecclesiastical history, its variable trends and moods, Webber perceived that vital practices had been ignored or recklessly tossed aside during the Reformation.

In 1978 he published Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail, a collection of autobiographical essays by Webber and former evangelicals who gradually adopted Anglo-catholic or Catholic forms of worship. When released the book generated considerable heat among evangelicals who felt that Webber had betrayed the Protestant faith. Eventually, however, it was recognized that his pioneering research opened doors for fresh approaches to church life, whether liturgical expressions were adopted or not. Closely studying the permutations of Christian worship, Webber wrote or edited several additional books dealing with the history and function of liturgy, including Worship is a Verb, Blended Worship and the seven-volume Complete Library of Christian Worship. During his later career he concentrated on the writings of the Church Fathers, attempting to draw from their treatises insights for contemporary contexts. This interest is reflected in the Introduction to Journey to Jesus: “The model of evangelism proposed in this book is a resurrection of the seeker model…that originated in the third century…It speaks particularly to the current search for an effective style of evangelism in a world dominated by postmodern thought, a church living in a post-Constantinian society, and the challenge to overcome the resurgence of pagan values.” Webber was Director of the Institute for Worship Studies. At the time of his death in 2007, he was the William R. and Geraldyn B. Myers professor of ministry at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois.

Blanchard Hill Gang

Over seventy years ago an incident transpired that involved a greased pig and a future president of Wheaton College. The event was recounted in the April 25, 1980 edition of the Record student newspaper and is transcribed below.

Blanchard Hill Gang caught on pig count
by Bill Gianopulos

April Fools’ morning, you are reading the large black and white poster attached to a tree on the front lawn of Blanchard.

“WANTED: The Blanchard Hill Gang on suspicion of harboring a subversive element. REWARD: The first person to come forward with information as to the identity and whereabouts of these desperados gets to chase the first pig at honors convocation.”

“The offer is irresistible,” you think. After rereading the poster you carefully analyze the attached photograph. “Nothing special,” you think. “Just five men standing around an ugly pig.” You eye the photo again. “That guy looks familiar.” You try to repress the thought. “Is that Dr. Armerding? He’s that close to a pig — and still smiling?” The poster, which still remains a mystery to most Wheaton students portrays five seniors from the class of ’41. Joe Bayly, Senior Sneak Chairman, is on the far left. Next to him stands Al Fesmire, coordinator of the Tower concerts. David Roberts, senior class president, stands behind the pig holding the leash. Hudson Armerding, class treasurer, kneels behind the pig and Jim Pass [kneels] on the far right.

The Blanchard Hill Gang incident of May 1941, climaxed a year of vigorous class competition between juniors and seniors. Back then, everyone knew the seniors by their orange and blue jackets with the “Class of ’41” seal emblazoned over the left pocket. Men and women sported their senior jackets. “That was considered real class, ” Roberts, now assistant to President Armerding said. On Wednesday, May 14, 1941, the junior class sponsored an all-school “Rodeo Round-up, ” with free stage coach rides, lemonade, Western vittles, and a free cowboy whip for every junior. Decked out in bandanas, ten-gallon hats, boots, and chaps the juniors trotted to Pierce [Chapel]’s “chuck wagon” at 7:15 for a ham and egg breakfast. The faculty matched their pie-throwing ability with the student body in the pie-face race at noon. At 4 p.m. the rip-roaring rodeo moved into the spotlight at Lawson Field. Parades, medicine shows, and hog-calling took top billing.

But the greased pig scramble was to climax the day’s events.

The Blanchard Hill Gang, “never outdone by infantile juniors,” did their best to spoil the climax. As Roberts puts it, “We wanted the biggest impact with the least disruption.” On Tuesday, the eve of the rodeo, the Gang frantically searched for the pig. They found it in a faculty member’s garage. One member reached for the door hinge and yanked out the pin securing the door. The wind blew the door open and the pig waddled out and into the street. “We didn’t want the pig run over by a car, ” Roberts says half sarcastically. He remembers the five of them throwing the pig into the back seat of Fesmire’s car and driving to a farm a few miles south of campus. An accomplice snapped the photo which appears on the poster. “After the picture was taken, we boarded out the pig until the next days’ events were over,” Roberts recalls. “The junior class council went to the garage Wednesday morning to grease the pig. But the pig was gone.” Roberts chuckles as he recalls Fesmire’s attempt to deodorize the back seat of this car. “It smelled like a pig farm,” he says. “He washed, hosed, and sunned the seat to get rid of the pig odor but he couldn’t. Fesmire sold the car. “I learned one thing,” says Roberts. “When I saw that poster last week I realized that the evil men do, lives after them.”

What can we learn from this? First, even college presidents were once college students and are not beyond pig pranking. Second, it is obvious that the evolutionary consciousness of pig pranking has become more devious in recent years. In 167 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes entered Jerusalem and defiled the temple by pouring swine blood on the altar. Last year history almost repeated itself in Edman Chapel at the Spring Honors Convocation.