Claim: Statues on college campuses come to life when a virgin walks by.
Example: [Dorson, 1959]
When she comes tripping by, stone lions will bark. A Revolutionary War cannon will fire out. Two facing statues will solemnly dismount from their pedestals, walk to the center of the courtyard, and clasp hands in congratulation. A series of boulders, delicately balanced atop each other by nature’s art, will suddenly collapse. When she gazes their way, the Flattop Mountains will turn purple with rage.
Origins: Every school wants to think of itself as “the party school to end all party schools,” and legends about virgin-inspired statues or fixtures play to this image. The underlying message of such beliefs is that the school is a hellhole of debauchery and wild times (a state of affairs considered a badge of honor among college students, even if the parents who sent them there would be aghast at the thought).
Sadly, there are no credible records of stone lions coming to life or the world crashing down upon itself because a virgin walked across campus. Yet.
Some of the statues and fixtures virgins are said to affect include:
- Silent Sam, the bronze soldier who stands on the University of North Carolina campus as a memorial to those UNC alumni who died fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War. According to legend, if a virgin passes by the soldier will shoot his rifle, hence the nickname “Silent Sam.”
- A virgin walking by the statue of a wounded soldier at Knox College risked its rising up and chasing her out to the outlying cornfield to personally alleviate her condition.
- A virgin walking under the statue of The Torchbearer at University of Tennessee will cause his flame to go out.
- Testudo of the University of Maryland will rise from his pedestal during commencement and fly over the crowd if a virgin ever graduates from that school. The seated Pioneer Mother of the University of Oregon and the seated Lincoln of the University of Illinois will stand in a virgin’s presence, while at Michigan State the standing Spartan will sit.
- Cornell’s statues of Andrew D. White and Ezra Cornell will step off their pedestals, walk to each other, and shake hands.
- At Upper Iowa University, the statue of the Green Goddess will bow. At Duke, the statue of James Duke will tip his hat.
- New York University’s statue of Garibaldi will draw his sword. At Bucknell and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, a venerated cannon will fire.
- The stone lions at of University of Missouri, Michigan, and Cincinnati will roar if a virgin walks between them.
- At the University of Nebraska, classical columns will crumble. At Penn State, a proud obelisk will fall. At the University of Arkansas, Old Main will collapse.
- Bells will ring out at Indiana University and Bucknell University.
In traditional folklore, virgins are said to be the only ones capable of subduing the elusive unicorn. They can also walk through swarms of bees without getting stung, stare into the sun without coming to harm, and restore the flame of extinguished candles.
Virgin superstitions include:
- The touch of a virgin has the power to heal.
- If the first person you encounter on the street in the morning is a virgin, bad luck will dog your steps all day. (On the other hand, your encountering a prostitute first thing in the day will bring you great amounts of good fortune.)
- A baby will be very lucky if the first stranger to hold it is a virgin.
The function of the virgin in traditional folklore
and superstition is a symbol of purity. This innocence is the cornerstone of beliefs that animals will behave gently in the presence of a virgin, or that her purity can be passed to others by touch, thereby healing the ill or blessing the newborn. Although traditional lore has a lot to say about the role of the virgin, none of it is applicable to legends about statues coming to life. The statues of these urban belief tales react to graduating virgins because they’re walking impossibilities — the students of the schools these legends are told about draw pride from their alma maters being such happening places that no one could possibly survive four years of it without being sexually initiated by one of the many wolves on campus. The statue legends are therefore less snippets of lore about the magical powers of virgins in the modern world than they are boasts of puffed-chest bravado among young men who fancy themselves quite the studly ones on the basis of their association with schools bearing reputations.
Barbara “along comes merry” Mikkelson
Last updated: 23 June 2011
Bronner, Simon J. Piled Higher and Deeper. Little Rock: August House, 1990. ISBN 0-87483-154-7 (pp. 179-185). Dorson, Richard. American Folklore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959. ISBN 0-226-15859-4 (pp. 254-255). Opie, Iona and Moira Tatem. A Dictionary of Superstitions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989 ISBN 0-19-282-916-5. (pp. 119, 420-421). Pickering, David. Dictionary of Superstitions. London: Cassell, 1995 ISBN 0-304-345350 (pp. 271-272).