The Longest Race in the World

The 1927 Texas Relays featured the first marathon in Austin – for women only! – and the first timed ultramarathon in the U.S., a 90-mile run from San Antonio to UT’s Memorial Stadium.

Tarahumara Runners at 1927 Relays

Above: Six Tarahumara runners from Northern Mexico participated in the 1927 Relays.

Azure blue skies, mild temperatures, and a steady north breeze greeted more than 10,000 spectators to the third annual Texas Relays on March 25, 1927. Held at Memorial Stadium on the UT campus, the fledgling track and field meet had swelled from a few hundred participants in 1925 to more than 1,000 athletes from two countries. An intercollegiate division boasted squads from a dozen states and the University of Mexico, former and future Olympians competed, 13 records were broken, and the popular University of Michigan football coach, Fielding “Hurry Up” Yost, served as the celebrity head referee.

Newspapers across the country lauded the Relays as a tremendous success. But most of the attention was focused not on the events in the stadium, but on the prowess of six Tarahumara runners from the isolated Copper Canyon region in northern Mexico. Their debut in Texas was the result of a series of events that involved the Olympic movement, Mexican nationalism, and some savvy promotion for track and field.


1926 Central American Games LogoFor the last two weeks in October, 1926, the inaugural Central American Games were held in Mexico City. An initiative by the International Olympic Committee, it was hoped that regional Olympic-style gatherings would promote greater interest and participation in the main Olympic Games. Mexico was an agreeable host. After a 10-year, sometimes violent, revolution from 1910-1920, both the government and citizens of Mexico were eager to restore the country’s tarnished image. Though 14 nations were invited to the Games, only three – Mexico, Cuba, and Guatemala – sent teams to compete in baseball, basketball, swimming, fencing, track and field, and other sports.

The final event was a well-publicized 100km (62 mile) distance race, and while it was officially a part of the Games, it had to be postponed until Sunday, November 7, five days after the closing ceremony. The race featured a pair of runners from the little-known and reclusive Tarahumara villages in northern Mexico. Starting at 3:05 a.m. in front of the city hall in the town of Pachuca, two runners – Tomas Zafiro and Leonicio San Miguel – made their way southwest to Mexico City, the pre-dawn road lit by the headlights of police motorcycles and cars filled with journalists. Because the Tarahumara had their own native dialect and spoke little Spanish, an interpreter ran alongside the other two for the first 75km and relayed comments to the reporters. As the runners neared Mexico City, an ever-growing throng of supporters crammed the route and impeded their progress. Nine hours and 37 minutes after the start, the pair arrived in a packed National Stadium, where they were swarmed by an ecstatic, cheering crowd, and hailed as national heroes.

Each runner was awarded a crimson scarf, a modern plow, and 30 yards of white cotton cloth. When asked to participate in the race, Zafiro and San Miguel initially declined, as it would mean missing harvest time for their corn crops, which they planned to exchange for 30 yards of cloth. The issue caused the postponement of the race, until the governor of Chihuahua volunteered to provide the cloth as a guarantee against any loss of the harvest.

The distance race easily received more press than any other event at the Games, and had the intended effect of both promoting the regional Olympic movement and showcasing Mexican endurance athletes. Soon after the race, the Mexican government petitioned the IOC to include a 100km race in the upcoming 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam.

In the United States, the event was described as “a race which has no parallel in sporting history,” and accounts were awash with speculation. Some claimed Mexico was an up-and-coming athletic power, and Zafiro a contender for marathon gold at the next Olympics. A Time magazine reporter who covered the 100km race asked the runners how they were able to traverse such extraordinary distances. Zafiro responded:

“We are strong because we live in the open air…We eat, four times a day, frijoles and chili with tortillas. Also we like deer meat, chickens, turtles, lizards, and rabbits. We chew peyote (grilled corn meal with spices), and on feasts we drink pinole (corn-fermented beer). No one of our tribe would eat the meat of any creature that fed upon another creature. Reverence lends wings to the legs. Only thus can a man be happy.”

NYTimes Tarahumara Jan 17 1927

The New York Times ran a series of articles on the Tarahumara, including one in January 1927, which described them (incorrectly) as “cave dwellers” from the wilds of Hidalgo. “Civilization has barely touched them; they are the unsentient children of the earth.” The article provided extensive – and likely exaggerated – details of Tarahumaran beliefs and traditions. As for their endurance, “Mexicans employ these Indians to run wild horses into a corral. It may take two or three days, but the horses are driven in, entirely exhausted, while the Indians finish almost as fresh as at the start.” The Austin Statesman also published news about the Tarahumara, and mentioned a potential U.S. tour for a few of the runners, including a possible entry into the Boston Marathon.


Theo BellmontTheo Bellmont (photo at right), athletic director for the University of Texas, read it all with great interest, and mulled the possibility of bringing Tarahumara runners to the Texas Relays. Bellmont and UT track coach Clyde Littlefield founded the Relays in 1925, and hoped to develop it into an event with national stature, on par with the already established Penn and Drake Relays. If a 100km race generated a media spectacle in Mexico, what might a longer run do in Austin?

Bellmont contacted longtime acquaintance Enrique Aguirre, the Minister of Physical Education for Mexico and the head of Mexico’s YMCA. (Bellmont had directed the YMCA in Houston before he was hired by the University.) Aguirre was an easy sell. Having the Tarahumara race in the United States would bring added exposure to the runners and strengthen Mexico’s petition with the IOC. Though the Relays were scheduled for the end of March, only a couple of months away, Aguirre agreed to send six Tarahumara, three men and three women. To preserve their amateur status for a possible Olympic berth, the runners would not be paid. Instead, a monetary donation was given to the Mexican government to build new schools in some of the Tarahumara villages.

Plans were made for two races. The women would run a traditional marathon distance of 26.2 miles that began in central Austin, proceeded north to the small town of Round Rock, and then returned to finish at Memorial Stadium, where the Relays would already be underway.

UT 1920s Main MallBy itself, an all-female marathon would be a sensation. The United States was enjoying the raucous “Roaring Twenties,” and women had not only won the right to vote at the start of the decade, but were actively stretching the limits of longstanding social mores. Skirts with hemlines above the knees, smoking in public, driving automobiles, and even cheering at athletic events were considered new and daring, and would have been branded “unladylike” and unthinkable behavior 10 years earlier.

Above: The view from Garrison Hall as students in the late 1920s change classes on the UT campus. To the right is the old Main Building. The library, now Battle Hall, is in the distance. Click on image for a larger view.

Locally, while the University of Texas had admitted women since it opened in 1883, co-eds still had to follow the strict regulations found on most American college campuses. University administrators were anxious to protect a lady’s “delicate constitution,” limited a co-ed’s social outings to three times per week, and enforced a 10 p.m. curfew most evenings. Recreation, in small doses, was considered healthy, but physicians generally advised against “undue physical exertion.” Too much running and jumping, it was thought, Anna Hissmight deny a woman the opportunity for motherhood after college. Anna Hiss (photo at right), the University’s director of women’s physical education, promoted an active lifestyle to her charges and organized sports clubs, but was adamantly opposed to intercollegiate athletics for women, as she believed the training and competition to be too stressful. For the residents of Austin, along with much of the country, the idea that three women could safely attempt to run a marathon was counter to the prevailing social and medical tenets of the time.

The men’s race would be even more astounding. The trio of men would traverse an 82-mile course from the Alamo in San Antonio north to Austin, also ending at the UT stadium. The route was hailed by the press as a record, “the longest race in the world.” Both events would begin, as best as could be estimated, so that all of the runners would arrive at the finish line in the stadium at about the same time.


On the last day of February, qualifying races were held in Mexico to determine which Tarahumara would participate in the Relays the following month. The women completed a 45km (27.9 mile) route, won by Juanita Paciencia, in four hours and 56 minutes, followed by two sisters, Juanita and Lola Cuzarare. The men ran 100km, and 38-year old Tomas Zafiro bettered his time from the previous November by an extraordinary two hours, finishing in seven hours and 35 minutes (about 7:15 per mile pace). Jose Torres and Augustin Salido claimed the remaining slots.

Zafiro’s accomplishment only heightened the anticipation of the Relays, and sparked a debate as to whether the runners’ athleticism was genuine. John Kieren, a columnist for the New York Times, claimed doubters thought the Tarahumara “ran short miles and timed themselves by phases of the moon. This time they will run a distance measured in English miles and they will be timed by a split second watch, though…an alarm clock would do just as well.”


Austin.Congress Avenue.1920s

Above: A view down Congress Avenue in the 1920s.

