Black is the New Green

Digging deep into the story of the missing spade


Parker Briggs, Online Editor

The spade, which is over 128 years old, is the focus of some of the Annie Wright’s oldest traditions. Even 88 years ago it was referred to as the school’s “oldest and most cherished possession” by student Elizabeth Emerson from the class of 1931.

Originally employed for the ceremonial planting of trees, the spade’s use has since changed significantly. At the end of each year, the graduating class loops a tie of their color around the handle. With this being practiced since the tradition’s inception, the spade is today more silk than shovel.

A dense curtain of red, yellow, green,
and blue drapes down from the handle’s length. But two dark ties stand out from the others, adding to the palette an ominous shade of black. The story behind these two anomalies has to do with a second tradition: the annual hunt for the spade.

In 1902, two members of the graduating class, Millie Hubbard and Mary Kantz, hid the spade for the next year’s seniors to find. They also developed a set of precepts to guide the search in future years. The spade was to be “found previous to mid-nite of Hallowe’en,” and be “hidden over a floor and under a roof.” A tradition was born that even today is conducted with plenty of enthusiasm;

if the seniors don’t uncover the spade in time, they never receive their class privileges.

Included in that list of lost privileges is the prerogative to even identify with their own class color, meaning they must assume thereafter the distinctive title of “black tie.” Come their graduation, it is with a black ribbon they must adorn the handle of the spade. Upper Schools also equate the black tie class with a black cat, a symbol of bad luck.

As evidenced by the episodes of recent years, there seems to indeed be quite
a bit of fate involved in acquiring the designation of “black tie.” In 2011, for the first time in half a century, the graduating class, who were green ties, failed to find the spade before Halloween. And for the first time ever, they were unable to find it before their graduation. No one, not even those who hid it, could find the missing

spade. The next year, as a modern replica took its place, the tradition resumed, but a piece of the school’s heritage, its “most cherished possession,” remained missing Three years ago, however, the school received an anonymous tip that opened back up the then-cold case. Soon after, to the elation of the seniors and students who had known the spade before its disappearance, the spade was finally tracked down, lying among the rafters of the attic above the Middle School music room.

While much remains unanswered about the affair’s nebulous details, part of
the story behind its disappearance has been revealed: the treasured spade, packaged in a Fed-Ex box for intra-school transportation, was mistaken for an outgoing package and handed to the delivery man.

How it ended up in the attic, however, remains a mystery. Whatever the mischief behind the mysterious incident, lessons have been learned: replaceable, plastic shovels are now used in the annual hunt for the spade. Today, the spade itself is enjoying its well-deserved and thankfully uneventful retirement

in the administrative hallway, watching students and teachers walk by from the safe environment of its glass display case.