courtesy Calvin Archives
The Class of ’68 paused long enough with their stolen statue to snap a quick picture at the Franklin Campus.

By Nathan VanderKlippe

He’s back.

Moses, that trouble-making, fight-starting, booze-guzzling, lingerie-wearing placid patriarch has been resurrected. Not the real Moses, of course. Not even the Class of ’75 could do that. But they could get another sculpture of Michelangelo’s Moses, and they did.

The first Moses was a statue, about 3 feet tall and horned, unleashed upon Calvin by the graduating Prep class of 1925. This was the last Prep school class to exit the doors of Calvin’s campus, and the 13 graduating students were perhaps the perfect donors of the pesky statue. This was, after all, the class dubbed by then Professor Vanden Bosch “the most obstinate, unruly and pachydermatous class in school.” Their reason for the sculpture: to demonstrate to the campus that an Italian Catholic – not Dutch, not Reformed – was equally capable of magnificent art. Moses soon found a permanent abode at the entrance to the Franklin Street chapel. But he was not the kind of statue you look at from afar in some starchy art gallery. He was truly utilitarian art. While vigilantly guarding the chapel, he also served as a coat rack, test dummy for female lingerie, liquor sampler, cigar tester, tampon holder and the list goes on.

But he also had a talent, kept hidden in those early days when his mischief only extended to holding hats and scarves. Moses had an uncanny ability, one not often found in “inorganic” plaster models: he was able to locomote. And oh, the laughter, giggles, mischief and tension that came about when this talent was discovered.
photo by nathan vanderklippe
Moses, pictured here in his resurrected form, has a long and storied past within the Calvin community.
It all started when President Schultze told Henry Keegstra, the chief engineer, “Why don’t we just get rid of it, hide it somewhere. Get it out of here!” That’s when the all-campus game of Hide and Seek pit the students against the administration. Staff would steal Moses away in the quiet of the night to some little-traveled area of campus. Then the Moses-hunters would set out, eager to snatch the ultimate Calvin booty: the pride of finding the bronzed patriarch. Carefully, they would return their prized catch to his rightful pedestal outside the chapel.

And so the tug-of-war continued, both sides thieving the placid figure and spiriting him around the campus. At one point, some enterprising climbers, eagerly ratcheting themselves up a vertical ventilating shaft in the administration building to sniff around the attic bumped into him, hanging lifelessly on a rope. Another time, he made a red-faced appearance at the chapel, scantily clad in a racy “Frederick’s of Hollywood” outfit.

There was genius in those days. In the midst of the administration-student repartee over the beleaguered plaster icon, President Schultze was rumored by some to be housing Moses. Some students, desperate for a chance to penetrate the very lair of the head administrator, knew how they could do it. Mrs. Schultze later reported a rather bizarre incident: two young men from the water department came by, saying they were tracing some anomaly in the water system and could you please, ma’am, flush the toilets several times when we yell up from your basement? Sadly, the rumors were false and there was no Moses to be found.
courtesy calvin archives
This picture, taken around 1953, shows the Mt. Sinai Express, Moses’s preferred mode of transportation.
Years later, President Spoelhof’s wife reported numerous visits by meter readers when their son, a student at the time, was part of a gang who had taken possession of Moses. But the statue was locked safely away in the attic of the garage. The pretense of “meter reader” only gave these students access to the basement and Moses was safe.

But even then, Moses’ own true impishness had not been fully realized. It took a group of students, including Ed Boevé and Mel Hugen, and a 1927 Model T Open touring car to bring out another facet of his elusive, effervescent character. It was the early 50s by then, and Moses was hidden again, this time in the depths of the organ chamber. After rescuing him, they carefully dismantled Mel’s Ford late one Sunday evening and brought it inside the administration building, where they rebuilt it. They perched the cheery Moses behind the wheel of the “Mount Sinai Express” and cordoned off the thousand-year-old driver with a corral of velvet rope, obtained with an ever-so polite bit of prevarication at a local funeral parlor. But even punishing the devious perpetrators was difficult. When President Spoelhof called them into his office they came accompanied by the entire men’s basketball team and half the guys on campus.

