An Abridged History of the Sentinel
by Hugh G. Whang | published Apr. 4th, 2014
The RIT skyline used to look quite different. There was an empty space between Clark Gym and the SAU. This space would eventually be home to the largest piece of statuary on any college campus in North America: the Sentinel.
The Sentinel was the byproduct of a former RIT professor, Albert “Big Al” Parslei, famed sculptor turned paleontologist. Big Al joined the RIT faculty in the late 1960s as a professor of sculpting and design. The first two decades of his tenure at RIT were relatively humdrum. But soon, all that would change.
On June 11, 1993 Big Al and his close friend former RIT President Albert “Bertie” Simpson saw the midnight release of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. The film awoke a deep interest that had been living inside of Big Al since he was a child, a love for dinosaurs. In conjunction with Simpson, Big Al was able to charter funding from the Hollywood Directors’ Guild and the Steven Spielberg School for Jurassic Research was born. As a charter member of the school, Big Al was immediately promoted to the role of department chair.
Using the strong intuition of a sculptor, Big Al had to decide where to begin the Jurassic Institute’s first big dig. “Taking the advice of Toucan Sam, I decided to follow my nose which led me to look in the most obvious of places, right under RIT.” Up until 2003 there was a large underground passageway connecting the residential to the academic tunnels. Unfortunately for the tunnel, this was the first location of Big Al’s dig.
In 1997, Big Al and his team of paleontologists spent months digging up the Quarter Mile between the academic and residential sides of campus. Big Al didn’t unearth a single fossil and was promptly dismissed, disbanding the School for Jurassic Research. His project left the institute so far in debt that officials turned to former University of Maryland Provost Dr. William Wallace Wrestler for financial assistance.
Wrestler agreed to pay off the institute’s debt providing that he was paid back by 2007. If RIT failed to do so, the institute was contractually obligated to oust Bertie Simpson as president and install Wrester in his place. Additionally, the institute would be required to transition to semesters by the year 2013.
The institute was out of debt but had to deal with the large amount of metal shards unearthed by Big Al during his excavation. They carted it off to an unused corner of campus where it lay forgotten until 2003.
It was at that time that Simpson realized there was no way for the institute to pay off its debts to Wrestler. He reached out to Big Al once again in hope that he could help. Big Al decided the best way to thwart Wrestler was to build a statue so large and ugly that no man would want to view it from his office window. The institute, while out of debt, was in a spending freeze. With no money to purchase materials for his proposed monstrosity, Big Al turned to the very pile of metal shards he unearthed years earlier.
In a matter of months Big Al welded the scrap together and the Sentinel was born. However, Wrestler was a man with an innovative imagination who loved a rousing game of make-believe. He was excited to have the sculpture outside his window, pretending he was guarding a castle from a big metal knight riding a horse.
He took over as president and the rest is history.