All Over The Map: Anacortes claims to have the oldest ‘graffiti rock’

Jan 31, 2020, 6:46 AM | Updated: 6:47 am

Washingtonians like to leave their mark on things. From ancient petroglyphs along the Columbia River, to monikers left by rowing teams along Seattle’s Montlake Cut, human beings around here have rarely been shy about calling attention to themselves by decorating the landscape.

One important subcategory of this anthropological phenomenon might best be called the “graffiti rock.” Such objects are present in many communities around the Evergreen State, but their total number is unknown, and their individual histories have not been collected in one central place. Until now.

What is a “graffiti rock,” exactly? There’s no hard and fast definition, but the Skagit County community of Anacortes provides an excellent example.

Earlier this week, the Anacortes Museum published a blog post about the graffiti rock at Anacortes High School, and KIRO Radio spoke with museum director Bret Lunsford about it.

“Anacortes High School has, for generations, had a giant boulder, a ‘glacial erratic’ [that was] dropped onto Fidalgo Island, probably some 15,000 years ago,” Lunsford said on Thursday by phone from Anacortes. “Whether or not it was on the surface from time immemorial or was excavated as part of a 1930 high school construction project is currently unknown.”

The geologic history of the glacial erratic is, of course, interesting, but it’s the boulder’s more recent past of human interactivity that makes it a true graffiti rock.

“Yearbooks from the 1930s and 1940s show the boulder being a place to pose for annual photos for various groups and sports teams,” Lunsford continued. “And then in the 1950s sometime — the earliest evidence we have is from 1958 — you can see that the students had begun to paint the boulder.”

Lunsford says the boulder is sometimes known as “Senior Rock” or more commonly called just “The Rock.”

“It was moved in [1974] during another high school construction project northward a few hundred feet to where it currently sits and will probably [sit] for decades to come,” Lunsford said.

It’s still an object that each graduating class can decorate, Lunsford says, reminding a reporter that the Anacortes High School mascot is the Seahawk, a name chosen decades before the Seattle NFL team also adopted the avian marine moniker.

Because there are similar rocks all over Washington, KIRO Radio is looking for help from listeners to put together a comprehensive list and map. For example, one fairly similar painted rock is visible from the northbound lanes of I-5 south of Bellingham near Lake Samish. Meanwhile, at Big Rock Park in the Snoqualmie Valley near Duvall, that boulder is certainly visible, but is paint-free.

When Bret Lunsford learned about KIRO Radio’s effort to compile a list and map of graffiti rocks, he threw down a challenge based on the 1958 yearbook photo.

“I’m willing to claim that Anacortes High School has the oldest functional graffiti rock in the state of Washington unless somebody proves me wrong,” Lunsford said.

Did Bret Lunsford, who happens to be a graduate of Anacortes High School, ever decorate Senior Rock?

“I’m not positive if I had anything to do with the graffiti on that rock when I was in school in the late 70s early 80s,” Lunsford said. “But it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that I may have painted The Who emblem onto it.”

Please share any information you may have about graffiti rocks in the comments below, or send an email to [email protected]. We’ll provide an update on the story online and in a future broadcast.

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All Over The Map: Anacortes claims to have the oldest ‘graffiti rock’