As the week of the Texas Relays arrived, the city of Austin found itself in the glare of an international limelight, and did its best to welcome all of the athletes, especially their guests from across the southern border. The Tarahumara were to stay at the Driskill Hotel, considered the best accommodations in town. Lamp posts along Congress Avenue were draped in colorful bunting that alternated between the red, white, and blue of the United States, and the green, white, and red national hues of Mexico. University president Robert Vinson announced that classes would be suspended on the Friday afternoon of the race, and encouraged UT students to attend the Relays or line the streets to support the Tarahumara runners.

1927 Texas Relays AdJust before sunset on Tuesday, March 22, three days before the race, six Tarahumara runners, two interpreters, and a manager disembarked a train at the Austin station and were promptly overwhelmed by curious Austin citizens, a bevy of reporters, and the inventions and conveniences of the modern world. Steam-heated Pullman cars on the train, hotel elevators, and phonograph recordings were all novel experiences.

Wednesday morning, the runners completed a brief 5-mile warm-up at the stadium, and then spent the rest of the day either relaxing at the hotel or seeing the sites of Austin. Contemporary appliances were a constant interest; the group closely inspected the gas stove in the hotel kitchen, and asked to see it lit to make sure “there was no trick about it.” Dressed in their traditional attire of shorts, blouses, and sandals (and shawls for the ladies), the entire group set off for an early evening stroll down Congress Avenue. They stared at the dome of the state capitol, gazed in amazement through the shop windows, and asked to hear another phonograph recording. Followed everywhere by a crowd of reporters and onlookers, the scene brought downtown traffic to a halt.

On Thursday, the men left for San Antonio and studied the route they would follow back to Austin. According to local newspapers, the runners “shook their heads dubiously” as they examined the occasional gravel-strewn sections of the road. “Sandals will be worn on the cruelest stretches,” reported the Austin Statesman, “but the Indians prefer to run barefooted.”

Once in San Antonio, most of the day was devoted to rest and final preparations. The three drank an herbal tea, likely brewed from chia seeds. “According to Tarahumara tradition, the drinking of this beverage gives the drinker speed,” claimed the Austin American. The men rubbed their skin with another herbal concoction, to ensure endurance, and then “uttered certain lucky phrases,” to give their efforts the best chance for success.


San Antonio City Hall.1920sIn a scene very similar to the 100km race the previous November, the Tarahumara men gathered in the middle of the night on the steps of the San Antonio City Hall. The start line was changed from the Alamo at the last minute, though it increased the route to Austin to 89.4 miles. Instead of their customary native garb, the three were outfitted in white track uniforms with the tri-colored shield of Mexico embroidered on their shirts. Around their waists they wore belts of small bells. The belts served a dual purpose: the jingle of the bells helped to maintain a consistent pace while running, and, as each belt had a unique tone, they allowed the runners to know the whereabouts of their companions. The men carried four-foot long canes, and as an added promotion for the race, one bore a written message of greeting from the mayor of San Antonio to the governor of Texas in Austin.

The starting gun sounded at 3:19 a.m. Friday morning. Headlights of support vehicles and the flash bulbs of numerous cameras illuminated the way. The men completed six miles in the first 60 minutes, and then gradually increased their pace to a little more than seven miles an hour. A steady headwind, warm temperatures, and graveled roads were all challenges, and as the sun rose over the central Texas landscape, the trio donned “wide sombreros” to ward off the glare. Along the way, they ate peyote, oranges, and frequently drank water from a ladle without breaking their stride.

At mile 32, Augustin Salido, the youngest of the group at 22 years, began to suffer stomach cramps. The others stopped and walked for a while to see if he would recover. Still in pain, Salido attempted to continue the run. According to the Los Angeles Times, “He stuck gamely to the pace, running 27 more miles before collapsing. He was taken into one of the official cars and had recovered by the time the race was over.”

The remaining runners, Tomas Zafiro, 38, and Jose Torres, 24, continued on to Austin, attracting large crowds as they passed through towns along the way. An increasing number of cars tried to follow along, congested the highway, and created so much exhaust that race officials became concerned for the health of the Tarahumara. Motorists were directed to keep their distance, but the growing logjam slowed the runners’ progress to just four miles an hour as they reached the outskirts of Austin.

1927 Tarahumara Womens MarathonIn the meantime, the women began their race at 11:30 a.m. in front of the downtown headquarters of the Austin Statesman newspaper. Clad in more traditional garments of loose, bright red shorts, white blouses, red bandanas, and sandals, the ladies also sported bells and carried canes. Thousands of Austin citizens turned out at the start and along the course.

Early in the race, Juanita Paciencia, 15, had trouble with her sandals and fell behind. After stopping twice to readjust them, she discarded her shoes altogether and continued barefoot. But as the temperatures climbed, the pavement became an issue, and at mile 24, Paciencia dropped out of the race because the road was too hot. The warm weather also affected Juanita Cuzarare, 16, who had led most of the way, but stopped within sight of the stadium.

Tarahumara Women Marathon Finisher.1927

Above: Lola Cuzarare finishes the first marathon held in Austin.

Fourteen year old Lola Cuzarare, the lone finisher, entered Memorial Stadium, removed her sandals, and completed the race in four hours and 42 minutes. As she approached the finish line, Cuzarare tried to duck under the tape, unaware that she was supposed to run through it. She continued running several laps, smiling to a noisy and appreciative crowd, until Texas Relays officials stopped her and escorted her off the track.

Almost two hours later, at 6:12 p.m., Zafiro and Torres reached their goal in 14 hours and 53 minutes. It was “a feat that would kill an ordinary horse,” declared the Washington Post, but the pair “finished apparently as fresh as when they started.”

Tarahumara Men Finishers.1927Details of the races were printed in newspapers as far away as South America and Europe, the government of Mexico added to their IOC petition the request for a women’s marathon, and Theo Bellmont was heralded locally as “putting Austin on the map.” But despite the popularity of the Tarahumara, the IOC didn’t include a 100km race or a women’s marathon in its 1928 Amsterdam games, as there wouldn’t have been entrants from enough of the participating nations.Two Tarahumara runners, including Jose Torres, represented Mexico in the men’s marathon, but as their training emphasized distance over speed, they finished in 32nd and 35th place.

Above: Wearing the shield of Mexico on their shirts, Tomas Zafiro and Jose Torres in Texas Memorial Stadium after their 90-mile run from San Antonio.


How NOT to Choose a University President

UT Campus.1923.

Above: The University of Texas campus in the early 1920s.

 Thursday, May 15, 1924: Lutcher Stark, Chairman of the Board of Regents, asked the doors to be locked and the windows closed. The board was meeting with the alumni association’s executive council about the selection of the next University president, but Stark was adamant that their discussion should be strictly confidential. “No word must get out to the newspapers,” he instructed. No one knew that an intrepid reporter from The Daily Texan was hiding in the closet, notepad at the ready.

Within 48 hours of the meeting, the board broke their pledge to the alumni, offered the presidency to the governor of Texas, two regents abruptly resigned, and the ambitious fundraising campaign to build the football stadium was almost derailed.

Sometimes, choosing a new UT president doesn’t go smoothly.


Initially, the University had no president. In the spring of 1881, as the Texas Legislature debated the bill that would create UT, concerns were raised in the House that Governor Oran Roberts would be named to head the University when his term expired.  Though Roberts strongly supported the university bill, opponents argued that asking Roberts to oversee UT would set a precedent and forever politicize the office. The position ought to go to someone academically qualified, not become a retreat for retired politicians.

A compromise was reached between Senator Alexander Terrell and Representative Joseph Hutcheson. Terrell preferred to have a president, but also wanted the university to be open to women as well as men, a progressive idea for its time. Hutcheson believed enrollment should be limited only to male students, and argued that UT be modeled after the University of Virginia – his alma mater – which was then the only university in the country led by a faculty chairman instead of a president. To break the impasse, Terrell agreed to a faculty chair, while Hutcheson conceded to the enrollment of women. Roberts was denied the possibility of serving as UT’s president, but was appointed as one of the two initial law professors.

Leslie WaggenerFor most of UT’s first decade, English Professor Leslie Waggener (photo at left, for whom Waggener Hall is named) served as the faculty chairman, though it became increasingly apparent that an administrator, someone apart from the professors, was needed. In 1895, Waggener was declared president ad interim as the regents began to search for a permanent chief executive. They didn’t have to look far, as an unwitting prime candidate came to them. In June 1896, the faculty invited George Winston, then President of the University of North Carolina, to Austin to deliver the spring commencement address. Winston’s demeanor and speech so impressed the regents, that Winston was immediately recruited. He was named UT’s president before the month was over.


