Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
It is with hands now grown weary with the hardship and toil of weeks past that I once again bravely take up the pen to shed the light of truth into the inner workings of Swarthmore’s darkest recesses. My journey began some two months ago today, when I received from my editor-in-chief an assignment that would soon find me faced with the secrets that lie at the very heart of our school’s foundations.
“Amaechi,” she said, barely able to mask in her voice the unprecedented esteem to which she held my work as an investigator, “Someone on the staff heard that the rocks for all the school’s buildings; like since the first ones back in the 1800s; come from exactly the same quarry. That’s weird but not really relevant to anyone’s life in any meaningful way, so I thought maybe you’d like to cover it.”
She directed me to my first contact; a lecturer in the history department by the name of Prof. Gregora Jones. I hadn’t previously had the pleasure of making Prof. Jones’s acquaintance and when I showed up at her office hours, I found the entrance blocked by the recumbent body of her teaching assistant. A silver haired head appeared from behind a desk at the slight commotion and it’s owner stood up quickly and advanced on the door.
“Bog off you, shoo shoo,” she said and delivered a swift kick to the TA who then scurried off under one of the cupboards.
“You’ll have to excuse Alice,” she said addressing me now, “She’s one of our honors majors, poor thing. So, how can I help you today?”
I introduced myself as a reporter for the DG investigating some of the school’s more unorthodox building practices.
“What’s a DG?”
After I explained, the professor beckoned to me to follow her across to the other end of the office where there was a movable wooden partition. This she slid out of the way to reveal a wall covered in old cabinet cases and safes. From one spanning the entire height of the room, she retrieved an ancient looking file folder and proceeded to lay out its contents on the desk.
“Close the door if you don’t mind please,” she said without looking up, “and turn off the lights, they’ll destroy the old ink.”
I did as she said and then slowly approached the circle of light the desk lamp cast over the mess of old photographs and maps the professor had just pulled out of the file.
“If you need to know more about the quarry, you’ve come to the right place,” she said, “I’ve been shadowing that case for years; tailing persons of interest, tapping conversations. The trail ran cold a couple of times, but I knew this one was too important to give up. It’s a tough nut for sure. It’ll bend before it breaks, but mind you, it will break.”
I was awestruck .
“I didn’t know there were any other conspiracy theorists at Swat.”
“Conspiracy Theory happens to have been one of my primary specializations in grad school. We’re a small academic community, but we fill a necessary niche in the field.”
The discussion soon shifted towards matters of mutual interest.
“Oh yes well of course the moon landing actually happened,” she told me at one point, “It’s the take off that was staged.”
“How did I not see it before?”
“And crop circles?”
“Alien Rorschach tests.”
“I f*cking knew it!!!”
I was about to ask her what the requirements might be for a special major when she suddenly brought the conversation back round to rocks.
“Believe it or not, Amaechi, your coming to see me today is extremely timely. I may need your help. My investigations into Swarthmore’s mysterious quarry are at a stalemate. I know there’s something going on in that pit but I don’t know what, and nobody even knows where it is, or if they do they aren’t talking. I had an idea, but it’s last-ditch, desperate, too risky to try alone, but maybe if —
“Say no more, Professor. You had me at ‘break into the colleges records archive and steal anything that looks even remotely useful.’ Hey, maybe we can get SBC to pay for the ski-masks now that there’s two of us.”
A rat shot out from between some of the cabinets and into the space beneath the cupboards. Then there came a few frightened squeaks followed by a thud and soon the sound of contented purring.
“Three of us, I meant to say.”
We convened that very evening under the cover of dark in the Kohlberg women’s restroom. There, we donned the necessary apparel and then, moving as one with the night, we set about the business of our dark excursion. The operation was, by and large, quite successful. We couldn’t find anything completely damning, but we did manage to acquire a land deed in the name of Earth-Quakers Mining and Refining Limited as well as some other receipts made out to that company. We secured the evidence and were about to return to the rendezvous point when our escape route was compromised by a passing patrolman.
“Wtf — Who goes there!? I have a flashlight!”
We disposed of his body in some nearby ficuses, but by then the heat was on. Officers started honing in on our position from all sides and so, with the wrath of private college policing breathing down our necks, we made a run for it. It wasn’t long, however, before we found our flight blocked by a ten-foot wire fence. Prof. Jones was undeterred; rolling up her shirt sleeves and scaling the fence with remarkable agility for a woman her age (especially considering I was hanging on to her waist the whole time). She dropped with me onto the other side, bellowed, “I’m not going back to the nuthouse!” to the world in general, and then took to her heels again. Behind us, Alice tried to make the climb but twisted her ankle halfway up and fell. I looked uncertainly, first at the shrinking dot on the horizon that was now Prof. Jones and then back again at Alice on the ground, her figure silhouetted against the searchlights approaching quickly in the distance. I had to cup my hands over my mouth to be heard over the sirens.
“Sorry Alice, but y’know that’s what happens when you skip two semester’s worth of PE credits. That shit catches up with you.”
I turned and fled.
My escape was destined to be short-lived however for at exactly 12:25 the next day, I was taken. It happened during the lunch rush at Sharples. I was keeping a low profile in front of the salad bar, calmly reconsidering my vegetarianism when a burlap sack was placed over my head and invisible hands lifted me off my feet and carried me away. I had the sense of passing through subterranean hallways and labyrinthine corridors. Clandestine voices drifted in and out of my hearing and then there was the sensation of motion; like on an underground train. Eventually, I was brought into what I sensed to be a very small room and seated upright in a chair. The sack was removed.
“Aaaargh!! AAahh! Aaaa! Ah–oh, hi Clarisse!”
My former probation officer pretended not to remember me.
