Tag Archives: statue

The Alma Mater Joke

Background: The informant is a 58 year old man living in Chicago, Illinois. He grew up in Libertyville, Illinois, where he attended the local high school and elementary school. He went to college at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign (currently UIUC – referred to as U of I by the informant). The informant always likes to tell jokes and mentioned one that was prevalent during his time at college. 

Context: The context was while eating, the informant and his son began talking about U of I, as they both attended the school. The informant suddenly appeared to remember a joke he was told as a student. 


BW: Yeah,  I remember this one joke I was told at U of I. It was really popular around all the students. I remember my friend group would always share it. So, there’s the alma mater statue at U of I that all students take pictures at when they graduate. Remember we took a picture with [son] there.

Me: Yeah, it was a statue of a woman, right?

BW: Yep, a motherly figure, and she’s standing up. Okay so it goes,

Everyone at U of I takes a picture in front of the alma mater statue and, um, if there is a picture of a virgin in front of the statue, then she will be sitting down instead of standing. But, see, there are no virgins at U of I, because everyone has been fucked by the University. [laughing].

Me: Oh, wow. Was there any ill will toward the University?

BW: I think it was like the usual anger of students towards their schools. Maybe it be the cost or the classes or being failed in a class, or something like that.


Informant: The informant, laughing at his own joke, shows that it retains its humor for him throughout the decades. It clearly brings back memories of his time at the university and of good humor between him and his friends.

Mine: The joke, while short, represents a few things. First, it directly mentions a graduation tradition done at the school, of taking a picture with the alma mater statue once someone graduates. However, this tradition is turned on its head for vulgar means – more so because the statue is depicting a motherly figure. However, moms have long had their share of mom jokes, notably “your mom” in response to a statement. The statue sitting down upon a virgin being there is almost like the motherly statue sitting down to protect the virgin, as if a mother’s embrace. But then, the punchline hits, and while it’s meant to be funny, it serves to actually highlight how the students felt about the university. While not sure if the joke is still being told, it clearly is a symbol that this time of history, in the 80s, was a period where the university was clearly mocked.

Rubbing Abe Lincoln’s Nose

Background: The informant  is a 22 year old male currently living in San Luis Obispo, California. The superstition was told to her by his past girlfriend, X, who attended University of Madison-Wisconsin. He stayed with her for a summer at the college and is well versed in the community.

Context: The informant shared the context when the UW-Madison was brought into conversation while over the phone, as was speaking about past trips around the United States.


WC: So, at UW-Madison there’s this Abraham Lincoln statue on campus. It’s a statue of Lincoln, where he is sitting in a chair and he is staring out, sternly. It’s a pretty large statue, you’ll have to climb up and reach his head.

Me: What do students do with him?

WC: People will do a lot of different things. The most common I heard was that students would rub his nose for good luck. I think they also rub his feet. You can see this on the statue because it’s worn down a bit. [X] also told me that her friends would sometimes climb up onto his lab and whisper things, like their dreams after graduation, into his ear.

Me: Has it always been like this in history?

WC: I’m pretty sure. I believe people will also dress Lincoln up, depending on the time of year, just to celebrate whatever was happening on campus. It’s pretty cool.


Informant:  As he wasn’t part of the college and was looking in from the outside perspective, it’s clear he thought the tradition was very unique and popular enough to report on. He has seen the statue and noticed the physical marks that folklore left behind on it.

Mine: The statue represents that signs of good luck do not need something small that can be carried around by the person. Instead, they can be large objects that are stationary, all that matters if what is put into it. For instance, with the Lincoln statue, there is the want to have good luck or the wish for their dreams to come true. People believe in this statue because it’s something personal to their school, making it intimate to them. Also, Lincoln is a very popular figure in the Midwest, and likely was chosen as a symbol of good luck because he is generally seen as someone who brings good tidings, can end conflict, and more. He is an example of a historical figure that has taken on a somewhat folkloric role as time has passed on. He nearly doesn’t seem real, but simply a figment of fantasy.

Auburn University – The Lathe Folk Belief


Informant CA, a current undergraduate student at Auburn University at the time of this collection, described a popular folk belief shared by university students. This belief had existed before CA became a student at the univeristy, however, CA learned about this belief only once they had become an undergraduate student themself.

The belief centers around a statue called The Lathe which is located on Auburn University’s campus. The Lathe dates back to the Civil War where it was used to manufacture military supplies for confederate soldiers. It was gifted to a sorority on campus and can be found on the side of Samford Hall.