Perhaps the most difficult selection of a UT president began in February, 1923, when Robert Vinson resigned to take the helm of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Vinson had piloted UT through the 1917 controversy with Governor James Ferguson, as well as a 1921 attempt to relocate the entire campus from its confined 40 acres to the more spacious Brackenridge Tract. (The effort was deemed too costly. Instead, state lawmakers approved funds to purchase land east of the campus. See The Littlefield Gateway for more on the proposed move.)

The board accepted Vinson’s resignation with “deep regret,” voted to award him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, and named Will Sutton, the Dean of Education, as President ad interim. Almost immediately, the inevitable speculation began on who would be Vinson’s successor. The most notable came from the Austin Statesman. After the regents’ meeting, Chairman Lutcher Stark met privately with the governor for over an hour. The next day, the Statesman reported a “flock of rumors” in the state capitol “that Governor Pat Neff might resign . . . in order to become president of the University of Texas.”

Will HoggThough it was just a rumor, it persisted with enough frequency to worry Will Hogg and the officers of the University’s Ex-Students’ Association. Hogg, the son of former governor James Hogg, a UT graduate, and a Houston lawyer, had donated a small fortune to promote higher education throughout the state, was instrumental in founding the Alcalde alumni magazine, had served a term on the Board of Regents, and steered the ex-students’ efforts through the political conflict with Governor Ferguson, which prevented the University from being closed and resulted in Ferguson’s impeachment and resignation. (On campus, the W. C. Hogg Building is named for him.) When Will Hogg was concerned, the alumni tended to listen.

AAS.1923.06.05.Alumni Oppose Neff as UT Prez - CopyAt its annual meeting in June 1923, which coincided with spring commencement, the alumni association approved a resolution in opposition to Pat Neff as UT president. “For Governor Neff as a governor, a friend to the University and as a Christian gentleman, we have only words of commendation and praise,” the resolution stated, “but we do not believe that the qualities which make him an able governor in any way prove his fitness for presidency of the University.” The issue was neither personal nor directly political. The governor, a UT alumnus, was generally popular among the alumni. Hogg and Neff belonged to the same 1897 law school class, where both participated in the University’s first celebration of Texas Independence Day. Echoing their 1881 counterparts in the legislature, the alumni were simply anxious not to let the office of president become politicized.

A copy of the resolution was sent to the Board of Regents and acknowledged by Chairman Lutcher Stark, but the regents took no other action toward finding Vinson’s successor, which only prompted more gossip that the board was deliberately dragging its heels to wait until Neff had completed his term as governor.

In the meantime, attention on campus had turned to a new topic: building a football stadium.


UT Football Player.1900sBy the 1920s, intercollegiate football had gained a strong national following and developed a competitive parity between teams beyond the traditional “Big Three” of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Improvements in transportation, especially the wildly popular and affordable Model T automobile, along with massive post-World War I improvements to roads, provided rural American families the opportunity to drive in to town on a Saturday and watch a game. With better teams and more fans, college football had become big business.

To accommodate the crowds, impressive stadiums were being constructed across the country, many of them named as memorial tributes to those who had fought in the recent world war. Stanford opened a 65,000-seat venue in 1921, followed closely by Ohio State (63,000), Illinois (67,000), California (73,000), Michigan (84,000), and others. For much of the decade, stadium building was almost a mania.

1924.Clark Field

Above: Part of the west stands of old Clark Field.

At the University of Texas, football had been played on the old Clark Field since the 1890s (at the corner of 24th and Speedway Streets, where the O’Donnell Building and Dell-Gates Complex are today), but by the 1920s, the student-built creaky wooden bleachers were inadequate and always needed repairs. (See The One Week Stadium) A new facility was sorely needed.

United behind Coach “Doc” Stewart’s motto, “For Texas, I Will,” the 1923 Longhorn football team had a banner season. Opponents didn’t score a point through the first six games. Baylor fought hard to a 7-7 tie, which spoiled the undefeated record, but the next week Oklahoma succumbed 26-14. Only the Thanksgiving Day bout against A&M, to be held in College Station, was left on the schedule.

Off the field, the campus chatter was about building a new athletic stadium. Some thought the estimated $500,000 cost was too ambitious a goal. Nothing close to it had been attempted. Others believed a new venue was overdue, and if the team continued its winning ways, alumni support would make the difference. If Texas prevailed over A&M, a stadium campaign was likely. But there was a catch: Texas had never won on Kyle Field since games were first played there in 1915.

On Thanksgiving Day, thousands of UT fans either drove their Model T’s or boarded trains for College Station. Many wore orange and white armbands that read, “Win or Lose, a Stadium by Thanksgiving, 1924.” Walter Hunnicutt collaborated with Longhorn Band director Burnett Pharr to compose a new song. A friendly spoof on A&M’s “Aggie Taps,” the pair called it “Texas Taps.” The band introduced the tune at the game, and it was an instant favorite. (Today, fans know it as “Texas Fight.” Listen to the earliest recording of the song.) Texas won the day 6-0 over the Aggies, and the fundraising campaign to build a stadium wasn’t far behind.


Feb 25 1924.Stadium Kickoff Rally

Above: With snow falling outside, students launch the fundraising effort for the stadium.

At 2 p.m. on Monday, February 25, 1924, in the midst of a rare Austin snowstorm, almost 2,500 students – out of an enrollment of 4,400 – trudged through icy slush to attend an unprecedented rally in the wooden men’s gymnasium. The goal was to build Memorial Stadium, named to honor Texans who had participated in the recent World War. In just over week, the students hoped to raise $100,000 in pledges on the campus. The citizens of Austin would be called upon for another $100,000, and then the alumni would need to donate the remaining $300,000. The east and west stands would be built first, with the north end zone and overall façade to be completed later. For the stadium to be ready by the 1924 football season, construction needed to begin in June.

To no one’s surprise, the leader of the stadium drive was Regent Lutcher Stark. “I will make you this proposition,” he announced to the crowd, “Lutcher Stark will donate to the stadium 10 per cent of what is raised on campus by the students.”


Lutcher StarkBorn, perhaps appropriately, in the East Texas town of Orange, Stark was the heir to a vast lumber and oil fortune. He arrived at the University in 1905 as the first student to own a car, graduated in 1910, and became a whirlwind of business activity, involved in banking, real estate, insurance, manufacturing, and petroleum. His family home has been preserved as a museum, along with the Stark Museum of Art just across the street.

Texas Longhorn Blankets 1915Outside of business, Stark’s great interest was the University of Texas sports program, and was its first super-booster. A Saturday Evening Post article would dub him the “Archangel” of UT athletics. Though the football team had been called “Longhorns” since 1904, Stark provided the 1915 squad with blankets embroidered with “Texas Longhorns,”
the first time the team had publicly sported its name. A generous donor, Stark also found summer jobs for many student-athletes. (Stark’s mother, Miriam, was also a contributor to the University, including the valuable Stark Library, located in the president’s suite in the Main Building.) In 1919, Governor William Hobby appointed the 31-year old Stark to the Board of Regents, where he would remain for 24 years.

But as Chairman of the Board of Regents, his passions sometimes led to controversy. At the July 1923 regents’ meeting, Stark oversaw the creation of a new College of Physical Activities, which would coordinate men’s and women’s intramural sports, P.T. classes, and offer a degree in physical education. It was no secret that Stark wanted to promote Athletic Director Theo Bellmont to Dean of the college, but this was controversial with the alumni, who thought it placed too much emphasis on athletics. As Bellmont had no advanced degree, the idea didn’t sit well with the faculty, either. (Two years later, the college was reorganized as a subsidiary of the School of Education and is now the Department of Kinesiology.)


For Texas I Will.Stadium Drive.Lunch Meeting Above: A 500-member student committee held daily lunch meetings in the gym.

With the stadium drive underway, 500 students were divided into 68 teams to solicit anyone and everyone on campus. The group met for lunch daily at the men’s gym, under an enormous “For Texas, I Will” banner hung on the east wall, and reported on pledges from the previous day. Each morning, The Daily Texan published a different slogan above its masthead, while the contributor won a pair of tickets to a local movie theater. Among the refrains:

Fall in Line! Don’t Lag Behind – This is Stadium Time!

Let’s Give our Roll to Build that Bowl

Don’t Pass the Buck – Pass Several Bucks to the Stadium

Come, Chum, with a Maximum Sum for the Stadium

DT Headline.1924.02.16.

Above: Before and through the student pledge drive, The Daily Texan published stadium slogans above its masthead.

The campus drive ended March 4th and exceeded all expectations. The students, faculty, and staff had together pledged $166,000, and Lutcher Stark promptly wrote a check for $16,600.

Alcalde.April 1924A month later, from April 4–11, it was Austin’s turn to take up the project. With the help of a 300-person organizing committee, and rallied by a parade of UT students down Congress Avenue (unfortunately in a downpour), the city contributed $115,000. The crucial alumni pledge drive was set to begin in mid-May.

To prime the ex-students, the Alcalde alumni magazine published a special stadium edition in April. It featured articles on the successful campus pledge drive, and was filled with supportive letters from faculty, coaches, and prominent alumni. The back cover compared building the stadium to the construction of the Roman Coliseum. “Our Memorial Stadium,” the magazine predicted, “will command the admiration of generations unborn. Like a mantle of ivy, time will weave o’er its beloved walls a soft halo of tradition.”

Photos above: The front and back cover of the April, 1924 Alcalde magazine; a color rendition of the proposed stadium by Dallas architect Herbert Greene. Click on image for a larger view.


 The same edition of the Alcalde also issued a complaint: “Month after month there is talk of the election of a President of the University by the Board of Regents, but month after month nothing is done.” As the spring continued, questions arose about the board’s lack of progress. The Students’ Assembly approved a measure in favor of Dr. Sutton as the permanent chief executive. Alumni around the state started petitions for other candidates, including one for Lutcher Stark, and rumors persisted that the board still planned to name Governor Neff. To press the matter, the executive council of the alumni association requested a conference with the regents. The meeting was scheduled for the evening of May 15th.


1923 Board of Regents

Above: The UT Board of Regents in President Sutton’s office, spring 1924.

On a warm Thursday morning, May 15, 1924, the Board of Regents convened in President Sutton’s office in the Education Building. (Today, it’s the architecture graduate student lounge on the ground floor of Sutton Hall.) The regents spent the day discussing University business, and then adjourned for dinner. They planned to return in about an hour to meet with the alumni executive council, though the engagement was to be in executive session and not open to the public.

Biological Labs.1924While the office was empty, a freshman reporter from The Daily Texan quietly entered and hid in a closet that adjoined the room. Notepad at the ready, he concealed himself among the architectural drawings for the Biological Sciences Building, then under construction (photo at right), and plans for the new stadium.

An hour later, the alumni joined the regents for a closed-door conference. Chairman Stark asked the details of their conversation not be made public, and all agreed. Will Hogg spoke on behalf of the alumni, and outlined the objections for appointing Governor Neff as UT president.

“Well, you have sufficient confidence in us to believe that we won’t select Neff, haven’t you?” responded Regent Frank Jones. “Well, Neff is not the first governor of Texas who has wanted the presidency of the University. We won’t give it to him.”

The alumni were assured that Neff wouldn’t be selected, and the conversation turned to the board’s two “real” candidates:  Guy Stanton Ford, then head of the Graduate School at the University of Minnesota, and Herbert Bolton, a previous member of the UT faculty who was then a history professor at the University of California in Berkeley. The regents were leaning toward Bolton. With the alumni satisfied, the regents retired for the night, set to continue their official meeting the next afternoon. The Texan reporter, who had recorded the entire discussion, waited until the building was quiet before he made his escape, but not before he helped himself to a few of the regents’ cigars.

DT.1924.05.16.Bolton to be Elected

Friday morning, the Texan printed a complete account of the meeting and predicted that Dr. Guy Ford would be UT’s next president. The identity of the reporter was never revealed “for the sake of his university career,” though the Texan added that the regents smoked “bum cigars.”

That afternoon, the board reconvened as scheduled, promoted Theo Bellmont to Dean of the new College of Physical Activities, and then, contrary to their verbal pledge to the alumni the previous evening, promptly voted 7-2 to tender Governor Pat Neff the position of UT president. Stark telephoned Neff, who was then in the town of Eastland, and informed the governor.

Regents Sam Cochran and Frank Jones, who had voted no, immediately resigned from the board. A statement to explain their position was included in the minutes: “We believe it contrary to the best interests of the University and of the State, and wrong in principal, to select as the President of that institution the Governor of the State, who holds the appointive power with respect to the Board of Regents.”

“No, Neff’s election was not a complimentary one,” Stark later explained. “We wanted him to be president of the University.” Within an hour of the vote, the board received a telegram from Neff, who politely and tactfully declined.

The seven remaining regents went into executive session and unanimously elected Ford as president, with a $10,000 annual salary and a house. A telegram was sent to Minnesota before the board adjourned.



The regents’ actions were public knowledge by 4 p.m. that afternoon, and Will Hogg was furious. At 6:30 that evening, Hogg fired off a caustic telegram to Stark on behalf of the entire alumni council. Still preserved in the UT Archives, Hogg wrote, in part: “All here feel that while Neff’s declination on that evidently framed honorary election does his common sense a puny mite of credit, the contumely of that smear will be justly heaped on all of you … for as Ex-Students you failed to defend the constitutional sanctity and tritest ideals of your Alma Mater … If you truly desire to serve the University, you should at least resign from the Stadium Drive, or complete it out of your own pocket as a trifling tribute from a contrite conscience for the shameful thing you have done, for you as Chairman of the Board and leader of the Stadium effort can’t get a sou marque from Houston … until this personal and official obloquy is totally erased by your abject personal abasement.” The text of Hogg’s telegram found its way into the newspapers.


In what might best be described as a great family quarrel, the entire University community was suddenly in an uproar. Alumni demanded Stark’s resignation from the Board of Regents and the stadium drive. The students, more interested in completing the stadium to which they’d just pledged $166,000, rushed to defend Stark. The faculty openly criticized the regents’ choices and called Bellmont’s promotion to dean “absurd.” Bellmont, who was content being the athletic director, learned the news of his new title by reading about it in the Texan, and found himself in an awkward situation. Meanwhile, Guy Ford wanted nothing to do with the University of Texas. Less than 24-hours after his selection, Ford sent his wife to tell reporters that he planned to stay in Minnesota.

1924.Stadium Site

As steam shovels cleared the site for the stadium and horse-drawn carts carried off excess rocks and soil, alumni pledges slowed to a trickle throughout the state and ceased entirely in all-important Houston. Contract work was to begin June 1st. If the situation wasn’t resolved quickly, the stadium effort would unravel and be delayed at least a year.

A few days after the regents meeting, Stark issued a 1,500 word statement to the press, and blamed the controversy on a small group in Houston. University graduate Maury Maverick of San Antonio (a future U.S. Congressman) countered to the Associated Press that Stark’s claim was a “smoke screen” and thought Stark still wanted Pat Neff. In the Dallas Morning News, Richard Fleming, president of the Houston chapter of the alumni association, said Stark’s claim was “unfounded,” and explained, “The opposition of the ex-students has not been directed personally toward Neff, but it has been solely directed toward the proposition of the selection of a man not fitted by education or training for the presidency.”


On Sunday, June 1st, after two weeks of dispute, and as alumni gathered in Austin for spring commencement and the ex-students’ annual meeting, Lutcher Stark, Will Hogg, and several members of the alumni council met at the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin. After three hours of discussion and negotiation, differences were put aside. Stark resigned from the stadium project, but remained Chairman of the Board of Regents. Hogg pledged to promote the stadium drive in Houston and throughout the state to ensure its success.

AAS.1924.06.13.Bolton tells off ReportersThe regents also announced their selection of Herbert Bolton as University president. Bolton, on the history faculty of the University of California at Berkeley, had tentatively accepted, and planned to visit Austin in two weeks to finalize the details.

Any celebration that UT finally had a new leader, though, was premature. Bolton arrived in Austin and met with the regents on June 12th, but when later asked by a reporter from the Austin Statesman as to whether he would formally accept the presidency, Bolton responded, “Go to hell.” (What was discussed with the regents is unknown. Unfortunately, no Texan reporter was hiding in the closet.) Ultimately, Bolton returned to California. The regents went to their next choice: Walter Splawn.

Walter SplawnAn outstanding UT economics professor and an expert in transportation and labor, the 41-year old Splawn (photo at right) had been on a leave of absence since 1923 after Governor Neff appointed him to the Texas Railroad Commission. Splawn accepted the position in July, which ended 17 months of uncertainty, and served as UT’s president for three years.



Meanwhile, Texas Memorial Stadium opened on time for the fall 1924 football season, and in 1932, Pat Neff was appointed president of Baylor University, his undergraduate alma mater, and held the position for 15 years. Baylor’s main administrative building was named for him.

1924.Texas Memorial Stadium

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

Found! 1909 Physics Lab Reports

1909 Phycis Lab Covers

A few weeks ago, I attended a “book and paper show” in Austin, where booksellers from around the country gathered to sell old and rare books, magazines, sheet music, postcards, and similar items. Because most of the vendors were from Texas, there was an emphasis on books about the Lone Star State and the Southwest, and it was a good place to look for old UT stuff.

In the far corner of the back room, a gentlemen was unloading boxes of photos and papers, things he’d collected at estate sales over the years and were usually stored in boxes in his garage. It was a wide variety and completely unorganized; show attendees just had to hunt through it. After a few minutes, I hit upon a few things that were about to be thrown out: a series of lab reports from a UT physics class in the spring of 1909.

