The harder I tried to figure out what happened with that Tau Beta Pi bent in front of Abercrombie the more confused I got, so I went all the way back to the beginning and took things one step at a time. Today, we have Step One.
In the beginning, the earth was without form, and void. No, just kidding, I won’t go back quite that far. But I will go back to when there was nothing was in that corner. This picture was taken in late 1955:
Someone in the comments sent me off in a very fruitful direction with the suggestion that the original monument was put up by an engineering society that was NOT Tau Beta Pi–this suggestion was correct. I found an article in the November 1956 issue of the Rice Engineer that explains it was a project of Sigma Tau, an engineering honor society that began at the University of Nebraska in 1904. I’m not completely sure why Rice would have had chapters of both societies, but we did. The chapter of Tau Beta Pi was formed at the Institute in 1940 and Sigma Tau began in 1953. (They merged nationally in 1974, by the way.) The article also helpfully shows us exactly how the guys built the original pool:
Ok, so far, so good. But things now start to get a little fuzzy. Looking for a photo of the completed monument, I (completely by luck) came across this very nice shot. If you zoom in you can even see that it says “1956”,which is frankly a bit of a relief:
Unfortunately, it’s not dated. The only information I have is that it was sent over in a batch of files from Public Affairs in February 1994, so it can’t have been taken after then. Just a quick glance suggests late ’70s or ’80s to me, but I really can’t tell. The kid on the bench just looks like an engineer–that is to say, nearly timeless.