J. Randall Nichols was a student living in Hodge Hall the night “The Great Rat” first appeared. According to Nichols, the cause for the protest had to do with certain students’ complaints that they heard gnawing sounds in the walls of Hodge. He writes, “All efforts to move the administration to exterminative action having failed, the matter was, so to speak, moved to the realm of the symbolic.” A group of students, armed with paintbrushes and Sherwin-Williams orange paint, headed to the Hodge basement one dark night in 1967. The next morning, reactions to the painting (which was rendered on the basement floor, directly in the middle of the circular staircase) were mixed. Tom Brian, who was then the superintendent of buildings and grounds, showed up that morning and started screaming about who had ruined his newly painted floor. He was sure that “The Rat” represented him and initially took offense to the rodent. Rumor has it that the gnawing sounds subsided shortly after.
Over time, “The Great Rat’s” paint began to wear down, and the tradition had to open up new chapters. Since 1967, the painting has been erased and repainted more than thirty times. In succeeding versions, the painting changed form and style, as “the original archaic simplicity was embellished with realism and artistry, [and] the monochrome orange gave way to different colors.” This colorful Seminary tradition remains to this day. Each year in the fall, a group of Hodge students surreptitiously repaints the mural over the course of a week, passing on “The Great Rat” tradition to each new class of students.