I soon however found my attention inexorably drawn towards the figure now seated across from me at the ornate desk. The Chairman of the Board of Swarthmore College leaned forward, lacing his fingers together, and held me in an inquiring gaze.
“Do you know why you’re here Amaechi?”
“Is it because of the stop signs?”
“No. It’s because of what you did yesterday evening.”
“How did you know it was me? Did Alice te —
“Yes. This is very bad for you Amaechi, but it doesn’t need to be much worse. Please tell me who the last co-conspirator was.”
I thought about this for a second, and then stuck my chin out in brazen defiance.
“Never! I wouldn’t tell you who she was even if I could remember her name.”
The Chairman of the Board looked genuinely saddened.
“Very well. It’s a lifetime of forced labor in the pit then.”
“Aha! So that’s what you use the quarry for!” I exclaimed and then, “Hold on! Just like that! What happened to due process? I want a lawyer!”
“No. If you like, you may have one junior member of the student mock trial club to represent you in front of an ad hoc tribunal presided over by that one professor whose seminar you dozed off in and sleepwalked out of the week before you dropped the class. If you like, that is.”
And so, on the 5th of October, 2017, I was taken… to the pit. A truly wretched and decrepit depression, just south of Media and yet far removed from any and all human civilization. Life in the pit was painful and hard; hours and hours of constant manual labor punctuated only by the giant sex orgies . The few rags we were allowed by the guards to have on our backs were barely enough to protect against the scorching heat of day or ward off the piercing chill at night. Days and then weeks and then months past in back-breaking toil. The other laborers were shy of the newcomer so for the greater part of it, I was on my own. And then one morning while we were bathing in the creek, I was approached by a familiar face.
“Pass the soap will you, old boy?”
“Professor McCarthy! They told us you were on paid leave!”
“Pro-tip boy: Paid leave doesn’t actually exist. Do you mind handing me the scrubbing stone too? Much obliged.”
“What is this place, Professor?”
“Well, lad, legend has it the land that the quarry now sits in was first purchased from native settlers by Tobias P. Swarthmore, the younger and less attractive cousin of Josiah P. Swarthmore who founded the town. Tobias was allegedly the sole financial administrator of the birthling institution that would become Swarthmore. He lost all the money however in a bet with Ulysses S. Grant regarding the outcome of the war and soon the young school was facing bankruptcy. The institution needed to find some outrageously cheap labor if it was to continue growing. Luckily for them, young Tobias had a brilliant idea..”
“And so the first generation of Earth-Quakers came to be. In it’s earliest days, those found working the pit were mainly recalcitrant students, but now the Chairman of the Board uses this place to exile anyone who dares challenge his tyrannical rule. I, for instance, am here only because I was one of the first to take a stand against his oppressive meal plan system by heading straight to the bathroom at Sharples and then pretending I’d been there all along when I walked past the swipes .”
I told him that we ought to rise up and throw off the shackles of our repression.
“Well, I’m all for it of course,” He said, “but I must warn you, it’s never worked in the past. A rebellion needs a symbol to rally behind you see.”
Luckily for us, I always carry a few snap-shots of Izzy the therapy dog for just such occasions.
Word soon began to spread about the impending revolution. The symbol of the rebellion started appearing etched into the mine walls. Secret meetings were held. Weapons were distributed. We began a campaign of systematic psychological warfare:
Laborers: *Jovial banter jovial banter laugh laugh laugh*
Guard: Hey guys! What are you all talking about?
Guard: Aww c’mon guys. Don’t be like that.
In this manner, like the droplets that make up a mighty ocean, we gradually eroded the morale of our persecutors. And then finally, the day of the uprising arrived. The fighting broke out at exactly high noon, but since we had pickaxes and they had flashlights, it was more or less over in time for everyone to go have lunch.
Later that afternoon, I approached the place at the sheer wall of the quarry where a rope now hung unguarded over the lip of the pit. I looked back at the rest of the penal colony who had fallen in silently behind me.
“Are you sure you all won’t come with me?”
“No, lad,” the Professor answered, “This place is our home. We fought for it (briefly) and now it’s ours. We can’t leave. We will stay here and continue to work so that others may learn. That’s all we know. That’s what we’re good at.”
“I’ll never forget you Prof. McCarthy.”
“That’s a strangely intimate thing to say, but okay.”
And with that, I gripped the rope and began my ascent. Slowly but surely, I climbed higher and higher; buoyed up by the quiet chanting of my brothers and sisters below me. I struggled valiantly, the light of freedom calling to me from beyond the edge. And then, with one final grunt of effort I pulled my head over the crater’s lip and Media countryside rose into view. In the foreground of it however, was a pair of black heeled feet. The Chairman of the Board started stepping on my fingers.
“Ow! Ow! I yield! I yield! Truce.”
The Chairman of the Board sighed.
“Very well. So long as you never mention the details of what you saw in the pits to anyone ever again.”
“Fine. But I’m still going to write about all this in the DG.”
“What’s a DG?”
Amaechi Abuah would go on to graduate from Swarthmore College (eventually), and in the years to come, he would bring his children to his old campus to see the new dining hall. They would stand there together in front of it in the melancholy light of a waning day, the last rays of daytime playing delicately off the memorial plaque that hung over the door. On it was inscribed the image of a poodle. The text read:
In Humble Dedication to the Earth-Quakers, on whose sacrifice in blood and sweat this edifice to upper-middle class privilege was erected.
And in addendum, to the fifty-seven Public Safety officers who lost their lives in the uprising of 2017, though to much lesser degree.
Your courageous correspondent,
 I’d never heard anyone mix metaphors so seamlessly before.
 Which we watched on youtube during break time.
 And though Prof. McCarthy is no longer with us today, the movement lives on.
Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia.