The Ghost of Old Main

Ghost in Old Main.2.

It always began precisely at midnight. The students knew it was coming and strained to hear.  Just a few tones at first. Faltering, random, described by one as “the shriek of a lost soul.” Gradually, the sounds found structure, became recognizable notes, but were always composed of sad, despondent phrases. It was “the most mournful music that ever fell upon the ears of man,” stated a listener.

In April 1903, the talk of the campus was about the mysterious “ghost” in the old Main Building. Two or three times a week, just as the clock struck twelve, someone – or some thing – began to play the piano kept on the stage of the auditorium.

Old Main Auditorium.Out from stage.

Above: The Old Main auditorium as seen from the stage.

The Victorian-Gothic styled old Main Building – “Old Main” – was the first structure on the campus, with a central tower, east and west wings, and a north wing that housed a basement gymnasium, the University library on the first floor, and a large auditorium above. The main floor seated 1,000, with room for an additional 700 persons in a balcony that wrapped around three sides of the room. Rows of tall, Gothic-arched windows along each side allowed for ample sunlight during the day, and the auditorium was outfitted for gas lighting at night. The stage at the north end was used for concerts, plays by the Curtain Club, convocations, literary society debates, and spring commencement. Raucous football rallies were also held here, though only the men were permitted to sit on the main floor. At the time, it was considered unbecoming for women to participate in such loud and spirited events. Co-eds were expected to quietly watch from the balcony.

Old Main Auditorium.Looking to stage.

Above: The auditorium view from the back row. The columns and stage are decorated for a Texas Independence Day convocation. Click on the image for a larger view, and you’ll find the piano on the right side of the stage.

The late night piano concerts were discovered in March when the music escaped through an open window and drifted across campus. Some of the melodies were familiar, but most was improvisation, and performances lasted about an hour. The trouble, though, was that the auditorium remained utterly dark, and attempts to discover the identity of the piano player had failed. Doors to the auditorium were always kept locked after hours. At the slightest sound of entry, the music ceased, and the room was found to be empty.

B Hall ResidentsBy April, 1903, the “ghost” in Old Main was becoming legendary, and catching the phantom in the act proved to be an irresistible challenge to the residents of B. Hall (photo at left), the men’s dorm just down the hill east of Old Main. On a weeknight near the end of the month, almost 50 B. Hall men organized an ambush. Sentries were posted at all of the Main Building entrances to prevent escape, and a few kept an eye on the auditorium windows. They waited quietly until midnight, when, right on time, melancholy tones once again began to emanate from the hall. Having borrowed a key from the night watchman, a dozen students rushed in to the auditorium, struck matches, and lit the gas lamps. The music stopped immediately. The hall was thoroughly searched and all of the potential hiding places checked, but to no avail. None of the sentries reported seeing anyone. Perhaps the piano player truly was a ghost.

Baffled, the students quietly appointed a committee of the bravest three to remain in the auditorium while the others returned to B. Hall. The lights were doused, the group made noises of giving up and going to bed, and the auditorium was evacuated, except for the three, who quietly found seats in the back row.

They waited for almost an hour and were about ready to retreat, when, out of the inky darkness, the piano began to play. “The music began so low at first as to almost not be heard,” remembered one of the committee, “and gradually came up just as the wind does through a pine forest.” With hair standing on end and beads of cold sweat on their foreheads, the three remembered their mission, struck matches, and rushed the stage.

The piano fell silent. Another search. But no one was there.

With the time approaching 2 .a.m., the committee, now more than a little spooked, decided to withdraw to the safety of B. Hall.

John Lang SinclairHalf an hour later, the B. Hall phone rang on the second floor. A groggy John Lang Sinclair (photo at right), still awake and finishing homework, answered. “You think you’re smart, don’t you?” asked an anonymous voice. “You can’t catch me!!”

“Is this the ghost?” replied Sinclair, who quickly realized the caller was probably at a phone booth installed in the rotunda of the Main Building. Bounding down the stairs, Sinclair found David Frank, who was also still studying.

“David! Get the phone and keep him talking!!” And Sinclair was out the door and running up the hill to Old Main. (Just a month before, Sinclair, who was known as the campus poet, had partnered with classmate Lewis Johnson and composed a new UT song they called The Eyes of Texas. It was to be performed in May.)

Frank picked up the phone. “Who is this?” The same response was repeated: “You all think you’re so smart, but you haven’t caught me!” Frank continued to keep the “ghost” busy on the phone until he heard Sinclair’s voice shouted into the speaker. “Hurry! I have the ghost trapped in the telephone booth!”

Frank hung up, bounced down the stairs two at a time, and yelled for other B. Hallers to come help. Within a minute, he was in the poorly lit rotunda, where he found Sinclair and the “ghost” locked in mortal combat. Together, Frank and Sinclair managed to subdue their captive and drag him out of the east entrance of Old Main. They continued down the hill toward B. Hall, where voices of others could be heard. This caused the “ghost” to panic. He made a final, desperate lunge, broke free, and ran into the night toward the southeastern corner of the Forty Acres.

Frank, a future editor of The Texan student newspaper, was also on the track team, and sprinted in pursuit, despite the danger of a precarious hill. (It survives today as the incline between Garrison Hall and the Graduate School of Business building.) Frank overtook his target, tackled him below the knees, and held on until others arrived. Surrounded, the “ghost” was summarily carried up to the fourth floor assembly room of B. Hall where a kangaroo court was organized and a trial commenced immediately.

B. Hall

Above: The original Brackenridge Hall – or “B. Hall” – just down the hill east of Old Main. The assembly room was on the top floor.

Who was the “ghost” of Old Main? No one seems to remember, other than his first name was Earnest and was a fellow resident of B. Hall. He was “looked upon as one of the most quiet and inoffensive men in the University,” recalled Frank, “and one that the average man would have thought too timid to go off in the dark by himself, much less play a prank causing the hair to stand up on the heads of even some of our most daring students.” Earnest was a musician at heart, somehow acquired a key to the auditorium, and went there late at night to ad lib on the piano. When he discovered others were listening and heard talk about a “ghost,” Earnest entered in to the joke, and deliberately played spooky music. He discovered that if anyone tried to enter the auditorium, he only needed to dive under the chairs near the end of a row, and in the shadowy light was almost invisible.

At 3 a.m., the B. Hall kangaroo court judged Earnest guilty of insanity, but was too tired to issue a sentence. Everyone went to bed.

Rumble at the Water Tank!

The infamous “feud” between engineering and law students began 110 years ago.

WaterTower2It arrived late in the summer of 1904, when a near-vacant campus was quietly wilting under the August heat. A stark-black, spindle-legged water tank was installed north of the old Main Building. It was supposed to be very temporary – a year or two at most – but its stay was extended to 16 years. An infamous campus landmark, the tank provided a backdrop for many campus shenanigans, and was the catalyst for a long-lasting rivalry between law and engineering students.

The need for a tank was born in 1900, when a cataclysmic spring flood brought down the seven-year old Austin Dam that had created Lake Austin. City water service was interrupted and remained sporadic for years, and the frequent water shortages forced Austinites to make emergency plans until the water supply was dependable once again.

Just before the start of the 1904-05 academic year, UT President William Prather ordered the elevated water tank constructed behind the auditorium of Old Main. Dubbed “Prexy Prather’s Pot” by the students (“Prexy” was slang for “President” at the time.), it towered 120 feet on four lattice supports and stood “in somber majesty on the open campus, in its coat of black paint.” The tank cost just over $11,000, but after it was ready and tested, the University discovered that the city could only provide enough water pressure to fill the tank halfway, making it almost useless. Even worse, the tank leaked, and a permanent pool of mud formed directly beneath it. Fortunately, the University didn’t experience a water emergency, but a lonely water tank on a college campus isn’t likely to be friendless for very long. It soon became the focus for student antics.

Main Building Water Tank043

Above: The water tank sat behind the old Main Building, fairly close to the north edge of campus at 24th Street, about where Inner Campus Drive passes the west side of Painter Hall today. Its height enticed students to climb up and enjoy the view, and to paint class numerals and other decorations.

On the brisk autumn morning of October 13th, about two months after the tank’s arrival, the campus awoke to find that the junior law class (the first-year law students) had scaled the ladder attached to the northwest support and decorated the sides of the tank with white paint. The initials of the 1907 Law Class – “0L7” – were boldly displayed, along with “Beware Freshie” and some derogatory remarks about freshmen, especially first year engineering students.