LeRoy Hamilton and A T Elliott

Above: Physics lab partners LeRoy Hamilton (left) and A.T. Elliot, sophomores in the Engineering Department.

The reports were all written by the same lab partners, LeRoy Hamilton and Aubrey Tinsley “A.T.” Elliott, who were then sophomores studying electrical engineering. Each report was handwritten – likely by Hamilton – and enclosed in a tan folder. Printed on the front was the “School of Physics,” and blanks to fill in student names, experiment and table numbers, and dates assigned and completed. Inside the cover were instructions for the lab class and guidelines for writing a report. The grade was marked on the top right hand corner. Hamilton and Elliot received mostly 8/10, but one was a perfect 10.

1909 Physics Lab Cover.Close up.

Above and below: The “School of Physics” lab folder. Close-up of the front and instructions on the inside cover. Click on an image for a larger view.

1909 Physics Lab.Inside Cover.

From the covers, it looks as if nearly 50 experiments were performed through the spring. Among them: to measure the radius of curvature of a convex lens, the absolute determination of the volt, to measure the resistance of a coil of wire at different temperatures, and to measure the EMF [ electromotive force – another term for “voltage” ] of a cell by the Potentiometer Method.

Old Main.1910s.Postcard.2.In 1909, the physics lab classes were held in the basement of the east wing of the old Main Building, where the UT Tower stands today. The department was scattered on several floors throughout the building until the early 1930s, when it moved into the new Physics Building, today called Painter Hall.

Below is the complete write-up for experiment 42: the absolute determination of the volt. It earned a perfect 10 points. Would you give it the same grade?

Physics Lab 42.Cover and Inside Cover

Lab Report


Dr. Battle vs. the Jitneys

Battle vs Jitney.2

It was a pleasant spring evening in Austin, just after 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 25, 1915, as Harry Benedict and Will Battle were sharing a jitney ride to a meeting downtown. Benedict was the dean of UT’s College of Arts and Sciences, while Battle had recently been named Acting President of the University after the departure of Sidney Mezes the year before. Their driver was a young man, about 18 years old, with a friend of the same age sitting in the front passenger seat.

Heading west on 11th Street, in front of the Texas Capitol between Congress Avenue and Colorado Street, the driver suddenly accelerated, swerved abruptly to the opposite side of the road, almost collided with a car coming from the other direction, and took aim at a group of small dogs loitering near the curb. Benedict and Battle gasped as their driver, “greatly to his own delight and that of his companion,” managed to hit and kill one of the dogs.


Ford Model T Assembly LineA century ago, the outbreak of World War I in the summer of 1914 triggered an economic recession in the United States, but out-of-work entrepreneurs discovered a business opportunity using Henry Ford’s Model T automobiles. Introduced in 1908 and regarded as the first car priced for the middle class, the Model T was famous for its mass production. By 1914, Ford’s refinements to his impressive assembly line in Michigan had reduced construction time to 93 minutes, and a new car rolled out of the factory every three minutes.  With the cost lowered to just under $400, thousands of Model T’s flooded the streets of America’s cities.

But the growing popularity of the automobile began to challenge the trolley as the traditional form of urban transportation. Late in 1914, some enterprising Model T owners in Los Angeles discovered they could offer seats in their private cars for the same fare as a trolley: a nickel, or in the slang of the time, a “jitney.” Riding in the comfortable seat of a car was preferable to the crowded trolleys, and the cars – dubbed “jitneys” to distinguish them from the higher priced taxi cabs – could reach their designated stops faster. As The Nation reported, “This autumn automobiles, mostly of the Ford variety, have begun in competition with the street cars in [Los Angeles]. The newspapers call them ‘Jitney buses.’ ” By December 1914, the city had issued more than 1,500 chauffer licenses to jitney operators. Within a year, the idea was popular from coast to coast, more than 62,000 jitneys carried millions of passengers daily, and the Jitney Craze was born. “From hence to thence for five cents!” was the popular slogan.

From 1915 to 1918, the jitney was the new, convenient, trendy way to get about town.  In some ways it resembled an unregulated taxi service, as jitneys often survived by siphoning off streetcar passengers. Full-time Jitney drivers followed the routes of the trolleys, pulled over wherever a group of people were waiting, filled the car with customers, and took off for the riders’ destinations. For others, it was the first form of a ride-share or carpool. Some drivers who were commuting or otherwise going into town anyway would pick up a passenger or two and make a little pocket change on the side.

The jitney fad inspired a series of popular songs, a new dance called the “Jitney Joy,” a Charlie Chaplin film titled “A Jitney Elopement,” and plenty of original fashions for women’s hats.

Jitney Sheet Music.

jitney Lunch ad

Above: The Jitney Craze brought with it new popular music. Click on the title to listen to “Gasoline Gus and his Jitney Bus.” Also above: The Jitney Lunch café opened in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1915. All items on the menu were purchased a la carte for five cents each – the price of a jitney ride.

Austin Jitney Ads

Above: Locally, Joe Koen Jewelers promoted the “Jitney Plan” to purchase pocket watches, while Scarbrough’s Department Store advertised the “Jitney Knockabout” hat for women. A century later, Koen’s is still in business on Congress Avenue, while Scarbrough’s closed its last store only a few years ago.

In Austin, as elsewhere, trolley operators and jitney drivers didn’t get along with each other, and were attentive of the others’ customers. For riders, choosing a jitney over a trolley, or vice versa, was potentially perilous. “The matter of transportation makes life one thing after another,” explained the Austin Statesman. “If one rides the jitneys and criticizes them, he cannot ride them anymore. If he rides the jitneys, the street car men take his name in a book and remember him afterward as a patron of that iniquitous automobile institution.”


William BattleHarry Benedict and Will Battle were understandably upset with their jitney driver, both for his reckless driving and for killing a defenseless canine. “I indignantly reproached him,” recalled Battle (photo at left) in a letter written to Austin Mayor Alexander Wooldridge, “and told him I was going to report him and asked his name.” The young man refused to identify himself, though Battle managed to get the license number. Instead, the driver demanded that Benedict and Battle exit the car. Since the two had already paid their nickel fares, they refused, and the unhappy driver was forced to take his passengers on to their destination along Sixth Street.

Two days after the incident, a description of what had happened, along with Battle’s written complaint, found its way into the Thursday morning edition of the Statesman.  “[Battle] did not necessarily determine that he would boycott the jitneys,” the newspaper cautioned. “He wanted them reformed for his own comfort.” The timing, though, could not have been worse for local jitney drivers, as the City Council was just then considering its first ordinance on jitney regulations.

AAS Headline.Jitney Gets Even

Thursday afternoon, while the news story was still part of the gossip of the day, President Battle and government professor Charles Potts were downtown along Congress Avenue. They stepped off the curb and waved to the nearest jitney for a ride back to campus. “Jauntily did [Battle] walk in to the street … with Professor C.S. Potts to get into a jitney,” reported the Statesman. “And just as jauntily did a jitney driver hail him with the salutation, ‘We know you!’ and leave the University president standing blankly in the street, controlling his temper perhaps, but probably not in the most satisfied mood in the world.”

Poor President Battle! Because of his note to the mayor, he was no longer a welcomed jitney passenger. Though Battle could still ride the trolleys, the newspaper stories let everyone know that Battle actually favored the jitneys. The offended trolley operators, then, had the name of the University president in their “book,” and gave him cold stares when he boarded.

In a few years, the jitney all but disappeared from the urban landscape. While streetcars were taxed and provided income to their host cities, jitneys initially had no such obligations, and because they took passengers away from the trolleys, city budgets were ultimately affected. An abundance of regulations, some legitimate – standards for qualified jitney drivers, the safety of passengers, and so on – combined with some less fair – jitneys were not allowed to deviate from trolley routes, could only operate at certain times, etc. – made the jitney less profitable. By 1918, more than 90% of the jitney services that opened in 1915 had ceased operations.

In the meantime, Dr. Battle continued to be a faithful rider of Austin trolleys and, later, the city bus system. Though he lived another 40 years after his jitney adventure, Battle never learned to drive a car.

The One Week Stadium


UT students planned and financed the first stadium, and built it in a week.

UT Football Player.1900sFootball stadiums have been in the news lately. The massive AT@T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, will host the first Championship Game of the College Football Playoff. In College Station, the entire west side of Kyle Field stadium was imploded and razed as part of a multi-year, almost half-billion dollar reconstruction.

Though it had a more humble beginning, Texas fans should know that UT students – not professional contractors – built the University’s first stadium. They did it in a week and for just under $800.

