Old Fence, New Paint

Some traditions withstand the test of time.

Despite buckling in 1993 - wood strained under the weight of decades of painted layers - Carnegie Mellon University’s Fence is reinforced and strong as CMU marks its 100th anniversary. The Fence remains the unofficial message board for the Carnegie Mellon community as its students continually reimagine the beloved barrier.

The following is a letter published in the June 1953 issue of Carnegie Alumnus. In it, Hugh Sprinkle, a 1923 graduate, writes to editor John Elliot about the original creation of the Fence.

March 17, 1953

Mr. John Elliot

Of course the Senior Fence is of great interest to me. I have looked at it, each time I return to the campus, with the eager curiosity of a parent looking at the features of a long absent child. And each time I see the increasing number of aging lines and scars that time and wild underclassmen have put upon it. I see the shading maples that were but sprouts when the fence was built. I see the sturdy locust posts and rugged fir rails that have survived many a knife blade, paint brush, and hammer attack. It is a wonder that it has survived all these years. Grace Patterson wrote me over a year ago that new ideas called for removing the fence. Then she wrote later saying it was to be preserved. I am very thankful that the Fence is to be kept as a reminder of the greatness that is the seniors and of the vast gulf lying between him and the under-classman.

"Somewhere on that time-and-battle scarred Fence are my initials and those of other seniors of that class of ’23, carved the very day it was completed." - Hugh Sprinkle

We built the Fence in 1923. I had become intrigued by the stories of certain customs of various schools identifying distinctions between the different classes. Customs that the years had built into traditions; naive and immature perhaps in the cold analysis of nonpartisans, but having a real meaning to those whose hearts were involved. We talked it over in the Dragons and decided that we would build such a fence. The building of traditions at Carnegie would get a shot in the arm. This decision was helped greatly by the availability of a wealth of brains and energy in the Delta Skull gang, which could be ours for the asking. Were they not junior members of that group, ready and willing to work their fingers to the bone to please the august senior members? Also did they not aspire some day to become Dragons? Ah me! how many times has an ambitious youngster worked his head off for glory and recognition? Our names are legion!

Anyway we soon gave our requirements to such able young fellers as Tommy Griggs, Chuck Hollingsworth, Teasdale Barney, Cy Comfort, Jimmie Robertson, Bergy Berglund, Ryan and the rest of that splendid group. We wanted locust posts not less than 12 inches in diameter and fir rails not less than 8" x 8". Did I say "ready and willing" a while ago? It really took considerable pressure to get those mavericks in the mood to produce. But finally the material was at hand. With the help of Dr. Baker and Dean Tarbell a site was selected with all the prominence such a monument deserved. Before Campus Week in May 1923 had arrived the Fence was completed.

Somewhere on that time-and-battle scarred Fence are my initials and those of other seniors of that class of ’23, carved the very day it was completed. They may be indecipherable now after the rugged 30 years since their carving, but I know that each and every one of the thousands of lordly seniors who have rested their haunches on the sacred rails in those 80 years will breathe a prayer with me that the old Fence be permitted to stay on as one of the fine traditions of a still young school.

Hugh Spinkle, EE, ’23

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