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Detail from John Carroll statue unveiling ceremony

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Oral Tradition and the John Carroll Statue

August 7, 2020

There are many oral traditions on campus, rooted in varying degrees of fact (and some which are rooted in no fact at all). One which I hear quite frequently relates to the John Carroll statue. According to this tradition, the statue now sitting in Healy Circle is a slightly modified version of the original; in the original design, the space under John Carroll’s chair was open. This led to objects such as trash and, according to one version of the story, a chamber pot being placed there by students. Such disrespectful treatment of our founder eventually moved University officials to action, and bronze books were added to the statue, under the chair, to fill in the space and prevent further deposits of foreign items.

Carroll Statue unveiling ceremony

John Carroll statue unveiling ceremony, May 4, 1912. From the GU Archives.

University Archives records hold no information about the design of the statue, although we do have financial accounts for the project and many details about the May 4, 1912 unveiling ceremony. And nothing documents later modifications to the statue. So in an effort to confirm or deny this story once and for all, I decided to look at early photos of the statue. None of the unveiling ceremony photos seem to help. Photographers on that occasion, perhaps unsurprisingly, did not focus on the back or side of the statue and instead left us with a series of images either taken from a distance or showing the front of the statue. However, a snapshot from 1913 is taken at exactly the right angle, and provides conclusive evidence that it would never have been possible to perpetrate that chamber pot joke.

John Carroll statue and students, 1913

Students next to the John Carroll statue, 1913.
From the GU Archives.

--Lynn Conway, University Archivist