In the University’s infant years, Longhorn football was played on a 3 ½ acre vacant lot east of the original campus, just off the southeast corner of 24th and Speedway Streets, about where the O’Donnell Building and the Gates-Dell Complex stand today. As the campus was too hilly for a proper athletic field, UT students “squatted” on the level plot starting in 1897 and used it for football and baseball games, along with inter-class sports contests. Two years later, the University officially purchased the land, and soon after it was named for the much-loved James Clark, UT’s first librarian, groundskeeper, registrar, bursar, academic counselor, and half-a-dozen other things, who was famous for the Christmas Dinners he gave at his expense to the students who couldn’t make it home for the holiday. Clark Field has since migrated about the campus; its third home is just south of the San Jacinto Residence Hall.

The 1897 UT Football Team

Above: The 1897 UT football squad was the first to use the vacant lot east of campus that would become Clark Field.

Initially, UT fans watched the games precariously perched on the 4-inch rail of the wooden fence built to enclose the field. But as University enrollment increased and football and baseball grew in popularity, the uncomfortable rail was abandoned in favor of standing.  When the field was purchased in 1899, a few small bleachers were hastily constructed along the west side that could accommodate a few hundred spectators, but important games were already attracting several thousand fans, most of whom had to stand four or five persons deep along the sidelines. To make sure onlookers didn’t accidentally intrude onto the playing field, a second fence, made of barbed wire, was erected to keep fans off the gridiron. Those standing in front had the best views, but were in danger of being pushed by the crowd into the wire.

The 1907 football season was a great success. The team played eight games, with the first and last against the A&M College of Texas. The opener was scheduled on neutral turf in Dallas as part of the Texas State Fair, but the UT train was delayed five hours because of a wreck on the tracks, and didn’t arrive in Dallas until more than an hour after the scheduled kick-off time. Texas had to hurry to the field, and with no time to warm-up, struggled against the A&M Farmers to a defensive 0 – 0 tie. This left unfinished business to be decided in Austin at the end of the season on Thanksgiving Day.

The only other road trip was a two-game visit to the Universities of Arkansas and Missouri. In Fayetteville, the Longhorns literally faced an uphill battle, as one end of the Arkansas field was 15 feet higher than the other. (The challenge of finding a level plot of land for football certainly wasn’t unique to Austin.) At a time when football games were played in two uninterrupted halves, the Texas offense faced downhill the second half and pulled away for a 26 – 6 win.

Missouri handed Texas its only defeat of the season, winning 5 – 4, but the trip to Mizzou wasn’t a complete loss. Just before the start of the game, Missouri students held a dedication ceremony for a new section of bleachers they had constructed and financed by selling “bleacher badges” around town. The Longhorn squad and the UT students who accompanied them were inspired by the Missouri students to undertake a rather ambitious project of their own: to increase the meager stands at Clark Field with comfortable seating for several thousand, and to complete it in time for the Thanksgiving Day bout against A&M.

Once back in Austin, the University community eagerly embraced the idea, and immediately set about the task of raising funds and drawing plans. The students turned to John Keen, a senior law student who also had construction experience. Keen proposed building 22 movable bleachers that would accommodate 120 persons each. When added to the existing stands, the capacity of Clark Field would be increased substantially to about 3000 seats. In the fall, the stands would be stationed along the east and west sidelines of the football field. Each spring, the east side bleachers would be transported to the north end zone to make room for baseball.

1907.Bleacher Badge

To finance the project, students borrowed an idea from their peers at Missouri and sold white ribbon ”bleacher badges” which bore an orange letter “T” and “Bleachers 1907” underneath. But wanting to do something more, the co-ed students living in the Woman’s Building – UT’s first residence hall for women – created a 3-by-6-foot banner to be auctioned at a University-wide rally. Made of white satin, it featured a bold orange “T” near the top, along with a large gold star, in the middle of which was a Texas football.

1907.Womans Building.Bleacher BannerOn Friday evening, November 15th, an enthusiastic and boisterous crowd assembled in the auditorium of the old Main Building. The group heard rousing speeches from the football team, engineering Dean Thomas Taylor and Professor Harry Benedict. College yells and songs were in abundance, and when the Woman’s Building residents entered with their banner, everyone stood for an extended ovation. “Texas college spirit … once more greets the Longhorns with the old-time cry of confidence and victory,” boasted The Texan student newspaper. As the auction began, bidding was by department, which at the time consisted of three: Law, Engineering and the Academic Department (Arts and Sciences combined).

The Laws opened with a $25 offer that was quickly countered by a $50 bid from the rival Engineers. The auction continued at a rapid pace until the price rose to $300. Interest was intense. Students quickly had to pool their resources to see how much they could afford. The bids continued to rise, albeit more slowly, until the Engineers won with a commitment of $325 to the bleacher fund.

When the rally had finished, 662 badges were sold at 50 cents apiece, and the banner auction had garnered $325 for a total of $656. A $132 contribution from the UT Athletic Association covered extra costs, which made the grand total $788, enough for the lumber and other supplies.

The following Thursday, November 21st, construction on the bleachers began in earnest, as Thanksgiving was only a week away. John Keen had organized the students into work crews by classes from the three departments, who would take turns in half-day shifts. By faculty consent, students involved in the project were excused from their classes that day. Senior engineers were first Thursday morning, Senior Laws took over in the afternoon, Senior Academic students (“Academs”) arrived Friday morning, and then on to the junior, sophomore and freshman classes.

1907.Building Clark Field Stadium

Above: Construction of the bleachers began on Wednesday, November 21st and was completed a week later, in time for the UT vs. A&M football game.

Below: Second year law students finished a section of stands and gave it a test run.

1907.Bleachers.Second Year Law Students.

For the next week, Clark Field was a bee hive of activity. “There was no such thing as loitering,” reported the Austin Daily Statesman. “Everybody working on the run, and an unpleasant surprise awaited anyone who thought he could go down and leisurely watch the work. A hurried and painful application of a plank always decided the leisured one to ‘shuck off’ his vest and ‘get in the game.’ The busy energy and varied costumes (everything from overalls to swell new suits) presented an interesting sight.”

1907 UT AMC.Thanksgiving Football AdIn the meantime, the A&M football team was also having a winning season, and the “Championship of the Southwest” was to be decided at the Thanksgiving Day game. Local newspapers claimed the Aggies were putting in three practices a day, with signal practice in the morning, full contact play in the afternoon after classes, and weight training in the evening.

The bleachers were completed by the following Wednesday, but a heavy rain overnight threatened to ruin all of the students’ plans. Thanksgiving morning, November 28th, Clark Field better resembled an aquatic park. “A great pond stood in the center of the field and another in the south goal, and the corridors were filled with long faces and grave speculations as to what the Farmers would do to us on a sticky field.” The students rallied, recruited volunteers to dig ditches that would drain the water, and then repaired the holes with sand and soil brought in by wheelbarrow. By the 3 o’clock kick-off, the field was in playable condition.

DT.Bleachers Completed.HeadlineAn estimated 5,000 fans attended the game, overwhelmed the bleachers and stood along the sidelines. As a show of good sportsmanship, the A&M supporters were given room in the west side bleachers, which were closer to the field’s main entrance along Speedway. UT students elected to fill the east stands, a seating choice that was passed on to the current stadium and continued for more than a century.

The game was a fierce defensive battle, but the Longhorns ultimately prevailed 11- 6.

Clark Field Entrance.1916.Through the next several years, UT students continued to add and renovate Clark Field. The west stands were covered in 1912, a “press box” built on the roof, and north and south seats were added. More than 18,000 fans attended the 1920 Texas vs. A & M football game, at the time a record crowd for the South.

Left: A colorful rendering of the entrance to Clark Field, at 23rd and Speedway Streets, in 1916. The ticket booths and covered grandstands were all constructed by UT students. Click on the image for a larger view.

250,000 Thank-Yous

UT History Corner.250 Thousand Visitors


Whew! As of yesterday, the UT History Corner has had 250,000 visitors from 104 countries since it opened in May 2012. A sincere “Thank You” goes to everyone who has stopped by to read, look, listen, and explore the history of the University of Texas. I hope you found something interesting and worthwhile!


How to Hang a Turkey


Ah, November! Harbinger of cool, crisp mornings, rusty autumn leaves, and the sweet aroma of fresh pumpkin pie. For UT students, November is a blur of mid-term exams and research projects, interrupted by Longhorn football on weekends. While the spring semester is neatly divided with a week-long pause in the middle, the fall term marches on relentlessly until the much-appreciated Thanksgiving break at the end of the month.

Of course, when Thanksgiving finally arrives, most students can’t wait to evacuate the campus. But not everyone – usually out-of-state or international students – gets to go home for the holiday. Though on-campus residence halls remain open, the break is a holiday for the kitchen staff, and the cafeterias remain closed.