“Every time we viewed the shameful sight, it burned deeper into our seared vision,” wrote Alf Toombs, then a freshman engineer. While the junior laws’ handiwork taunted from above, the engineering freshmen huddled all day and plotted their revenge. Toombs acquired a large sheet of tough paper, and drew “by aid of a bottle of Whitmore’s black shoestring dressing, the silhouette of a jackass of noble proportions, and with the brand of the ’07 Laws on his flank.”

The choice of the animal wasn’t arbitrary. In 1900, law professor William Simkins was lecturing to his first-year Equity class in Old Main and had asked a student about the day’s lesson. Before he could respond, a mule grazing outside the classroom window brayed. “Gentlemen,” said Simkins above the laughter, “one at a time!” Thereafter, junior law classes were nicknamed “Simkins’ Jackasses,” or simply, the “J.A.s.”

WaterTankFightShortly after dinner that evening, the “clans of the engineers” gathered around the water tank, shouted class cheers and yells of defiance, and dared the law students to dislodge them. “Mars was the ruling planet in the horoscope for University students for several days,” noted The Texan campus newspaper. The junior laws responded accordingly, and amassed to face off against their campus rivals. Once begun, the freshman scrap sprawled over a half-acre and lasted almost an hour. “I entered the melee with a full wardrobe,” Toombs recounted, “and emerged minus a sweater, shirt, cap and part of my ‘munsing-wear,’ not to mention about four square inches of skin.” Though the junior law students were generally older and stronger, the engineers held a numerical advantage. As opportunities arose, unwary laws were captured and “baptized” in the mud pool below the water tank. The battle didn’t subside until the both groups were exhausted, and the muddy and overpowered junior laws had retreated, at least temporarily.

Flushed with their victory, the engineers recruited Toombs, along with fellow freshmen Clarence Elmore and Drury Phillips, to climb and redecorate the water tank. The ascent was a perilous one, as the ladder only went as far as the bottom of the parapet that guarded the service platform. Each of the three would have to grab the parapet, hang by their arms, and swing their legs up and over the railing to get a foothold. Since the law students had done this the night before, the three were certain they could “do all a miserable law could do,” and set out on their mission. Armed with white paint, paintbrushes and Toombs’ sign, the group brought along a pair of blankets each, as they planned to stay and guard their work through the chilly night.

The law students’ graffiti was replaced by a skull and crossbones, class initials “C.E. ‘08” and “E.E. ‘08” for the civil and electrical engineers, along with, “Down with the Laws,” and “Malted Milk for Junior Laws.” Toombs’ painting, “a meek, symbolic jackass, branded 0L7,” was hung in a prominent position. Before bedding down for the night atop the water tank, the three discussed what to do if the laws should return. As one of them had brought along some chewing tobacco, it was decided that if their “fort” was invaded, all of them would “chew tobacco for dear life and expectorate on the attacking party.” A late-night visit by four freshmen in the Academic Department caused some alarm, and the defense was employed. The pleading Academs insisted that they only wanted to add their own class initials to the side of the tank. After some heated deliberation, the engineers grudgingly consented. The rest of the night passed quietly, but it was a miserable one for Toombs. “You see, I was not a user of tobacco, and my gallant defense got the best of me. I was deathly sick for two hours.”

The tank’s revised appearance had the campus buzzing the following morning, and the talk continued for weeks. Engineers and Laws both claimed victory, and expressed their views poetically in “The Radiator” column of The Texan. The law students boasted:

Take your dues, ye engineers. Take a mudding mid the jeers of the ‘Varsity’s population –Simkins’ Equity is just. And the Laws will, when they must, give to you its application.

While the engineers parried:

That same night the Engineers, a noisy, noisome crowd, took lessons in high art at which no Law man was allowed. And those few Laws that hung around, knew not which way to turn. On every hand the enemy,whose need seemed to be stern.

President Prather, though, was not amused, and by mid-morning had hired someone to repaint the entire tank in gray and remove the ladder. Of course, this only provided an irresistible challenge to the students, and the water tank was regularly decorated through the rest of the academic year.

When Dr. David Houston succeeded Prather as president in 1905, he adopted a different strategy, and told the students they were welcome to paint the tank as often as they wished. This took all of the fun out of the deed, and the tank was neglected for years. William Battle, a Greek and Classics professor who had also founded the University Co-op and designed the UT Seal, rose through the academic ranks and in 1914 was appointed acting president. His attitude was “touch not,” which promptly re-ignited student interest. The tank was decorated once more, including a 1915 incident where several professors had to guard the tank overnight.

WaterTowerThe water tank remained on the campus through World War I. Along with the usual class initials and slogans, the tank sported the insignias of the military schools stationed at the University through the war, including a particularly well-done mural of a bi-plane painted by a soldier in the School for Military Aeronautics.

In 1920, the tank was sold to a Houston contractor for $2,000 and finally removed. Its passing was eulogized in the student newspaper: “Our old historic and beloved tank is no more. This old tank was to the University what the Statue of Liberty at the entrance to New York Harbor is to the lover of American democracy. It is the embodiment and emblem of all the splendid traditions, good or bad, of this still more splendid institution.”

Upcoming Tours for October

Moonlight Prowl.October 3 2014

Don’t forget!

The next Moonlight Prowl is scheduled for Friday, October 3rd at 8 p.m., and it looks like the weather will be clear and cool!

The Moonlight Prowl is a nighttime campus tour packed with anecdotes of student life, campus architecture, and UT history. With content drawn from newspaper accounts and the University Archives, the Prowl is intended to help personalize the University, explore its history, and have some fun.

You’ll find more info about the Prowl here.


Architecture Tour.Image

The UT Architecture Tour is an exploration of the architectural history of the University of Texas, from the first “Old Main” building set upon an almost barren forty-acre campus to Paul Cret’s grand master plan and iconic UT Tower. Along the way, we’ll investigate:

  • The UT campus of long ago.
  • Proposed campus master plans and what became of them.
  • The unique designs and uses of some of UT’s most prominent buildings.
  • Symbolism and meaning of campus landmarks and building decoration.
  • Landscaping on the Forty Acres.

Additional information about the tour is here.

How UT Students – and Eleanor Roosevelt – Integrated the Drag

In 1960, University students invented a form of protest that went national.

Texas and Varsity Marquees

Above: The marquees of the Texas and Varsity Theaters on Guadalupe Street.

The next time you’re on the “Drag” – that bustling segment of Guadalupe Street which defines the western edge of the campus – take a close look at the stores. Among the book dealers, coffee shops, fast food venues, and clothing outlets, two have squared, projecting covers over their entrances, framed by rows of lights and topped with curious bright orange signs. One reads “Texas,” the other, “Varsity.” What are they?  They’re replicated movie theater marquee signs, though smaller and much less glamorous than the originals. Today, they’re more like historical markers, reminders of a previous era when going to see a motion picture was one of the Drag’s popular charms. The Texas Theater, now converted into a drug store and a coffee shop, opened in the 1920s and initially showed silent films. Two blocks north was the Varsity Theater, with its distinctive Art Deco façade. Built in 1937, it kept up a brisk business until it was reluctantly closed in 1990.

Varsity Theater.NightFor decades, the Texas and Varsity theaters were familiar local landmarks. But in 1960, as the Civil Rights Movement began to bloom in Austin, the two movie houses, which had always been limited to white patrons only, were shoved into the national spotlight as part of a growing campaign for racial integration. The effort to open the theaters to everyone roused a significant portion of the University community, caused UT students to invent a new form of protest that was soon emulated nationwide, and received a little help from a former American First Lady.


Integration Cartoon.6“If you were one of the 200-plus Negro students at the University,” wrote Pat Rusch in a 1960 edition of The Daily Texan, “you would be living in the world of the 24-hour inferiority complex.” A decade before, the U. S. Supreme Court decision on the Sweatt v. Painter case required UT’s law school to admit African American Heamann Sweatt. Since then, the University had proceeded gradually to racially integrate the entire student enrollment. By the fall term of 1956, admissions policies had been revised to accept both graduate and undergraduate black students, but other restrictions stubbornly remained. (Above: editorial cartoon from The Daily Texan.)

“You name it, we can’t do it,” explained Huey McNealey, a UT student from Houston. “No matter how you try, going to pep rallies and things, you can’t get any real school spirit, especially when you think about everything that is denied you.” Though classrooms were integrated, the limited on-campus housing was not, and black students were prohibited from participating in many student activities, including athletics and theater productions. While attitudes were changing, the mood on campus wasn’t entirely welcoming. Sophomore Joan McAfee described her first – and last – Longhorn football game: “I was assigned a seat next to a white woman and her son, and every time I got up to yell for the team, she yanked her son close to her so I wouldn’t happen to touch him.”

