During my 2022 college reunion, I took several photos around campus, including snagging this shot of the statue of Alexander Hamilton, for whom the college was named.
Backstory. The college itself was formed in 1793 as the Hamilton Oneida Academy, a school that Presbyterian seminarian Samuel Kirkland hoped would educate the local indigenous peoples. The institution was named after Alexander Hamilton, then-Secretary of the Treasury. The Hamilton Oneida Academy became Hamilton College in 1812, and relocated to its present home in Clinton, New York in 1825 (the institution previously existed in nearby Whitestown).
The statue of Alexander Hamilton was erected and unveiled on June 17, 1918, during college commencement activities. The invocation was read by Hamilton College’s only Nobel Prize winner, alum Elihu Root. The statue was paid for by another Hamilton College alum, Thomas Redfield Proctor. The dedication ceremony was attended by New York State Governor Charles S. Whitman, Hamilton College President Frederick Ferry, and statue sculptor George T. Brewster.
Unfortunately, over time the statue has been decorated and vandalized. One year, someone attached bunny ears and a cotton tail to the statue, and dangled an Easter basket from the statue’s outstretched right hand. Another year saw Hamilton’s face painted up to look like the Joker (most likely the Heath Ledger version rather than the Cesar Romero or Jack Nicholson versions, I suspect). That walking can Alexander Hamilton holds? That’s been ripped out on more than one occasion.
Heck, even last year I wanted to photograph the statue against the changing fall foliage; only to discover that some enterprising student had topped Alexander’s head with an orange traffic cone. Hoo boy.
But nothing topped the time in 1980 when the statue was stolen right off its pedestal. Yes. The statue went walkies.
The Hamilton College Spectator of February 15, 1980 noted that at some point on the evening of February 13th to the morning of February 14th, was yanked right off its dais and vanished. News reports at the statue itself weight nearly 1,000 pounds, and could be worth up to $50,000 just in the bronze composition itself.
By March 14, 1980, the statue was still missing. The Spectator reported that one student suggested that Hamiltonians dress in Alexander Hamilton clothing, complete with tricorner hat, long coat and cane, and stand on the pedestal for two-hour shifts. “It would be especially worthwhile during the daytime, when pre-freshmen are on tours,” the unidentified student told the Spectator.
Two months later … the statue was recovered. The April 4, 1980 edition of the Spectator reported that Walter Socha, a farmer in Augusta, New York – ten miles away from the campus – contacted the college to report that the statue was left in a garbage dump adjacent to his farmland. Socha apparently was away from his farm for a few days, and never even knew the statue was there until he brought some trash to the dump site and saw it.
After a few weeks at the college Physical Plant building, the statue was returned to its proper spot on May 7, 1980. It’s still not known why the statue was stolen; perhaps this was a fraternity prank, or some students from another college sneaked on campus as part of a hazing ritual and poached the statue as part of that ritual.
This is the stuff of legend. Then again, I do recall some urban legend that a few years after the statue was reinstalled, some fraternity pulled a dawn prank by adding a gigantic erect paper-mache phallus to Alexander Hamilton’s crotch.
That might explain why the Schuyler sisters were so drawn to him. Ha.
Research on this blog post came from:
Hamilton College Spectator, February 15, 1980; March 14, 1980; April 4, 1980; May 7, 1980.