I generally like my job on most days but every once in a while it positively fills me with glee. This usually involves something either deeply strange or so tiny as to be nearly trivial (or both). This time, though, the occasion of my mirth turned out to be something hiding in plain sight.
I had a very nice visit a while back from Philip Walters, ’76. While he was here we went for a walk around campus and I listened to him tell me things I didn’t know. As we walked he pointed this out to me:
It’s in the sidewalk between Lovett Hall and the statue of William Marsh Rice, which is, I believe, considered by most to be the exact center of the universe. I’d walked past and over it thousands of times and never given it a thought.
It turns out that the metal plate hides a station placed there by the National Geodetic Survey in 1942. A link to their website is here but for those who don’t want to go digging, here’s a screenshot of the page that shows its exact location:
I don’t really know anything about this stuff but I kept poking around and found the data sheets for this marker, which proved more interesting yet. They provide a sort of short history of the station and also pointed me to other markers on campus: two reference markers in the quad and an azimuth marker. Here are the sheets as a pdf:
I easily found the azimuth marker embedded in the granite at the base of the main gate at entrance 1:
It was a bit of a struggle to locate the two reference markers in the quad but I finally found them several inches down with the help of my metal detector. (I just knew that thing was going to come in handy some day!) In the meantime, Philip made an inspired guess, blew up one of the aerial shots I’d posted of campus construction in 1948, and discovered that you can actually see the markers as three fuzzy white dots:
I’m incredibly grateful to Philip for making this delightful adventure possible.
Note: I actually do know what an azimuth is.