Off limits, too, were most of the shops along Guadalupe Street. Cafes and nightclubs served white patrons only, along with barber shops, which required African American students to go to East Austin for haircuts. Clothing stores were open, but the use of fitting rooms was prohibited. Movie theaters were also “whites only.” This created a significant problem for black students in courses where professors required the viewing of a specific film as a class assignment.


“Integration is practically at a standstill in the University area,” declared UT student Chandler Davidson in November 1960, as he announced the formation of the Students for Direct Action, or SDA. Davidson, who was white, explained that the group’s purpose would be to publicize the difficulties encountered by black students and to “take peaceful, lawful, but definite action to remedy the situation.” The group had initially been formed as the Human Relations Council, under the auspices of student government, but Davidson and others thought the University’s regulations that oversaw student activities would eventually thwart their efforts.

Instead, the SDA wasn’t officially connected to the University. It met just off-campus in the YMCA building, then at the corner of 22nd and Guadalupe Streets. Davidson hoped the group would “get around the formidable red tape which has hamstrung ‘official’ groups in the past.”

As the SDA began to meet, the integration of stores along the Drag quickly became a top priority. Efforts had already been made to open cafes to African Americans, but with little success, so the group turned its attention to the theaters.

Earlier that year, on February 1, 1960, four black students from the North Carolina Agriculture and Technical College in Greensboro entered a local Woolworth’s Department Store, and, after making a few purchases, sat down at the lunch counter which was labeled “whites only.” They were refused service, but remained in their seats for an hour in protest. The “sit-in” was born, and soon became popular as the Civil Rights Movement matured through the South. The first sit-ins in Texas occurred just a month later.

??????????As SDA members discussed plans to persuade theaters along the Drag to integrate, African American student Houston Wade made a suggestion. A variation on the sit-in, Wade called it a “stand-in.” Persons would line up at the box office, and when their turn came to purchase a ticket, would politely ask, “Is this theater open to all Americans?” When told it was limited to white customers only, the person would return to the end of the line and repeat the process. This had the effect of both raising the issue and clogging up the line.

The first stand-in was slated for Friday, December 2nd at just after 7:30 p.m. About 100 students, a biracial group with 20 African Americans, stood in line at the Texas Theater, which was next door to the YMCA. The line snaked down the sidewalk as the protest lasted an hour before the group returned to the Y.

The stand-in was deemed a success, and more were quickly scheduled. As the group grew to over 150, half stayed at the Texas Theater, while the remainder went to the Varsity. Mrs. Ludwema Wercham, the ticket seller at the Texas Theater who had to endlessly respond to same question, was presented a an orchid with a note signed, “With kindest regards for your long suffering patience.”


Dec 10 1960.Varsity Theater.Charles Root.ManagerWhen the stand-ins began, managers of the two theaters found themselves in an awkward situation and reacted differently. Both movie houses were owned by parent corporations: the Texas Theater was part of the Trans-Texas Theater chain, headquartered in Austin, while the Varsity was owned by ABC-Paramount in New York City. Despite endless questions and requests from the protesters, neither manager could alter the admissions policy at his discretion, but was bound to uphold the parent company’s directive.

The manager of the Texas Theater opened a second ticket office inside the lobby – while keeping the outdoor one open to “keep as near normal an operation as possible” – and tried to direct those who truly planned to see a film indoors. He instructed the protesters to remain on the sidewalk and not enter the building, and threatened to call police if the demonstrators became unruly.

But the Varsity Theater manager confronted the protesters. Most of the front entrance was roped off, while an employee used a bullhorn to instruct theater-goers to step past the demonstrators. The manager held a clipboard and demanded the names, addresses, and home towns of those involved in the stand-in. “I’ve been answering your questions,” he stated, “now it’s time for you to answer mine. I want to know who I am talking to.” Another employee was ready with a camera to take head shots. It was all a scare tactic, of course, and meant to intimidate. Instead, many of the demonstrators readily posed for photographs.

Above: The manager of the Varsity Theater tells students, “I’m not going to debate you.”


The stand-ins garnered a mixed reaction from the Drag’s merchants. All had grown up with segregation. As would be expected, some were uncomfortable with the notion of change; others were simply opposed to it. Just as important, though, were the merchants’ fears that integration might hurt their businesses. If stores were opened to everyone, white patrons might decide to shop elsewhere. “I was the first to serve Negroes on the Drag … about three years ago,” one restaurant owner explained in the Texan, “and I got a violent reaction. A majority of my customers didn’t want it – they wrote letters, and protested in person – so I changed back.” A store manager said of the student demonstrators: “They haven’t grown up. None of them have had to make a living for themselves. I thought the University gave them enough homework that they wouldn’t have time to tell a private businessman how to run his business.”


????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????On Friday, December 23rd, as the University was closing for the holiday break, the stand-ins received an unexpected endorsement. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who, at 76, was still publishing her “My Day” column in newspapers nationwide, wrote of the goings on in Austin. “Students of the University of Texas … have set themselves the task of picketing the Austin theaters … I am personally grateful to the Texas students for making the effort to bring about the end of this kind of segregation.” Roosevelt’s column helped to transform the SDA’s cause from a local issue into a national one, and gave it a wider audience. (The full text of Mrs. Roosevelt’s column can be found here.)


Texas Theater.Integration Picketers.As classes resumed in January 1961, so did the protests. For the next five months, the SDA organized two or three stand-ins a week with 100 – 150 participants. Picketers were added and carried signs which read, “Your money spent here supports segregation.” When the weather was chilly, coffee and donuts were available at the YMCA next door to the Texas Theater or at the University Methodist Church across the street from the Varsity. After a while, the protests developed into social gatherings. Songs were sung, student couples made it a cheap date, and occasionally a professor or two was spotted joining the lines.

At the same time, an upwelling of support from the University community appeared on the editorial pages of The Daily Texan. “Racial segregation is a drag on social progress,” one student commented. “What could be more absurd than a student showing a willingness to sit next to a Negro in a classroom, but refusing to sit next to him in a restaurant or theater?” Academic departments voiced group opinions. A dozen faculty and staff from the Department of Classical Languages declared segregation a “fundamental violation of human dignity.” A few days later, a letter signed by 66 members of the English department, including folklorist and department chair Mody Boatright, endorsed “the statement of our colleagues” from the classics department. “When we recommend a film or play by Shakespeare or Shaw … we want to be sure that such important experiences are open to all students.” Additional departments from across campus joined the chorus, along with informal groups of professors. “The undersigned faculty” stated one note, endorsed, with others, by government professor (and future graduate school dean and acting UT president) Bill Livingston, “wish to express their agreement with the objectives of students now seeking to integrate theaters on the Drag, and believe the peaceful, non-violent methods they are using are fully compatible with the accepted procedures of democracy.”


??????????To maintain interest and momentum in the cause, the SDA symbolically chose Sunday, February 12th – Abraham Lincoln’s birthday – for its most ambitious demonstration to date. Not only would the local stand-ins be larger, but SDA members had networked with like-minded college students in other parts of the country and asked for sympathy protests. The results were better than expected. On the appointed day, more than 400 persons crowded the sidewalk along Guadalupe Street, including a few students from Saint Edward’s, Concordia, and Huston-Tilitson Universities. Sympathy protests were held at the Universities of Michigan and Illinois, Oberlin College in Ohio, and at Harvard. But just as newsworthy, Houston Wade’s initial idea of the stand-in was being emulated nationwide. Corresponding stand-ins were held in San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Shreveport, Boston, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.


Pro Segregation Picket.Varsity Theater.Feb 12 1961Though efforts to integrate the theaters were, for the most part, non-violent, there was opposition. A student group that called itself the Foundation for the Advancement for Conservative Thought (FACT) distributed newsletters which argued a businessman should have the right to “make his own decisions in such matters as whom to serve” and not be “forced” to integrate. At the stand-in on Lincoln’s birthday, a small group of segregationists held signs which read, “I do not believe in the social or political equality of our two separate races,” and claimed – incorrectly – that the sentence was from Lincoln’s 1865 inauguration speech. (Instead, it paraphrased some of Lincoln’s statements from the 1850s.) On occasion, riders in cars along Guadalupe Street derided the protesters, and there was a single incident where two youths were arrested for spitting, pushing, and assaulting picketers.

On campus, at least one professor warned his graduate students against participation in the stand-ins, as it might harm their future careers. Rumors persisted that the University administration was pressuring The Daily Texan to cease coverage of the protests, and the YMCA reviewed a request to make its facilities available only to University-approved student organizations. As the SDA wasn’t officially connected to UT, it would have been left homeless. The YMCA politely declined.


