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The Stealing of the Coffin

by Meredith Minter, class of 1984

Friendly or not, the rivalry of Odds and Evens has enlivened the halls of Randolph-Macon for more than eighty-five years. At times, it has led to strange and dangerous things—Freshmen sleeping in Conway's tower, Sophomores storming Wright's fire escape. Once it even induced a loyal and near-suicidal class president to lower herself on a rope from an upper floor in West. Probably, however, the most ghoulishly significant of all Odd-Even skirmishes was the one that gave rise to the Gammas—the stealing of the coffin.

It began in 1909, when the Even "Tribe of Twelve," as the Sophomores were called, concluded sadly and mistakenly that Odd Class spirit was dead. In charity, they felt, it must be given a decent burial. So, they pooled their funds and purchased a silver-handled coffin.

In due course, the coffin arrived at Main Hall, but, through an oversight, no Evens were there to sign for it. Impatiently, the delivery man asked a passing Freshman to fetch the Sophomore president.

The Freshman, no fool, took one look at the coffin and said she was the Sophomore president. As the man, satisfied, drove away, the Freshman studied her prize intently. It was far too heavy for one girl to lift. Quickly, she called some Freshmen friends, and together they wrestled it through Main Hall and out into back campus.

Deep in the woods, they found to their horror that they dared not leave the coffin hidden. An Even had seen them go into back campus, and Sophomore vigilantes were hunting everywhere. Discovery seemed imminent. In those days, physical conflict between Odds and Evens was common; thus, the Freshmen resolved, quite literally, not to give up without a fight. They encircled the coffin, and metaphorically prepared to stand to the last man.

By some miracle, they were never found. The coffin had come in mid-afternoon; the sun set, the Evens searched on. The bell rang for dinner, but the Freshmen were afraid to leave. At last, without incident, it was nearly midnight. Tired and very hungry, the Odds decided something had to be done.

Then they thought of Dr. [Herbert C.] Lipscomb, for whom the library is named. By the reckoning of the times, he, having come to Randolph-Macon that same year, was a Freshman also, an honorary member of their class. With some trepidation, they decided to appeal to him.

Slowly, they straggled out of the woods and off campus, bearing the coffin to his home. Awakening him and his roommate, also a "Freshman," they explained the situation. When he understood (which took some time), he carried the coffin inside and placed it under his bed. Thankfully, the girls returned to campus and to bed. Dr. Lipscomb, imperturbably, finished the night on his living room sofa

Next day, the coffin was brought forth, in all its silver-handled glory, and triumphantly burned. The silver handles, being inflammable, were kept as trophies. The coffin ash was deposited neatly in a small silver urn.

The girls who had stolen the coffin banded together to form Gamma Thirteen, making Dr. Lipscomb an honorary member. For their identifying symbol, they had rings made from one of the handles. The other is still an Odd Trophy. Three years later, on the eve of their Commencement, the silver urn was stolen from neutral ground by the Evens, in retaliation for a similar illegal raid made by the Odds. Seeing 1913's distress, the Sophomores bought their sisters a replica, which was handed down for many years. Today, the Gamma retain an urn as a trophy. Whether original or replica, they politely refuse to say.

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"The Past Master"
Meredith Minter
Class of 1984
The Sundial
Vol. 66, no. 1
September 11, 1981

This article was taken from "The Past Master," a column written by Meredith Minter Dixon, class of 1984, for the Randolph-Macon Woman's College student newspaper, The Sundial. It is published here with her permission.

Please contact Ms. Dixon if you have comments or questions about her article.

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And More . . .
large button   The Past Master, additional articles about our history
large button   Facts and Fancies about our college's early classes
large button   Images taken from student drawings in our earliest yearbooks

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Frances E. Webb
Reference Librarian
Lipscomb Library
Randolph College
2500 Rivermont Avenue
Lynchburg, Virginia 24503

small button   page last revised March 28, 2008   small button

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site graphics adapted by Frances E. Webb
from a drawing by Evelyn Dornin for the 1901 edition of the Helianthus

With thanks to
Kusum Singh, class of 2004
Andrea Yassemedis, class of 1999

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