In the early 1940s, Cranbrook School students Pete Wilson and Tom Tyree wrote a modest suggestion in their “Cranium” column in The Crane student newspaper. The young men, both from the Class of 1943, suggested that students:
…refrain from walking on the plaque in the center of the gateway. It is inscribed “Gateway of Friendship” and it was pointed out that usually we do what we can to strengthen and propagate our friendships rather than trampling on them. The Crane feels this is a good point and a good example of a custom we might start.
The tradition stuck, and today students resist walking over the octagonal “Gateway of Friendship” plaque. One tradition that hasn’t stuck around, unfortunately: the annual scrubbing of the plaque!
Meant to symbolize the importance of friendship among the Cranbrook community, Cranbrook School for Boys Prefects would clean the plaque at the start of each school year. It’s not clear, looking at the photographs, how clean they got the stone compared to how wet and soapy they got themselves, but it was an important symbolic gesture. In caring for the stone, the boys were demonstrating the spirit of the quotes carved into the archway. One, from James Fenimore Cooper, seems especially relevant:
Friendship that flows from the heart cannot be frozen by adversity as the water that flows from the spring cannot congeal in winter.
While the cleaning ceremony was described as a “sacred rite” in 1976 by Bruce Coulter in his history of the School, Forty Years On, I am not sure when or why the tradition stopped.
Cranbrook Schools students returned to class this past Monday for a school year like no other, donning masks and sitting at desks spread six feet apart. Instead of scrubbing the plaque, the most important thing students can wash this year is their hands! Maybe the tradition will return for 2021?
—Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research