Through the rest of the spring, while long lines and picketers had become a routine sight on the Drag, the effort continued to receive broad attention. Photos of the stand-ins regularly appeared in the Austin newspapers, TIME magazine and The New Republic printed articles, and venerated television and radio journalist Edward P. Morgan delivered a sympathetic commentary to his listeners nationwide.

Austin American.May 17 1961.On May 17th, 260 members of the University faculty and staff published a four-column advertisement in the Austin American, each person having contributed the price of a movie ticket. (Photo at left. Click on the image for a larger view.) The ad specifically requested the presidents of the two companies that owned the Texas and Varsity Theaters to revise their policies and open the theaters to everyone.

At the end of the spring term, when most UT students had left Austin for the summer break, a hiatus was declared for the stand-ins, though the SDA vowed their return in the fall. But as the integration of public schools, restaurants, playhouses, concert halls, and other venues were then making headlines nationwide, executives from Trans-Texas Theaters and ABC-Paramount sought a permanent solution.

A meeting was called for August 4th. Representatives from the theaters, Houston Wade from the SDA, English teaching assistant Claude Allen on behalf of the UT faculty, and Rabbi Charles Mintz of the Austin Human Relations Commission met for negotiations. If the stand-ins ceased, the theaters agreed to a one-month trial period in September where African American UT students (who would be required to show IDs) would be allowed into the theaters. After a month, if there had been no objections from other patrons and business was unaffected, the theaters would quietly open their doors to all persons.

The month-long experiment was, of course, a success. Within a year, most of the shops along the Drag had integrated as well.




Heads Up!

UT Seal StoneExcuse me . . . Excuse me!  The campus would like a word with you.

The buildings, in particular, have something they want to say, if only you would look up!

For those who traverse the Forty Acres on a regular basis, the campus can become a familiar blur of limestone walls and red-tiled roofs. But look closely. The buildings, especially those finished before 1940, are teeming with symbols, images, icons, and quotations. They are the thoughtful creations of architects, University faculty, and in a least one case, a UT student. Meant to inspire and inform, the buildings’ designers collectively aspired to make the University of Texas campus a place like no other.

Unfortunately, many – perhaps most – of today’s harried students are oblivious to the messages written on the walls. Time to get to the next class is short, and besides, the live oak trees have grown to obscure the views. But for those who make the effort to look, the buildings have much to tell.

Below is a brief sampling. (And I mean brief!)


Biological Laboratories

Biological Labs.1924Opened in 1924, the Biological Laboratories building was originally planned to be in the northwest portion of the original Forty Acres, at the corner of Guadalupe and 24th Streets, but was moved farther east to save the three oldest trees on the campus, now called the Battle Oaks. Intended to house the Departments of Biology, Botany, and Zoology, only botany remains. The building is generously decorated and deserves a close inspection. Between the second and third story windows, terra cotta renditions of Texas flora and fauna adorn the walls, and the University Seal, carved in limestone, guards the main north entrance.

Below: Look close! At each of the building’s corners, just below the eaves, are a pair of terra cotta panels that feature a “shield” divided into quadrants, each depicting an aspect of college life. Clockwise from the upper left, you’ll find: an open book of knowledge; the lamp of wisdom; a ten-gallon hat, representative of local culture (It is the University of Texas, after all.); and – what’s that, an “H?” It’s a football goal post, meant to symbolize extracurricular activities on campus.That a goal post was chosen wasn’t a complete surprise. When the Biological Labs building was being designed, the campus was involved in an extensive fundraising campaign to build Memorial Stadium, today’s Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. (Click on the image for a larger view.)

Biological Labs.Northeast Corner


Garrison Hall


Named for George Garrison, a distinguished UT history professor, Garrison Hall was opened in 1926 as a social sciences building, and is today headquarters for the Department of History. Designed to be unmistakably Texan, limestone carvings of steer heads, along with terra cotta renditions of lone stars, cacti, and bluebonnets can be seen. Imprinted below the eaves are the names of statesmen from the Republic of Texas, among them: Houston, Austin, Burnet, Travis and Lamar. But Garrison Hall is best known for the 32 cattle brands on the building, carefully chosen from thousands of candidates, to represent various periods of ranching as a part of the history of the state.

Below: The Running W brand of the King Ranch.

Garrison Hall.Running W Brand.King Ranch

Garrison Hall.St Louis Dispatch Article.1926

In the 1920s, as Garrison Hall was under construction, the novel use of cattle brands on a college building garnered national headlines, and the University was highly praised for creating a “permanent monument” to the history of the Southwest. Above is part of an article published in the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch. The gentleman is holding the oldest known cattle brand used in Texas, owned by Jose Antonio de la Garza and granted by the Spanish government (when Texas was a part of New Spain) in 1762. Today, the brand is found nestled under the west eave of Garrison Hall.

Garrison la Garza Brand of 1762

Garrison Hall.Cattle Brand List

Above: A listing of the 32 cattle brands. More on the history of Garrison Hall can be found here. Click on image for a larger view.


Brackenridge Residence Hall

Brackenridge Dorm.1930s. Processed

Completed in 1932 and named for UT regent George Brackenridge of San Antonio, Brackenridge Hall was the first of a “men’s group” of residence halls, along with Roberts, Prather, and later, Moore-Hill Hall. In contrast to the symmetrical limestone “six pack” buildings that line the formal entrance to the University along the South Mall, the heavy use of brick and an informal composition give Brackenridge a more relaxed, residential quality.

 Above: Brackenridge Hall soon after it was opened in the 1930s. Below: Brackenridge as seen today from the UT Tower observation deck in the late afternoon sun.

Brackenridge Hall from Tower Deck

Brackenridge Hall.Daily Texan Article

Above: A March 24, 1932 article from The Daily Texan. Click on image for a larger view.

The spacing between the top floor windows display icons of Texas ranch life. Unversity student Bob Willson proposed the idea to the Faculty Building Committee, which liked the idea and recommended it to the Board of Regents for approval. Among the images: a cactus, shotgun, a roll of barbed wire for fencing, a pistol in a holster, a boot with a spur, branding irons, a canteen, the all-important chow-wagon, and, of course, a longhorn. Initially, wildlife was to be omitted, though a coyote baying at a full moon and a coiled rattle snake found their way on to the building. Texas wildlife was to be the theme for a future men’s residence hall, but the idea didn’t survive.

Brackenridge Hall.Ranch Life

Above: Cactus, a horse head, and a shotgun are seen above the Brackenridge Hall patio. Below: a Texas Longhorn looks out from the west side of the building.

Brackenridge Hall.Longhorn


Main Building: The Hall of Noble Words

Tower Consruction 1935.A

The Main Building, with its 27-story tower, initially served as the University’s main library. Today, the building is primarily used for administrative purposes,and most of the books have been moved elsewhere. But a life sciences library still exists here, and visitors can wander through the cavernous reference and reading rooms.

The east reading room, named the Hall of Noble Words, is a hidden gem on campus and a great place to study for those who find it. Massive concrete beams stretch across the ceiling, intricately painted by Dallas artist Eugene Gilboe. Each side of a ceiling beam is decorated with quotes within a specific theme, such as: freedom, education, friendship, and determination. The quotes were suggested by the University faculty at the request of Faculty Building Committee chair William Battle. It was Battle’s idea that the students seated below would occasionally take breaks from their studies, look up, and be inspired.

Hall of Noble Words.2


McCombs School of Business

Business Economis Building.West Entrance.1962.

Above: The west side of the Business-Economics Building as it appeared in the 1960s. The Graduate School of Business building was added in 1973 and covered the entrance, and sculptor Charles Umlauf’s creation – “The Family” – has been relocated to the south side of the complex.

Dedicated in 1962 as the Business-Economics Building, University students quickly shortened the name to “BEB,” and sometimes called it the “Big Enormous Building,” as it was, up to that time, the largest classroom structure on the campus. It was also the first equipped with an escalator, though it only went one direction, upward to the next floor. It was the ongoing joke that the students and faculty would invariably wind up stuck on the top floor by the end of the day.

???????????????????????????????The BEB was divided into three sections: an office building for faculty to the north, a classroom structure to the south, and a connecting passageway that housed the infamous escalators, along with study lounges for students, and mock storefront windows used by marketing classes.

Above the top row of windows of the faculty offices are a series of abstract ceramic reliefs designed by retired UT art professor Paul Peter Hatgill, who intended them to add color to the modernist building.

