The Lost Legend of the Swarthmore Rubber Ducks

Back in the beginning of Swarthmore, when the trees were still saplings and McCabe was but a few books on a shelf, back even before the name Lang had appeared on any building, there stood a small cottage northeast of Parrish. In this cottage lived a young child and their family.

They spent their time happily in the cottage singing and playing games, cooking and learning the names of the flowers and insects they encountered. The child went outside every day, rain or shine, to play in their garden. There they fought imaginary monsters, made friends with the bees, and created stories of heroic quests, stately balls and extravagant castles. And each day the child would come inside before dinner, covered contentedly in mud and grass and smelling like air. And each day before they sat down to eat, the child would take a bath.

Now, the child loved their outdoor adventures. But the one thing they loved even more was bathtime. They loved the smell of the soap, the bubbles that formed a thick foamy layer on the water’s surface, and most of all, they loved their rubber ducks. As everyone knows, rubber ducks are an essential part of any proper bath. The child never once cleaned up without the company of their yellow friends bobbing along with happy encouragement. The ducks themselves were very fond of the child, and looked forward every day to the child’s chatter and the splashes that sent them wobbling on the rippling water. 

Historically, the importance of the rubber duck during a bath has been seriously overlooked. Often, the toys sit unloved and unused on some bathroom shelf or in some cupboard. They never get to float as they were meant to in a sudsy lake, surrounded by the scent of shampoo and the sound of laughter. As a consequence, many a child has taken an unhappy bath, not realizing that bathtime only felt onerous because they were lacking the presence of a brightly colored floaty friend to add some joy to their washing up. 

But this child knew. And so, as the days passed, the child and their rubber ducks shared in laughter and playtime and bubbles. And the child was happy. And the ducks were happy.

Inevitably, as the child grew, they began to take showers rather than baths. And inevitably, they one day left the cottage to go seek adventures of their own beyond the garden fence. But they left the rubber ducks in their proud place by the faucet, so that they would be there for the next child who lived in the cottage. And the next child loved the ducks just as much, and likewise, when it was time to move on, left the ducks for the next child. So the generations passed, and the ducks continued to fill bathtimes with joy. 

Eventually, the College began to expand, Lang buildings started popping up and dorms and classrooms were built all around. The cottage had grown old, and it had been years since any child had lived there. No one found any rubber ducks as they removed the remains of the cottage from the grounds. But then again, no one ever looked. 

On the very land where the child had once tamed imaginary dragons and ruled over make-believe kingdoms, the school began work constructing a new building. An engineering (and biology and psychology) building, to be exact. This building is new and modern. Bright light shines from it at night, drowning out the stars in its harsh brilliance. The halls have strange corners and the classrooms are cavernous and cold. Occasional students go there late in the day, but they study numbers and make calculations. They do not talk to the bees and flowers. There are no bathtubs. No children laugh and sing songs and make beards from bubbles. Now there is only talk of studies, of problem sets and margins of error.

If you go to Singer, late at night, or early in the morning, legend has it you can still hear the sound of running water and splashing. And if you stop for a minute, on your way to class or to study, and look – really look – you can find small rubber ducks in odd corners and hidden spaces throughout the building. No one knows how they got there, but no one dares disturb their silent vigil. It is said that they are what remains of the joy once felt in the small cottage that stood, so long ago, where Singer now resides. It is said that they mourn the carefree fun they once witnessed. It is said that if anyone laughed, if even one person had a good time in Singer, then the ducks could have peace at last.

This article was inspired by a late night exploration of Singer, during which my friends and I found at least four tiny rubber ducks in places that rubber ducks had no reason to be. Singer is lacking in whimsy; for this reason I think the presence of these small ducks in the building is necessary, and I hope it continues. 

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