Above: The Beauford T. Jester Center residential complex. On the right is the 14-floor Jester West, while the shorter, 10-floor Jester East is to the left. And take a look at the old-time UT shuttles parked in front – orange and white painted school buses!

In the 1980s, the Divison of Housing and Food wanted to ensure all students living on campus had an opportunity for a traditional Thanksgiving, and served a complete feast about a week before the holiday. The cafeteria in Jester Center, the largest on campus, went all out: table cloths, candles, full turkeys carved by the staff, dressing, plenty of healthy vegetable sides, and pumpkin pie for dessert. The cutouts of pilgrims taped to the windows might have looked a little cheesy, but the effort was appreciated by everyone.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Ad.State Theater

Above: Ad in The Daily Texan – Last night for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre!

One year, the Thanksgiving meal happened to coincide with a dollar movie showing of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the State Theater on Congress Avenue downtown. A holdover from Halloween, it was the final night to see the horror classic.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Movie PosterAmong the freshman residents of the famed 12th floor of Jester West, Sharon – we’ll call her “Sharon” (because that’s her name!) – had recently become a great fan of scary films, but hadn’t yet witnessed the Massacre. After the Thanksgiving dinner, she recruited a couple of friends and went to see the movie.

While Sharon was at the film, a mischievous student (or students) paid a visit to the trash bins behind the Jester Center cafeteria and procured one of the leftover turkey carcasses. The identity of the person has never been discovered, though it’s rumored to have been a resident of the 14th floor, which was then well-known for harboring trouble-makers.

A few hours later, just after 10 p.m., an excited Sharon returned home to the 12th floor, eager to tell her fellow residents about the film. “It was soooo scary!” she declared, “I get goose bumps just thinking about it!”

To hear more, a study break was called, and the group decided to raid the Jester snack bar, a tiny, makeshift store then located on the ground floor. Everyone headed for the elevator lobby as Sharon pushed the call button.

Unbeknownst to anyone, the mystery student who’d acquired the turkey carcass had decided to hang it from the ceiling of one of the Jester Center elevators. As an added touch, a thick, frayed rope was used, and all but one of the fluorescent lights was removed. The remaining bulb was twisted so that the connection was erratic, and the light blinked eerily.

TurkeyDing! The elevator arrived. The door opened, and Sharon was to be the first to step inside. It’s unlikely the prank was intended for Sharon, or that the turkey was hung as a nod to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but the combination of events could not have been brought together any better. The view inside the elevator: what was left of a once noble bird now dangling from a tattered rope, swinging slightly, dripping a little on to the floor, and illuminated by a faint, intermittent light, was a scene from the Massacre come to life. It was too much for Sharon and her goose bumps, who let out a a scream never heard before or since as she sprinted down the hall to the safety of her room.

No more was said to Sharon about the movie that evening, but the eats at the Jester snack bar were fine.


The Great Panty Raid of November 1961

1952 Michigan Daily. Panty RaidIt began with a trumpet. After months of freezing temperatures and snowy skies, University of Michigan students welcomed the first day of spring – March 20, 1952 – basking in sunshine and the comparative warmth of 57 degrees. It was a day to shed jackets, open windows, and stroll outside.

Following dinner that evening, sophomore Art Benford returned to his dorm room, picked up his trumpet, and played a few notes of Glen Miller’s “Serenade in Blue.” It was a chance to relax a bit before starting on the next homework assignment. But Benford soon found himself accompanied by a trombone player in the men’s dorm across the street. Two tubas joined the concert. A stereo speaker blared from a window. Someone owned a portable fog horn. Calls of “Knock it off!” were soon followed by residents exiting both dorms.

Notified of a disturbance, the Ann Arbor Police arrived to find 600 men gathered on Madison Street shouting at each other. But the appearance of the officers turned the students attention away from themselves and toward the police, who, not wanting to provoke anything further, wisely retreated to their car. “Perhaps the breaking of that one taboo – the defiance of the police, unanswered, ” wrote Michigan alumnus James Tobin, “put the crowd in the mood to break more.” Pent up for months after a long winter, the students needed to find an outlet for their energy, but what happened was completely unexpected.

The still-growing mob set off across campus to the women’s residence halls, and, against all University regulations, entered the buildings, went up the stairs, walked through the hallways, then moved on to the next dorm. Coeds were shocked; some filled waste baskets with water and poured them on the intruders from upstairs windows. At Alice Lloyd Hall, the largest of the women’s dorms, the men went one step further, entered bedrooms, and according to The Detroit News, snatched “items of lingerie as souvenirs.”

The crowd returned home two hours later, but it was now the coeds’ turn. A mass of women students marched on the male-dominated Michigan Student Union. Until that evening, it had been a longtime university tradition that no “unaccompanied woman” was allowed to enter the front portal of the Michigan Union, but the defiant girls surged into the entrance, through the building, and on to the men’s dorms next door. “Pandemonium broke loose,” reported The Michigan Daily. Not until Dean of Women Deborah Bacon arrived was order restored.

Though the student newspaper called it a “mass riot,” Dean of Students Erich Walter believed it was simply a “form of spring madness” and passed on any disciplinary measures. But the event received national press, and with it, imitators on other campuses. On April 8th, Penn State experienced a similar episode, as men marched on women’s dorms demanding “underthings” and the girls were happy to oblige. In the last two weeks of May, a pandemic of “campus riots” broke out at more than 50 colleges across the U.S. and Canada, and the panty raid fad was born.


Above: A panty raid  at the University of Southern California.

College administrators hadn’t seen anything quite like it and were utterly unprepared. At the University of South Carolina, a late night panty raid was accompanied by a lone bugler sounding Charge! Columbia University raiders set off firecrackers to cause confusion, those at Duke employed dynamite caps. To slow police response at the University of Miami, students let the air out of the tires of a dozen squad cars. As a proactive measure, the director of women’s housing at Indiana University set out a “barrelful of female undergarments in the hope that the males would help themselves and go home quietly,” while at Iowa State, students declared a “pantry raid” and scoured sorority houses in search of cookies and other eatables. The University of Arkansas football coach, Otis Douglas, tried to “good humor” students out of staging a raid: “If you guys had to worry about beating Texas next year like I do, you wouldn’t be out here.”  Police at the University of Minnesota resorted to tear gas to break up a rowdy mob, but misjudged the wind direction and accidently gassed themselves. And when more than 2,000 University of Missouri men marched and sang on their way to sorority row – the third target of a panty raid that evening – the police chief of the town of Columbia realized his 22-man force needed assistance. Near midnight, Missouri Governor Forrest Smith was wakened, told of the situation, and authorized the use of the National Guard, though by the time the Guard mustered, the students had spent their energy and returned home.

While the actions of the men received most of attention, in almost all cases the women assisted. They unlocked the doors to the dorms and sorority houses, cheered from upstairs windows, and sometimes defended their would-be raiders from the police. When 600 men at Columbia University besieged the residence hall of the all-female Barnard College next door, hundreds of coeds “waved undies from their windows and tossed water-filled bags as Columbia males fought with police.” Barnard’s dean, Millicent McIntosh, believed the women deserved an equal amount of the blame: “The Columbia boys could not be dispersed by the police because of the continued encouragement given them by the girls.”

At the University of Texas, only days after Dean of Women Dorothy Gebauer declared, “I’m sure our boys are too much of gentlemen to indulge in such antics,” the campus experienced its first bout of “Panty Raid Fever.” On the evening of Thursday, May 22, 1952, in the middle of spring finals, “a milling, mooing crowd of male animals shifted leaderless from various girls dorms and sorority houses” until 3 a.m. the next morning. The group of several hundred students was deterred by a coalition of Austin and University police, UT football players hastily recruited as bouncers, the sprinkler system in front of the Scottish Rite Dormitory, and a stern talk from Arno Nowotny, the venerated Dean of Student Life. Though the raiders went home empty-handed, future efforts would prove more successful.

Phone Booth StuffingMedia reports of the new “college craze” triggered responses that ranged from amused to horrified. Some thought panty raids were in line with the pre-World War II student fads of goldfish swallowing and flagpole sitting (and the soon-to-be 1950’s fad: telephone booth stuffing). “The nationwide rash of college boys in coed dormitories,” wrote Pulitzer-prize-winning columnist Hal Boyle, “strikes a cheerful and zany note in a mad and angry world.” While “blue-nosed gentry will surely see this as a new sign of moral decadence . . . [the panty raids] restore my faith in youth and higher education.” Boyle added that sometimes “college boys have to erupt and show they are something more than tame receptacles to be stuffed with stale knowledge. Just because they are working for sheepskins is no sign they enjoy the life of sheep.”