Waggener Hall and Business School

Above: Old meets new. To the left, Waggener Hall was the home of the business school from 1930 to 1962. The terra cotta decorations under the eaves portray the exports of Texas at the time, including a tree to represent the lumber industry. To the right is Professor Hatgill’s ceramic panels on the current business building. (More on Waggener Hall can be found here.)

Funeral for an Outhouse

George Town Funeral.1905Above: Students hold a funeral service for the beloved “George Town.” Buildings from left: north wing of Old Main, Chemistry Lab Building (burned in the 1920s, where the biology ponds are today), smoke stack of the first power house, Littlefield Home in the distance, and the newly finished Engineering Building (now the Gebauer Building). Click on the image for a larger view.

At first glance, the image is a somber scene. It’s grainy and poorly focused. A lack of shadows suggests it was a gloomy, overcast day, and the mostly barren trees imply the photograph was taken in winter or early spring. At the center, a group of about 30 men, dressed in dark suits and hats, have solemnly gathered in front of what looks like a gravestone. But don’t be fooled, as this was no ordinary memorial service. The hurried photographer captured one of those rare student shenanigans: a funeral for an outhouse.

In April, 1900, when severe storms and flood waters destroyed the original Austin Dam (since replaced by the Tom Miller Dam), the city’s water supply and, in turn, the sewer system, were unreliable for several years. Of course, this affected everyone on campus, especially the occupants of B. Hall, the University’s first residence hall for men. As a proactive measure, temporary facilities were built just west of the dorm.

Made of brick with a simple wooden roof, most agreed the outhouse was an eyesore, though according to UT student Victor “Dutch” Lieb, “It was sort of an institution.” The building was dubbed “Georgetown,” not as a slight to the city 30 miles north of Austin, but to poke fun at Southwestern University. In 1885, UT played its first ever baseball game in Georgetown against Southwestern. The game didn’t go well for UT, though it brought about the first appearance of orange and white as the University’s colors. Since then, UT and Southwestern had maintained a spirited baseball rivalry. (Given the feelings most Longhorns have about the University of Oklahoma, a similar building on campus today might lovingly be called “Norman.”)

By 1904, University officials thought the outhouse was no longer needed, and over the week-long break for Christmas holidays, a few students who’d remained in Austin were recruited to raze the structure with the help of a telephone pole battering ram. When B. Hall residents returned after the New Year, they discovered their institution gone, but not forgotten.

George Town.Epitaph.1.Shortly after spring classes were underway, Lieb and fellow engineering student Alf Toombs decided to honor the privy’s passing with a formal ceremony. “It took about ten seconds in those days to organize a funeral cortege,” Toombs later recalled. “Dutch was the sky-pilot and I was the choir leader.” Lieb fashioned a large wooden marker with the painted epitaph: “Sacred to the memory of George Town. He is not drunk, but slippeth.” Meanwhile, Toombs recruited the funeral party. When all was ready, the group formed two columns, then marched out from the newly finished Engineering Building (today’s Gebauer Building) while singing the well-known and venerable hymn, “Nero, My Dog, Has Fleas.”

Once assembled in front of the marker, “Reverend Dutch” uttered a short prayer, led another song, then turned the program over to Toombs, who eloquently expounded upon the virtues of the late Mr. Town and his unselfish devotion to mankind. Toombs described at length how “George” had been “a sheltering friend to many in need, at times of their most poignant distress.” Apparently the eulogy brought tears to the eyes of many of the listeners.

Early spring flowers, swiped from groundskeeper Harry Beck’s campus gardens, were laid on the ground in front of the marker. The ceremony concluded, Toombs remembered, “We left the hallowed spot with the consciousness that another worthy deed had been done where so many had been done before.” The group made their way to Weilbacher’s Confectionary and Soda Fountain downtown to drink a toast to the dearly departed.

George Town Funeral.1905.Close up.

Above: Victor Lieb and Alf Toombs lead a memorial service for the late “George Town.”

How to Save Baseball

1906 Cactus.BaseballIt’s mid-June, and Longhorn baseball fans are jubilant over the team’s record 35th appearance in the College World Series. They have good reasons to be happy. Over the last 104 seasons, the team has had but four coaches: Billy Disch, Bibb Falk, Cliff Gustafson, and Augie Garrido (Blair Cherry stepped in for Bibb Falk for part of World War II and coached the team from 1943 – 1945), who have collectively compiled six national championships and more than 70 conference titles, a unique and remarkable achievement in college baseball. Certainly, others have enjoyed a shining season or a streak of success. Rice University celebrated when its team won the school’s first national title in any sport in 2003, and USC can rightfully boast of five consecutive College World series Championships from 1970–74. But when it comes to competitive consistency over the long haul, dedicated Longhorn supporters could argue their case for a “Texas Century.”

For the veteran fans who fill the stadium seats each spring, the team’s history, coaches, and names of players who went on to the major leagues are all familiar. But almost no one remembers the senior UT student whose quick – and perhaps desperate – actions saved the baseball program from being cancelled outright. The achievements of UT baseball might never have happened, or at least would have been delayed, if it hadn’t been for Maurice Wolf.

1906 Cactus.1905 Baseball Team

In early January, 1906, the prospects of a baseball season were dim. The University’s Athletic Council, chaired by math professor (and future UT president) Harry Benedict, had officially adopted a policy of “no cash, no schedule.” While football had been marginally profitable, other sports were usually in the red, and baseball was the worst offender. A $1200 deficit plagued the ledger. In the past, faculty and alumni members of the council often donated out of their own pockets to keep the athletic ship afloat, but Benedict was determined not to let serving on the council “run the risk of personal ruin.” The deficit had to be erased before Sewell Myer, the student manager of the baseball team, was allowed to set-up a schedule.

Baseball wasn’t all that popular with the general faculty, either. Too many players had run afoul of academic eligibility rules. Only a few years before, on an out-of-state road trip, an ineligible player boarded the train and suited up for play with his costs covered by his teammates, despite being expressly prohibited from doing so by the University president. If the $1200 could not be raised or guaranteed, both the Athletic Council and the faculty were ready to discontinue baseball.

1906 Cactus.Maurice WolfThe students didn’t want to lose the team, and searched for for a quick solution. After some delicate diplomacy and uneasy agreements, $900 was promised from library deposits. The final $300 was pledged by 30 students who signed an agreement to pay $10 each by May 1st if needed. Among them was Maurice Wolf (pictured), who was told that the bond was simply a formality, the team finances would be fine, and the money wouldn’t actually have to be paid.

The Athletic Council accepted the solution, and Sewell Myer set out to arrange a schedule, but because of the late start, there were fewer opponents available. The team managed an eight-game, out-of-town trip to Texas A&M, Louisiana State, and the University of Mississippi, and the UT hosted Kansas, Baylor, Saint Edward’s, Southwestern, and the Austin League Team. But as with previous years, some of the best players collided with faculty regulations and had to be benched. Rain cancelled one of the games against Kansas and another with Baylor, which hurt the all-important gate receipts. Texas swept a home series with Texas A&M to finish with a 10-9 record and claim a winning season, but it also ended with a $500 deficit. The $10 pledges due on May 1st would have to be filled.

As might be expected, the students weren’t prepared to pay. At the time, $10 was a sizable sum. It would more than cover a month’s rent and meals at B. Hall, the men’s dorm on the campus. If Maurice and the others were unable to find the money, not only would their reputations suffer, but an exasperated faculty was more than ready to shelve baseball.

To rescue the program, Maurice convinced his fellow students to host an ambitious fundraiser in the form of a circus performance. Dubbed the “Varsity Circus,” the entire campus helped with organization and preparations, and within a few weeks all was ready. Late on the warm afternoon of Friday, May 25, a circus parade proceeded down Congress Avenue, much to the delight of thousands of spectators. The participants included the University Band, posing as a “celebrated musical company from Italy,” automobiles decked out in University colors with campus coeds as “Duchesses of Marseilles,” a troupe of clowns, acrobats, wild elephants, camels, lions, and bears (UT students in homemade costumes), “Ben Hur and Ben Hill” riding Roman chariots, and other eclectic acts.

1906 Varsity Carnival Parade

Above: The Varsity Circus parade strolled down Congress Avenue. The University Band, dressed in white jackets and colorful buttons, posed as a musical group from Italy. Behind them, UT co-eds, dressed as “Duchesses from Marseilles” and carrying parasols, rode in a decorated automobile. Ahead of the band in the horse-drawn cart rode Maurice Wolf, who concocted the idea as an athletics fundraiser. Click on the image for a larger view.

