True Colors
Written July 16, 2009


Oberlin College, my alma mater in Ohio, was named in honor of Alsatian pastor John Frederick Oberlin (1740-1826).

He’s remembered on this stele, which I photographed outside Wilder Hall in May 2009.  From different perspectives, it looks different.  The alternating vertical stripes on a corrugated surface depict a bird from one viewpoint and a flower from the other.

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According to the stele, J.F.O. “used the original of the optical curiosity shown above for pastoral counseling.  His simple message — that people with diverse perspectives can live in friendship with one another — lies at the heart of the aspirations of this college.”

The Oberlin College colors were selected by a faculty committee in 1889.  They originally had been part of J.F.O.’s family coat of arms.  Perhaps because Harvard students had chosen “crimson” 14 years before, Oberlin’s colors have always been referred to in song and story as “crimson and gold.”

Composite of
online photos


“Evening Hymn” by
John Prindle Scott


     Softly now the twilight falls
         over elms and ivied walls.
     Through the campus dark and deep,
         now the evening shadows creep.

     Comrades, gathered side by side
         in the dusky eventide
     'Neath the sun's declining rays,
         lift their evening song of praise.

     Alma Mater, hail to thee!
         True and loyal hearts have we!
     Well we've loved thee in the past;
         Still we'll love thee to the last.

     Lo, the western sky — aflame
         at the praise of thy dear name —
     Lifts a sign our hearts t’inspire:
         clouds of mingled blood and fire.

     Hail the Crimson!  Hail the Gold!
         Wide our banners now unfold!
     See our colors, loved and fair,
         streaming in the evening air!

     Alma Mater, hail to thee!
         True and loyal hearts have we!
     Well we've loved thee in the past;
         Still we'll love thee to the last.


But now, at this late date, Wikipedia tells me that my college's colors are not really crimson and gold!  (Nor are they red or yellow, as I noted in a 1965 letter.)

RGB  196-30-58, 255-196-12

In the registry of school colors maintained by the American Council on Education, Oberlin’s hues are officially defined as cardinal red and Mikado yellow.

RGB  220-20-60, 212-175-55

If they were actually crimson and gold, as proclaimed in song and story, they would be slightly lighter and offer less contrast.

RGB  255-0-0, 255-255-0

And red and yellow would be a lot brighter.

I just wanted to set the record straight for any nitpicking chromatologists out there.



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