In the Beginning

Its Presbyterian roots. Its early financial struggles. The fire that destroyed its Boyle Heights campus. The perseverance of a school to realize its destiny. Occidental's early history has the makings of a graphic novel—and who better to tell that story than Oxy's oldest inhabitants?

The date was September 20, 1887. The time: 10 a.m. As the Los Angeles Times reported, "The exercises attendant upon the laying of the cornerstone of the new Occidental University—an institution of learning founded under the direction of the Presbyterian Church—took place at Boyle Heights … upon the site selected for the proposed new edifice. A large number of persons were present at the ceremonies, which were of an extremely solemn and impressive nature."

In later accounts, Hal Weller shared his recollections of that monumental day in Oxy history: Winding his way though "piles of brick as high as my head with part of the crowd bordering my path," the 3-year-old placed a "japanned metal box in a cavity prepared for it. In the tin box were copies of current newspapers, documents, and, among other things, a photograph of the little boy with long brown curls who was aiding in the ceremonies."
 
For myriad reasons, including the 1896 fire that destroyed most of the College's possessions, photographic evidence of Oxy's early years is pretty thin. So, for Occidental's 125th birthday, we thought we'd try something different: a graphic novel-style narrative of the College's first quarter-century. Our choice of narrator might surprise you, but even Oxy's first historian, Robert Cleland 1907, acknowledged the presence of squirrels on the property.
 
You can be certain, though, that you'll see squirrels scampering around on Founders Day. Maybe they've just come to celebrate—after all, they were here first.