With the parade finished, the public made its way to the campus and Clark Field, the University’s first athletic field, where the O’Donnell Building and the Gates-Dell Computer Science Complex stand today. There they found a “promenade of curiosities,” where for one thin dime a person might get a glimpse at the bearded lady, the human frog, “Ana Conda Baby,” the wild man (who some discovered was actually baseball umpire Speilberger in disguise), a living mummy from Egypt, and other wonders. Refreshments could also be had at modest prices.

The circus proper began at 8 p.m., as more than 1,200 onlookers stood, sat on the ground, or packed the single, inadequate set of stands. The acrobats were in top form, the wild animals knew their routines, the chariot races across the field were exciting, and the clowns kept everyone in stitches. After the acts, the University Band and Glee Club gave a performance, and everyone reluctantly left for home sometime around midnight.

The hero of the day was Maurice Wolf, who had devised, engineered, and produced the spectacle, and the results were gratifying. The Varsity Circus raised enough funds to retire the athletic debt, provide a $150 contribution to the band, and another $100 to the glee club. The University of Texas baseball team would continue for another year, and the Varsity Circus became a biennial tradition well into the 1920s.

The University Learns of D-Day

D Day Extra.Austin.June 1944 It was the wee, early morning hours of Tuesday, June 6, 1944, and Austin was literally under a dark cloud. A late night thunderstorm had cooled the first 90-degree day of the year, and doused the city with some welcome rain. On the University of Texas campus, many students were still awake. It was the dreaded last week of class for the spring quarter, always full of tests and term papers. And as final exams loomed on the horizon, everyone was looking forward to the weekend, when Tommy Dorsey and his famous orchestra would be the headline act for the All-University Dance at Gregory Gym Friday evening.

To stay alert through long hours of study, most students relied on a steady diet of coffee and big band dance music on the radio. But on this night, the lightning interrupted reception, and the radios sputtered and crackled with storm static.

At 2:30 a.m., about the time when most stations and their sleepy announcers prepared to sign off for the night, a gentleman from New York abruptly interrupted the programming: “We take you now to London.”

Soon after, the steady voice of Colonel Ernest DuPree, from the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), calmly read official communiqué number one. “Under the command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France.”

Finally, after months of waiting, speculation, and false alarms, D-Day had arrived.


UT World War II ROTCSince December 1941, when the United States entered the second world war, the University of Texas campus had been transformed to support the war effort. The academic calendar was compressed to permit additional terms – some as short as three weeks – to allow students to complete more courses sooner and graduate in 3 ½ years. Research, especially in natural sciences and engineering, was mostly war-related and classified. A Naval ROTC unit was created, but was absorbed into the V-12 program in 1943, which was designed to recruit and prepare officers for the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. It was headquartered at the Littlefield Home, which for a time boasted two anti-aircraft guns on the front lawn and a firing range in the attic. All UT students were required to attend physical education classes and survival training. Theater students and the University’s Curtain Club entertained soldiers at area military bases and hospitals, and the Texas Union even set up a regulated dating service, matching UT co-ed volunteers with locally-stationed GIs. An air raid siren was installed in the UT Tower, and at times, everyone had to seal their windows at night and tape over headlights when Austin was under a blackout.

Social life continued on the campus, but took on a wartime theme. The weekly All-University Dances, either at the Texas Union ballroom or Gregory Gym,  were very popular, though the dances were always accompanied by collection drives. Collections for aluminum, rubber, and books and magazines to send to soldiers oversees were the most successful. As the war continued, gas rationing required some of the popular dance bands to shorten their tours (Tommy Dorsey arrived in Austin by train), and required UT students to rely on local talent or supply their own.

One solution was the “Longhorn Room,” which debuted in the Union ballroom on Saturday, November 14, 1942 to a sold out crowd. Decked out with wagon wheels, cedar posts, bales of hay, and red-checkered tablecloths, the ballroom was transformed into a student-run, western-styled nightclub. Couples (no stags allowed!) were charged fifty cents, and could reserve tables in advance. Music was supplied by the Union’s record player. Student groups volunteered to set-up and decorate, wait on tables, tend bar, and clean up afterward.

The highlight of the evening was the half-hour variety show, which was often unpredictable. A sorority might perform a short musical, complete with costumes and dancing, or individual students would entertain the crowd with stand-up comedy. Occasionally the Longhorn football team brought down the house with their version of the Can-Can.


With the announcement that a European invasion was underway, the campus began to stir. Lights were turned on, roommates pushed out of bed, and the news yelled down hallways in campus dorms. Everyone was glued to their radios – television wouldn’t arrive in Austin until 1952 – which offered a constant stream of updates and initial first-hand accounts. Announcers often interrupted bulletins with new bulletins. General Eisenhower himself addressed the citizens of occupied Western Europe, “Although the initial assault may not have been made in your own country, the hour of liberation is approaching.”

At 4:30 a.m., the All-Saints’ Episcopal Church, just north of campus, began to ring its church bells, and awakened all of the residents in the Scottish Rite Dormitory across the street. Other churches did the same, both in Austin and across the country. (In Houston, most retail stores would remain closed for the day as 445 churches opened for 24-hour prayer vigils.) About the same time, west campus fraternity and sorority houses, along with some private residences, received telephone calls from an anonymous, almost-hysterical woman, who shouted, “The invasion is here! The invasion is here!”

Ironically, among the last to receive word was the Naval V-12 unit housed in Andrews Hall. Because they were under a strict schedule with lights (and radios) out at 10 p.m., the members of the naval unit had managed to sleep through most of the night. It wasn’t until “limber-lunged Gordon,” a newsboy for the Austin Statesman, passed by the residence hall. He was selling a tabloid-sized newspaper extra at 5:30 in the morning. “Extra! Extra! Invasion on … We’re killing them all!” In a few minutes, the lights of Andrews were aglow.

1944.V 12 Units on Main Mall

Above: In 1944, with a grand view of the South Mall and Texas Capitol beyond, University students enrolled in the Navy’s V-12 program march in formation on to the Main Mall. Click on the image for a larger view.

Found: A 1928 Recording of “The Eyes of Texas” and “Texas Fight!”

???????????????????????????????Earlier this spring, my friend Jennifer Duncan was browsing through one of the vast Austin City-wide Garage Sales, held every other month at the Long Center downtown. At one of the booths, she spied a copy of “Songs of the University of Texas,” a three-record set of UT tunes produced in the 1940s. Jennifer purchased it and kindly presented it to me. (Thanks, Jennifer!) Though I already have a copy (which has been digitized and uploaded to the UT History Corner – you can listen to it here), it’s always great to have a “back-up” of these items as they become more rare. Besides, the front cover was much better preserved!

Jennifer and I opened the set to inspect the contents. The first record was just as expected, a fine copy of The Clock on the Varsity Tower on one side, and Hail to Thee, Our Texas on the other. But the remaining two records didn’t belong to the collection at all. Instead, they were a great discovery. The two records were identical: copies of a 1928 Victor 78 rpm recording of The Eyes of Texas and Texas Taps ( better known as Texas Fight!), meant to be played on a Victrola. They’re also the earliest recordings we have of these traditional songs.

1928 Victrola Records.Above: The two sides of a 1928 Victor recording of The Eyes of Texas and Texas Taps. Listen to the songs here!

According to articles found in The Daily Texan student newspaper, after days of rehearsal, members of the Longhorn Band and the University Men’s Chorus boarded a train on Sunday morning, May 20, 1928, bound for San Antonio. They recorded the songs for the Victor Company in a downtown hotel, then returned to Austin the same evening. The performance was made only a few days after the 25th anniversary of The Eyes of Texas – which debuted on May 12, 1903 – and may have been the motivation behind the recording. Texas Taps was first heard at the Thanksgiving Day Texas vs. A&M football game in 1923, and so was not yet five years old.

The songs from the record have now been posted under the “Audio” menu of the UT History Corner, and you can listen to them by clicking here.

Before each song is a college yell. Though the words are sometimes hard to understand, one of the cheers is a variation of the Rattle-de-Thrat yell written in 1896. I’ve figured out what was said and it’s included on the same page.

Happy Listening!

Advice for UT Freshmen

Class of 2017 class photo at the stadium

Above: On the first day of the 2013-14 school year, members of the UT freshman class of 2017 posed for a group portrait – in the shape of a longhorn – on the football field. Photo by the talented Jim Sigmon. Click on the image for a larger view.

