In 1993, Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee, and longtime friend D.K. Ruth, established Auburn’s Rural Studio in the small community of Newbern in Hale County. Rural Studio is an architecture program dedicated to building houses, community centers and other structures for the poverty-stricken communities in Hale County while introducing students to the social responsibilities of their profession.
Samuel Mockbee was diagnosed with leukemia in 1998 and died December 30, 2001 from complications of the disease. During the last two years of his life, Mockbee spent substantial time gathering ideas for a Subrosa Pantheon, a place for meditation and sharing secrets. Mockbee envisioned an underground structure with a long entrance tunnel that opened into a circular room which had a round opening in the ceiling and a pond in the center of the floor that contained make-believe turtles. There would be a bench located in a recessed section along the wall and above this bench would be another opening in the ceiling that had a canopy of roses over it. Embedded in the wall at each end of the bench there would be a metal tube that extended around the wall of the room. Individuals would sit on opposite ends of the bench underneath the roses and pass secrets back and forth by whispering into the metal tubes.
The term “subrosa” is derived from the ancient Romans who would hang roses from the ceiling to enforce confidentiality among those present. If anyone from the gathering divulged information from a “subrosa” meeting, the others had the right to kill that person and his family. In Mockbee’s mythology, the make-believe turtles in the pond are the guardians of the secrets of Subrosa. If someone betrays those secrets, the “make-believe turtles” would come after them.
After Mockbee’s death, his daughter, Carol, came to Rural Studio as an Outreach student to complete her father’s dream. She pieced together the notes and drawings of her father and then built Subrosa. The construction of Subrosa was an extraordinary feat for Carol because she had no prior building or architectural experience.
The Subrosa is located on the grounds of the Auburn Rural Studio beside the Bodark Amphitheatre at Newburn (32°35’52.6″N 87°32’03.9″W – Google Maps).