The Auburn folk belief is that Auburn students can bring their significant other to The Lathe at midnight to test their faithfulness to one another. After they kiss next to The Lathe, if the wheel of the Lathe does not move then they have been faithful to each other and are believed to get married.


This folk belief is one of the many traditions that are known and shared across the student population at Auburn University. I feel that this particular belief speaks towards the cultural and communal values at Auburn Univerity. While its students come from all across the world, Auburn University is located in Alabama and, therefore, the “Bible Belt. ” Southern states are often known for their close affiliations with Christianity which shape “southern values.” While not all students would identify as religious or southern, the value of faithfulness is evident in this popular folk belief and run parallel with southern/religious values. Since folk beliefs create identity and culture, the values underlying this belief speak to Auburn’s identity and campus culture. After hearing this belief, I feel confident in assuming that being unfaithful to one’s partner would be frowned upon at Auburn. By providing couples with a way of “testing” their partner, this university folk belief is helping to ensure a continued value of faithfulness.

The Horse Statue

The Main Piece
Folk objects have been symbols for memories, past loved ones, and important places one has been to for ages. Their value is decided not monetarily, but by the owner. For instance, the porcelain horse statue Demie owns is not worth a lot monetarily, but because of its age and its passage through generations of family members, she finds it to be irreplaceable. To be more precise, the horse is a representation of her great, great, grandfather. Her family keeps it in the living room as a reminder of their ancestry and where they came from.
Background Information
My informant is Demie Cuo, a current undergraduate student at USC and friend of my close friend, Elizabeth Kim. The statue was brought to the states from China, it being one of the few possessions he owned. She is unsure why he brought the statue of all things, but it obviously meant a lot to him. Therefore, Demie cherishes it just as he cherishes it in respect for her great, great, grandfather. Her mother told her about the horse since it stems from her side of the family. Demie enjoys having the horse there because it makes her feel connected to her culture and ancestors even if she did not have the opportunity to meet them. She would also hope to pass down a folk object that would preserve her existence.
She, Elizabeth, and I were relaxing in my dormitory sharing stories of our life back home. She casually brought up that if we were to ever visit her, that we would see this odd statue in living room. She began to explain the significance of it and why it was there.
Personal Thoughts
The idea of preserving my existence truly intrigues me. I had no idea that a folk object could mean that much or do so much for a family. It brings to light what small actions such as keeping a horse statue can do. I found it interesting the she placed value in the horse simply because it meant so much to her great great grandfather, even though she had never met him. It is obvious that ancestry and culture mean a lot to Demie and her family.

Onomastic – Massachusetts

The informant presented me with the following account of an onomastic name for a statue at her high school:

“This is about the penis statue at Phillips Academy Andover. Um, I did not name it that—I just wanna say that first of all—I didn’t even start calling it that until I almost left, even though I had been there. Essentially it was this statue that . . . it looks, it looks like . . . yeah, it’s pretty—it looks like a penis! But its, um, its appropriate name is the Bicentennial Statue, and it’s, um, it was actually to c—um, I guess, sculpted to commemorate the combination of, of I guess Phillips Academy with, um, Abbot Academy down the street. Um, Phillips academy was at the time an all male school, and, um, Abbot Academy was an all-female school. Um, and then they combined in 1978, I’m pretty sure.”

She says of the statue’s epithet, “Um, it was kind of just used all the time, like, ‘Oh, I’ll meet you by the penis statue,’ or just—that’s what it’s called, no one called it the Bicentennial statue.”

When asked when she would call the statue by its onomastic name, the informant said, “I wouldn’t, generally? Other people would just—um, in general you try not to, um, tell that to, um, people who are visiting the school and are prospective students, you kinda just . . . you call it that to other students. You might mention it to a teacher, but that’s a little more—what? What’s it called? I, I wouldn’t, personally, but some people are a little more loose with that kinda thing?”

The informant doesn’t entirely approve of the statue’s onomastic name: “At first I just thought it was really stupid and immature, and, um, kind of as the years went on I started realizing—first of all I figured out which statue they were actually talking about. And when I actually saw it, I was like, ‘Okay. I guess I could see that.’ But like, it’s just really curious to me, like, why . . .”

There’s a kind of poetic justice in the marriage of a girls’ school to a boys’ school being celebrated with a statue that looks like an erect penis, and that may be part of why, aside from the statue’s shape, the students gave it that particular onomastic name. If one subscribes to the theory that high school students are immature, then there’s that explanation, too.