Summer is near, and the latest herd of greenhorns will soon arrive in Austin for freshmen orientation before they officially join the ranks of UT students. Along the way, they’ll receive all sorts of advice – whether they want it or not! Since I’m asked about this on occasion, here’s my two cents, and I hope some of it is helpful.

The Texas Box

Imagine your upcoming college experience as something packed into a great, mysterious box – wrapped in burnt orange paper, of course – ready to be opened and explored. Surprises, adventures, challenges, and good times are waiting inside. The wrapping peels off easy enough, but before you open the box, you notice a couple of phrases stenciled on the side. They’re found on lots of packages, offer both caution and advice, and neatly summarize much of the well-meaning advice given to college freshmen:


A college education isn’t something that happens to you; it’s something that you make happen. Once the school year begins, no one will check on you each morning to be sure you’re on time for class, or ask if you’ve finished your homework. You’ll need to find ways to energize and motivate yourself. In other words, batteries aren’t included.  And while the courses you’ll take to complete a degree were designed by your professors, how much you learn from them – in fact, what you take away from your entire college experience – is entirely up to you. Think of the University of Texas as a large community loaded with world-class resources: professors, counselors, tutors, fellow students, libraries, laboratories, residence halls, student organizations, athletic facilities, museums, and theaters, all at your disposal to help build and shape your college education. But this won’t happen by itself; some assembly required.

This isn’t Temporary

Dr John MalletWhen UT first opened its doors on September 15, 1883, chemistry professor John Mallet (photo at left) told the students, “You frequently hear the phrase used, coming to the university, not remembering that you are the university.”  The same holds true today. For now, you’re an entering freshman and it’s common to say that you’re “coming to,” or “enrolling in” UT. But on the first day of the fall semester, when you’ve entered a classroom, found a seat, and the professor begins your first ever college class, at that point you will, in part, be the University of Texas.

Welcome to the community! Though you may only be on campus for a few years, the experiences you have and the friends you make will forever be with you. This isn’t temporary. You will always be a part of the University, and it a part of you.

Be a Sponge

Classes, homework, and library books! Concerts, plays, and intramural sports! Research papers and lab reports! Weekend parties, Longhorn Runs, late night road trips to someplace fun! Football rallies and spring break tans! Study groups and final exams!

The University of Texas campus could not be a dull place if it tried. Gathered here are more than 50,000 students from all parts of the globe, taught by a distinguished faculty whose research is literally creating the future, and assisted by a team of administrators, librarians, custodians, architects, curators, counselors, landscapers, chefs, and others who make sure everything is running smoothly. There are more than a thousand student organizations, visits by famous authors, entrepreneurs, and world leaders, musical performances by accomplished virtuosos, Broadway shows in the Bass Concert Hall, and exciting athletic events year round. You didn’t come to Austin to hide in your room. Get out there, be a sponge, and soak it up!

There’ll never be enough time to experience everything. Seek out the student activities that interest you, visit the campus museums, attend concerts and special lectures, volunteer for a public service project, and purposely meet others who are different, whose culture or world views are unlike yours. You may never again live amid such extraordinary diversity, and to explore it is an important part of your college education.

With that said –

Your Mileage May Vary

MLK Statue.East MallWhat and how much you do will be different from others. If you’re like most freshmen, you’re about to experience two important milestones: leaving home and living on your own for the first time, and adjusting to college life with new people and in new surroundings. Don’t think that you have to “keep up” with others around you, and don’t feel pressured to take part in activities that don’t interest you, just to feel included. Certainly, you’ll want to try new things and expand your horizons, but this is your college experience, so make it your own. Take the time to find the pace that suits you. Keep in mind that sometimes less is more.

Go to Class

It sounds too easy, but this simple habit is the easiest and best way to succeed at UT. No, seriously. No . . . seriously. Just go to class.

On the first day of the semester, take a look around you. All of the other students enrolled in your class will be there. But after a week or two, especially for larger classes, you’ll notice that attendance has dropped off. That is, until the day of the first exam, when there’ll suddenly be a crowd of unfamiliar faces. A stranger might even be sitting in your usual seat! Who are all these people? Many are students who think they can cut class, just show up for the tests, and do well. My sincere advice is not to be one of them.

There are plenty of excuses for not going to class. Some seem legit, most are not: there’s a paper due and you want to spend more time on it, or you’d rather study for a big test you have later the same day. True, there’ll be times during the semester when one class needs more attention than the others, but make sure that you’re still attending all of them. If you miss one, it’ll take longer to catch up than if you were there. Besides, more professors are finding ways to reward those who come to lectures. Some let students know what’s best to study when preparing for tests. Others announce in advance there’ll be extra credit questions on exams, but the questions will be on topics only discussed in class. There may be days when you’re not all that motivated (remember, batteries not included), but if you go to class, you’ll find it’s easier to keep up with everything.

Main Building Inscription

Professors are your Friends

Stop. Raise your right hand and repeat: “I promise to meet all of my professors within the first two weeks of every semester.”

This is standard college advice, but many students never follow it. Some didn’t talk much with their high school teachers and have continued the habit. Others are a little intimidated. After all, professors are big-time experts in their fields and have other things to do. Would they want to bother with questions from a freshman? The answer is a definite “yes.”

All professors have office hours, designated times during the week when they’ll be in their offices to talk to students. But too often, usually for the reasons mentioned above, only a few appear at the door. “My office hours are a ghost town,” grumbles the lonely prof. Remember, a professor has made a career of research and teaching in a particular academic field, and has a genuine passion for their subject. A curious student, or one who just needs some help with homework and makes the effort to stop by, is welcome.

Introduce yourself to each of your professors within the first two weeks of the semester. Don’t have any questions about the class yet? No worries. Instead, find out more about your instructor. Where did they go to college? Why did they decide to be a professor, and how did they choose their field? What kind of research are they doing? You can also simply ask, “What’s the best way to study for your class?” Once you’ve broken the ice, conferring with your professor during the rest of the semester is easy.

Don’t forget, along with helping you with classes, professors can also be mentors, assist with student research opportunities, or be references for grad school or your first job after graduation.

Study like a Tortoise


Do you remember Aesop’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare? A smart-alecky hare teases a tortoise about his slow, deliberate plodding until the irritated tortoise finally challenges the hare to a race.

At the start, the overconfident hare easily jumps into the lead. Certain that he has the race won, he stops to rest under a tree. When he accidentally falls asleep, the tortoise pulls ahead, and despite a last minute sprint by the hare, the tortoise crosses the finish line first. The moral of the story: slow and steady wins the race.

On the first day of class, each of your professors will distribute a syllabus that includes a description of the course, what textbooks you’ll need, how grades will be determined, the professor’s office hours, and a list of dates for exams, due dates for research papers, or other projects.

This may take a little effort, but create a calendar, either on your computer or something to hang on a wall, and fill in all the tests and other important due dates. You’re looking for a “big picture” view of the semester. You might discover that you have two tests and a paper due in the same week (Ugh!!), but at least you know about it early and can plan ahead.

For each exam, mark the date two weeks before it as the day to start studying. No, this doesn’t mean endlessly poring over your textbook for hours every night. Just start with a half hour or hour every day. Review a week’s worth of lecture notes (Don’t just look them over, learn them.), say, or reread a chapter in the book. Is it a math class? Review one section in the text and work a few problems. A history course? Write out short descriptions of a few people or ideas that are likely to be on the test. As the exam nears, when other students are just getting started and will have to stay up late to catch up, you’ll discover that you already know most of the material. More important, you’ve allowed time for the ideas to “sink in” and truly understand them.

Academic sprinting – trying to cram lots of information into your brain at the last minute – usually results in extra stress and promptly forgetting all that you learned five minutes after the test ended, which means you’ll have to relearn it before the final exam. There’s an old saying: By the yard, life is hard. By the inch, it’s a cinch! Study like a tortoise, slow, steady, and in small pieces, and you’ll be much better off in the academic race.

College is Hard

To have been admitted to the University of Texas, you must have done well in high school. Earning good grades – perhaps straight A’s – may have been relatively easy. But graduating from a university with all A’s is more difficult and less common. College is intense and challenging, and it’s designed to be that way.

It’s not unusual for a freshman who excelled in high school to struggle in at least one course. It happens. The first test is returned with a grade of “C,” or worse. A poor mark can be unsettling. It can shake self-confidence. “This never happened before,” some students think to themselves, and are embarrassed to tell anyone, including their family. A few resolve to study twice as long for the next test, only to wind up with the same result. They begin to doubt themselves, never realizing that it’s not the time spent studying, but how they study that needs to be remedied.