These were the times when there was “one brouhaha after another,” says Boevé. “There were times in which the kids went roaring literally across the state of Michigan with Moses in the car and others in pursuit.” Traveling across town was a frequent pastime for the Moses. Boevé remembers a failed attempt to show off the catch of the week on stage at the curtain call of the school presentation of “Cyrano de Bergerac” at the St. Cecilia Music Society auditorium downtown. Just before the lights went back up to audience applause, a gang of young men ran backstage unnoticed. But the lights stayed down. Tipped off by someone on the inside, the lights guys stymied the exhibition by keeping the perpetrators – and the actors, crammed behind the curtain with their full armor and sword costumes – in the dark.

In charge of disciplining these pranking miscreants was the disciplinary committee, and especially its long-time chair, the austere Pete Hoekstra, a man who Boevé doubts “whether he smiled ever in his lifetime.” By this time, Moses’ serious, brooding visage had degenerated into a cartoon-like hack job of chips and splinters, injuries incurred during transit.
photos by nathan vanderklippe
Pictured here is the last known remaining piece of the original Moses, stored in the Calvin archives.
His face got much, much worse on a fateful day in 1954, the day they threw a farewell party for the retiring Hoekstra. As a joke – malice above malice – some faculty member delivered Moses to Hoekstra on a silver platter, serving a meat cleaver as a side dish. Lacking the intestinal fortitude to resist the taunting cheers of his colleagues, Hoesktra hacked the precious relic to bits. Students, watching the slaughter through the windows, rushed in to collect the bits and pieces.

What dilapidated and massacred bits remain changed hands several times, but somehow the balloon has been deflated and Calvin’s derring-do recedes behind the excitement of moving to the new campus, the Knollcrest Farm.

It is here, in the art department on the second floor of the Fine Arts Center, that a fated set of whispers are exchanged. Some students nudge Ed Boevé, who is not an art professor, and ask him if he will help mend the broken Moses. He agrees, and tells them to come to his place. So the students drive over on the chosen morning. Boevé admonishes them to hide their cars on a side street behind his backyard. The front of Boevé’s house, done in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, was almost entirely windows so they took Moses into the den, “the only room that had draperies that would draw. And there they all sat puffing their cigarettes nervously while I tried to rebuild him,” he says.

As he was carting the statue, still wet with plaster, into the furnace room to dry, he got the first of two phone calls warning him of an army of young people descending upon his house. The whispers had been overheard, and a movement was afoot to steal the healing patient.

“Our whole street was blocked off by the students. They were swarming over our property, they were on the roof and in the backyard. I was reading a book about our history,” recalls Boevé. “They came to the door and I calmly said, ‘You might as well go. There’s nothing for you here.’ Well they hung around and hung around. We had about five skylights in that house and they started removing the one for the bedroom and at that I got on the telephone. I said to the police, ‘I’m a prof at Calvin. I don’t want any trouble, I just want all these students cleared off our property.’”
photos by nathan vanderklippe
Below is the Boevé house, the site of Moses’ reconstruction in the 1960s.
The cops came, but it didn’t matter. The students stayed, although a little more at bay now. “We’ve got to get you out of here and we’ve got to get Moses out of here before we have utter pandemonium,” Boevé told the students in his house. The getaway was planned, and four cars streaked out of the driveway, each with his own route in mind. Two cars followed the one carrying Moses and blocked pursuing students from entering the freeway. Moses was safe and had gotten away.

After another touch-up job by Boevé (in the excitement of the frenzied escape, Moses got knocked around the trunk and needed more plaster bandaids), the crumbling statue set the whole Commons Dining Hall ablaze with passion. It was September, 1968, and one of the roaming gangs had big plans to show-off the statue to everybody eating. It went terribly wrong. The brawl that ensued over possession of Moses spilled onto the commons lawn, where a call for medical attention – someone hit his head on a table, others were bloodied by flying chairs and broken windows – brought the police, who called for reinforcements. By the time the scene cleared, a dozen cop cars sat parked on the lawn and President Spoelhof mediated permission to punish the instigators on his own terms.

Chunks of Moses lay strewn across the lawn. But the student green gave up its dead, and the ’70s brought another round of Moses shenanigans. Again, well thought-out plans were executed and again, gangs prowled the campus, planning and scheming how next to steal the old man.

But it was not long before Moses disappeared, and this time for good. The final requiem for the true campus mascot was chanted when Spoelhof was presented with a 2 foot length of 2x4. “That was the innards around which the thing was cast,” Spoelhof says.

Moses was a campus legend, Calvin’s very own version of Hope’s storied anchor and Albion’s often-moved stone. Will the legend live on? Only time will tell, but a brand new crop of students and a brand new statue may be the perfect formula for many more administrators’ headaches.

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