East Lansing — A day later, they kept on coming.
One by one, they walked slowly up — in silence, some wiping away tears. They took pictures and signed their name. Then they turned away, passing by another group of mourners.
The Princess, Lacey Holsworth, has passed away, a victim of the nastiest disease, cancer.
But her smile and spirit will last far longer than the eight years she spent here. One look at The Rock, the famous Michigan State campus billboard, will tell you that.
"A True Spartan."
"Beautiful Little Angel."
"You Have Inspired Us All."
Just before 6 p.m. Thursday, a day after students from across campus and residents from across mid-Michigan came to pay respects to a girl who touched so many lives, thousands of messages had had been left, along with flowers and stuffed animals.
All on a painted-white rock, that read "MSU loves Princess Lacey," with "Love Like Lacey" scrawled across the base in bright pink.
It's the most touching of tributes — one you can't imagine being replaced.
Frankly, who could paint over this?
Rock of ages
The Rock wasn't always at Farm Lane and Auditorium. Back in the late 1880s, it resided near Beaumont Tower. It wasn't until the late 1980s that it was moved to its current location — atop a hill, high above the Red Cedar River — and became the prime gathering spot on MSU's campus, particularly for vigils, celebrations, and demonstrations.
For decades and decades, students have used it as their own sounding board. The fraternities paint on it to advertise Greek Week. Fans paint on it ahead of a big game, and likewise, MSU students protect it from rival "vandalism." More than a few lovebirds even use it to pop the question. And on and on.
Then, usually the next day, it's all gone — erased so others can get their message across.
It's been painted over so many times, and carries countless coats of paints, its original size probably was closer to a pebble than the boulder it is today.
The redecorating hasn't always been peaceful. Occasionally, it has led to bitterness between campus groups, folks sometimes disgusted it was painted over so quickly.
So, on rare occasions, there is an unofficial moratorium. For instance, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, nobody was to paint over MSU's tribute to America for one week.
As far as we know, there has been no such request to keep the brushes in storage for Princess Lacey.
But, again, who could paint over this?
"You'd have to be a real jerk," an MSU student muttered to me after I posed the question aloud. She then continued coloring in some of the faded pink on Princess Lacey's Rock.
A fitting tribute
It's amazing, really, the connections Princess Lacey made — first with Adreian Payne, her "Superman," then the rest of the basketball team, and eventually the rest of the nation.
Her story was sad, but her attitude was spectacular.
Nobody doubts for a second her memorial service next Thursday, on campus at the same arena where not long ago she escorted Payne to the court on Senior Day, will be a standing room-only event.
Some suggest it'll be after that service that The Rock's unspoken paint ban will, once again, be lifted.
I have my doubts it'll ever be. Hundreds circled The Rock into the night Wednesday, and eventually were joined by Payne, MSU coach Tom Izzo and several other members of the basketball team. They signed their names like all the others, and Izzo spoke from the heart.
Thursday, they just kept coming — in smaller groups, but with the same raw emotion.
So maybe, just maybe, it's time for a new Rock. Maybe it's finally time to put this Rock to rest, give it to the girl who gave this community so much, and move it to the Breslin Center lawn for good.
After all, who could paint over this?