A few weeks into the semester, if you feel lost in a course, can’t finish the homework, not sure how take lecture notes, or just didn’t do well on a test, don’t panic. What you’ll discover is that, in the long term, you actually learn more from setbacks, from surmounting obstacles, than from breezing through with successes. What’s important is to figure out what went wrong and work to make it right. A lecturer in the business school is quick to tell his students, “Don’t let failure define you. Let it refine you.”

If you find yourself struggling, don’t keep it to yourself, and don’t wait. Use the many resources on campus to assist you. (Some assembly required!) Talk to your professor, classmates, and academic advisor. The Sanger Learning Center offers programs on study strategies and one-on-one tutoring, while the Undergraduate Writing Center can assist with any and all writing assignments. Check with the UT Counseling Center for help with stress or test anxiety.

Remember, everyone, and I do mean everyone, is overwhelmed by college at some point. Struggling to learn is a time-honored part of the experience. But don’t hold off until the end of the semester. If you need help, seek it early.

College Knowledge

  • Try to make friends as soon as you arrive on campus. Even if you think you’re shy, just remember that starting college is something new for all of your freshmen classmates, and everyone will be a little anxious.
  • Participate in the 360 Connections and join a Freshman Interest Group – a FIG – where about 20 students attend many of the same classes and meet once a week. You’ll see familiar faces right away.
  • Textbooks are expensive. While the local bookstores are convenient, check online retailers (Amazon,, etc) and shop around. Keep in mind that a few classes – Calculus I and II (M 408C and M 408D), for example – use the same textbook. It might be less expensive to buy a used copy than rent the same book for two semesters.
  • When you’re ready to register for courses, keep a map handy to see where your classes will meet. While 10 to 15 minutes are allowed for changing classes (depending on the day), you don’t want to have to sprint across the campus just to be on time.
  • Each building has a three-letter abbreviation, which is part of the campus lingo. Robert Lee Moore Hall (physics, math, and astronomy) is known simply as “RLM.” Lots of freshmen confuse the W.C. Hogg Building (WCH) for Welch Hall (WEL), which are next to each other.
  • If you’re living on or near campus, you probably won’t need a car for your freshman year. Most of your time will be spent on campus anyway, and a car will just be an extra hassle. Besides, the University has an extensive shuttle bus system, and students ride for free on city buses. But if you need a vehicle, keep in mind -
  • There are never enough parking spaces for students. Or for faculty and staff. A campus parking permit is better known as a “hunting license.” It’s easier with a garage pass, but pricey.
  • Bicycles are a great way to get to and from campus, but are not as easy to ride during class changes. Remember, there’ll be tens of thousands of students and professors changing classes with you. Don’t forget to register and secure your bike. A U-lock with a flat key is best, though the UT Police Department recommends double locking your bike.
  • Sit in the front half of the classroom. You want see what’s being written on the chalkboard or projected on a screen. If it’s a science class, the prof might have a physics or chemistry demo. Some claim sitting up front scores points with the professor. Maybe. But if you just show up, take part, and visit during office hours, they’ll get to know you. It’s more important simply to sit where you have a good view.Battle Hall Reading Room
  • Where to study? Your dorm room usually has too many distractions. Try a study lounge or a library. The Perry-Castaneda Library – the PCL – is popular, in part because you’re allowed to bring food with you. (Yes, students have pizza delivered to the PCL!) Another good place, especially for group study, is the first floor of the Flawn Academic Center, or the FAC. The most collegiate looking is the Architecture Library on the second floor of Battle Hall (photo at right). It was originally UT’s first library building, opened in 1911. No food allowed, but great atmosphere.
  • Bring an umbrella! It does rain in Austin occasionally, and you’d be surprised how many students forget. They trudge across campus in a downpour without any cover and show up to class drenched and dripping. It’s not pretty.
  • Do your laundry on a weekday and avoid the weekend rush. (And don’t forget, hot water for whites, cold for colors!)

Break Out of the Burnt Orange Bubble

Burnt Orange BubbleFrom classes to residence halls to student groups to football games, you’ll wind up spending much of your time on campus. But don’t forget to break out of the campus bubble now and then and explore the city of Austin. Visit the Texas Capitol, swim in Barton Springs, climb the steps to Mount Bonnell for an amazing view, or dress up for the giant Halloween party on Sixth Street. The Austin City Limits Music Fest and the South by Southwest Conference make international headlines for a reason. Be like the locals and go kayaking, paddle boarding, or sailing on area lakes, or running and biking on the trails. Or just enjoy some of the live music that’s everywhere: along Sixth Street, in cafes around town, and in some grocery stores. (Yep. In Austin, bands perform in grocery stores.) There’s something going on just about every weekend.

Better yet, just go away. If at all possible, participate in a study abroad program sponsored by UT’s International Office, if only for a summer. There are major-specific options where courses taken will count toward your degree, shorter summer programs led by UT faculty, and scholarships available to help with costs. If you haven’t traveled outside of the United States, to immerse yourself in a different culture, with its own language, food, and customs, where you are the visitor, is a great adventure and a guaranteed life-changing experience.

Eiffel Tower.Paris

UT Phone Home

You’ll be busy, but remember to call, text, email, Facebook, Tumblr, Skype, Google Chat, shout, or just wave in the general direction of home occasionally. Your family wants to hear from you.

Stop and Think

You’ve probably heard the adage: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. There’s a higher ed version: You can lead a student to college, but you can’t make him think!

In the 1950s, former UT president Harry Ransom described the campus as a “field of ideas,” and believed the pursuit of those ideas to be “one of the major undertakings of a university freshman. It is a highly personal undertaking, as unpredictable in its opportunities as it is in its rewards.”

Student life is hectic, but in between the barrage of classes, homework, and student activities, find some time to stop, think, and take stock. What are you learning this semester, and how does it fit into a overall view? How do your various courses – literature, science, business, history, engineering, culture – connect together? (They do.) “A student may choose his courses, pore over his texts, listen to his teachers, exchange opinions with his contemporaries,” wrote President Ransom, “but still miss the main chance for developing ideas significant to him. If he is to complete the pursuit of ideas, he will get off by himself, shut up, and think. Too much higher education today neglects that lowly exercise.”

Why are You Here?

UT Tower FireworksWhy go to college? Easy. By far, the most popular answer is “to get a job.” And it’s true. A college degree opens doors to more higher earning opportunities. At least one study claims a college graduate earns, on average, $1 million more over a lifetime than someone without a degree. But while you’re thinking about a career, keep in mind that there’s more going on here.

If you go looking for the purposes of a college education, you generally find three distinct goals. The first is practical: to be more employable. Be aware, though, that some of what you’ll learn will eventually become outdated. A broader education that gives you the ability to grow and adapt to new things is best.

Your parents are a good example. They would likely have been your age in the 1980s or early 1990s. As they set out into the world – whether or not they went to college – they encountered new inventions such as email, the Internet, e-commerce, smart phones, and social media, all of which radically altered the workplace and created jobs that no one had yet considered. After you graduate, the world will continue to change in surprising ways. While you’ll have a major field of study, remember that a UT education shouldn’t limit you to a single profession. Let it prepare you to grow into professions not yet invented.


A second reason for going to college has been boldly displayed on the University’s Seal for over a century. The Latin motto Disciplina Praesidium Civitatis comes from an 1838 speech by Mirabeau Lamar, a president of the Republic of Texas. He declared that a “cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy.” Lamar was echoing the thoughts of John Adams in the 1700s, “Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.”

After graduation, you will be more than your chosen profession. You’ll also be a voter, a juror, perhaps a leader in your community. To know and understand the issues of the day, to be able to articulate opinions and make educated choices, to be a participating citizen, is crucial to the future, regardless of your nationality.

The third aim of college is more vague and difficult to measure, but your time on campus will allow you experiences that might otherwise be unavailable. Whether it’s gaining an international perspective through travel, a refined appreciation for music, art, film, or architecture, a deeper understanding of classical literature, or a better grasp at the importance and wonder of the latest scientific discoveries. College isn’t just about learning to make a living; it’s also about learning what makes life worth living.


Orange BoxDon’t forget! There’s a great, mysterious box waiting with your name on it. Inside are surprises, adventures, challenges, and good times. It’ll soon be time to open it. And pack some extra batteries. You’ll want all of the extra energy you can get!


A reminder: The UT History Corner is not an official publication of the University of Texas. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author.

Some photos used here were taken by Marsha Miller. Thanks to Chris Lanier, Adrienne MacKenzie, Lisa Lockhart and Clint Tuttle for input, and to Dr. Sacha Kopp for inspiration.