Photo above: One of Joe Munroe’s iconic photographs of the phone-stuffing fad in the late 1950s, this one at St. Mary’s College in Moraga,California. Click image for a larger view.

Sergeant Carlton Rutledge of the U.S. Army, a then participant in the American military action in Korea, strongly disagreed. In a letter to the editor published in the New York Times, Rutledge claimed to have read accounts of panty raids in Stars and Stripes. “What kind of young men are growing up in our country – the leading nation in the world, standing for democracy, civilization and refinement? . . . It was only a year or two ago that the papers back home were full of discussions on how to exempt these young morons from the draft so they might continue their education and become better men for our country.” Rutledge was direct: “My opinion is that such young whelps be drafted at once, given a rough training and sent to the front lines, to help there until the fighting has finished. . . I consider anyone who is so low as to act in the manner I read should have nothing less than a horse whipping.”

Bloomer Sooner.May 31.1952.As the school year ended across the country, so did the outburst of panty raids, which gave college deans and presidents time to act – or perhaps to overreact. New rules were created. Some students received warnings, others suspended, and a few were expelled outright. Two football players at the University of Oklahoma were dismissed for leading a raid on the women’s dorms, and newspaper headlines soon declared “Bloomer Sooner.” As a last resort (perhaps taking a cue from Sergeant Rutledge), the military draft was threatened. At Whittier College in California, the dean of students warned that the local draft board chairman would “try to draft any man involved in any panty raid.”

College newspapers sided with campus authorities and called the raids absurd, but were against the harsh penalties directed at a few students. “The responsibility of the raids is a collective matter and cannot be laid at specific individuals,” said The Minnesota Daily.  At UCLA, The Daily Bruin proposed that “book raids” in the library ought to replace the desire for panties with a passion for knowledge. In Austin, The Daily Texan dubbed the panty raiders “bloomer bandits,” applauded the police and football team who “quelled immature actions by a few students,” but joined other newspapers in “resisting the totalitarian edicts issued from college officials. . . . A student’s whole life is altered by dismissal from an institution for participation in a panty raid.”


UT Panty Raid.1962What happened? While student shenanigans have been a part of campus life for centuries, what was behind the panty raid? Some, like Dean Walter at Michigan, dismissed it as a case of spring fever on a grand scale. While there was an occasional broken window or damaged furniture, the raids were, for the most part, college fun: mischievous at times, not malicious. But they also had an undercurrent of real rebellion. Those who study such things have proposed that the students of the 1950s were challenging the concept of the university as in loco parentis – “in place of a parent” – the idea that a college should look after its students as if it were a legal guardian, setting limits in the form of dress codes, curfews, and so on. The post-war generation of the 1950s thought many of the rules outdated and irrelevant.  At UT, women were still required to wear dresses or skirts to class. Jeans were taboo, as were shorts. Coeds who had changed for P.E. classes in their dorm rooms had to cover up with trench coats as they crossed the campus on their way to the gym, or risk getting into trouble with the Dean of Women. Most girls thought the rule was pointless. Panty raids, then, provided an excuse to rail against the old-fashioned confines, and foreshadowed the more substantial social upheavals of the 1960s.


For the next year, panty raids were in short supply, likely deterred by the threat of expulsion or reminders that Americans were fighting in Korea. But after the Korean Armistice was signed in July, 1953, student antics didn’t seem so inappropriate. While the 1952 outburst was never repeated, panty raids were a regular campus feature for another 15 years, though they were always controversial.

UT Panty Raid.AAS.1956.05.03A little after midnight on Thursday, May 3, 1956, a group of 40 to 50 members of UT’s Kappa Sigma fraternity stormed the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority house on University Avenue (where it is today). “They came from everywhere” said housemother Lucy Worthley. The men had brought paint ladders to gain access to the roof, and then entered through a window near the head of the stairs. Once inside, the front door was unlocked for others so as “to enter the house in one quick move.” Police were summoned. Two fraternity members were arrested, but later released, as they had appointments to meet with the Dean of Students the following morning. But the raid was a successful one. According to the Austin Statesman, “The known loss consisted of 13 pairs of nylon panties, four silk slips, three bras and eight pairs of socks.” Kappa Sigma, though, was required to make reparations with the girls.

1956 SMU Panty Raid.Panty raids persisted through the rest of the decade, but were often unpredictable, and campus administrators had to be creative with their responses. Cal-Berkeley experienced its first spring “uprising” on a hot afternoon in 1956, when a mass water fight between dorms turned in to a panty raid that involved 2,000 men and an equal number of coeds. A power outage in Huntsville, Texas interrupted study at Sam Houston State University, and without anything else to do, a panty raid was rumored. Quick-thinking President Harmon Lowman called out the university band and organized a pep rally in the middle of campus, which kept the students occupied until electricity was restored. A group of University of Michigan coeds staged a “reverse raid,” showed up en masse in front of a men’s dorm and chanted, “We want shorts!” The men complied by tossing garments out of windows. At Texas Tech, 250 masked students launched a panty raid to protest the formation of an emergency faculty committee dedicated to “hold down panty raids.” As United Press International reported, “The male students had little trouble in gaining access to the women’s dorms. The girls opened the doors for them and invited them in.”

Photo above: Sorority sisters of Zeta Tau Alpha dumped water-filled pots to slow would-be raiders at Southern Methodist University.

By the late 1950s, panty raids had evolved away from the potentially destructive entering of women’s residences to wooing the ladies from outside. Groups of men sang and chanted, and hoped to be rewarded by lingerie dropped from windows. As part of the fun, a co-ed might write her first name and a telephone number on the inside of an undergarment, and the gentleman who acquired the prize was obligated to return it by way of a blind date


It was a quiet, unusually warm Thursday evening in Austin on November 2, 1961. Just after 11 p.m., a fire ignited in a trash bin next to Moore-Hill Hall, which then housed UT athletes. Though the blaze was self-contained, because it was next to a residence hall, the city fire department erred on the side of caution and sent eight trucks to extinguish the flames. With such a commotion, the denizens of Moore-Hill, along with the men of Brackenridge, Roberts, and Prather Halls across the street, poured out of the dorms. The fire was easily doused, but once the students were outside and away from their books, they weren’t all that motivated to return. Instead, the group decided to take a study break and pay a friendly visit to the women’s dorms.

Setting off around the back side of Gregory Gym, the crowd continued to swell.  Students from the petroleum and chemical engineering buildings on the East Mall (today’s Rappaport and Schoch Buildings) joined the ranks, reinforcements came from the central library then housed in the Main Building, and still more as the group passed by the Texas Union. When the mob arrived at last in front of Kinsolving Residence Hall, some 2,500 to 3,000 men were chanting, “We want panties!”

Daily Texan.Panty Raid Headline

Above: Headline of The Daily Texan on November 3, 1961.

The coeds of Kinsolving smiled, giggled, and waved from their windows, but only one pair of panties was tossed from a third story window. The crowd changed tactics. Instead of the direct approach, the men began to serenade the ladies with The Eyes of Texas. This didn’t work either, and not wanting to waste the evening, the group moved across the street to try their luck at Blanton.

1961 Panty Raid.Littlefield DormBlanton residents were more cooperative. A single pair of undergarments appeared, quickly followed by “an airdrop of flimsies which rallied the troops.” The men below chanted and sang, and some would-be Romeos attempted to scale the second floor railings.

By now, the entire University Police force, along with 12 additional officers of the Austin Police, had arrived to break-up the proceedings. The crowd, though, was far too large, and the best the authorities could do was to keep everyone moving. The police charged. The longhorns stampeded. North to the Scottish Rite Dorm, where the girls were instructed to lower their window shades, and sprinklers were turned on to flood the lawn. West to the sorority houses and some limited success, and then back to the campus. At Andrews residence hall, some of the girls went up to the sun deck to “greet their worshippers.” Before long, even the statue of Diana the Huntress, in the center of the women’s quad, was sporting the latest in female lingerie.

Photo above: UT men climb the walls of the Littlefield residence hall (not recommended!) during the November 1961 panty raid.

1961 Panty  Raid.Longhorns Stampede

Above: The police charged. The longhorns stampeded.

“Why aren’t you taking part?” a UT student asked a police officer. “Just too old,” was the overheard reply.

Dean of Student Life Arno Nowotny arrived on the scene, collected Blanket Tax cards by the handful, and set up appointments for their owners to retrieve them the following morning. The cards, which proved students had paid their campus fees, were required to gain entrance to UT sporting events, especially football games.

“The riot ebbed and flowed from dorm to dorm for two scream-filled hours,” reported The Daily Texan. It wasn’t until well after midnight that the last cry of “We want panties!” was heard.

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.”