The Texas Toboggan Team

Tobbagan.1905 Cactus

Snow! Sleet! Freezing rain! Words not normally included in an Austin weather forecast. Now and then, Old Man Winter manages a quick visit this far south, and the locals are treated to rare and wondrous sights: snowmen on the South Mall, icicles hanging from the Littlefield Fountain, snowball fights on the Drag, and on one occasion, a toboggan crammed with UT students rocketing across the campus.

The opening days of February 1905 were unusually chilly ones for most of the nation. A strong Arctic cold front delivered frosty temperatures and a blanket of snow that extended as far south as New Orleans. Highs in Memphis, Tennessee hovered in the teens, and a build-up of ice on the Mississippi River made navigation so dangerous that river traffic was closed outright.

Snow.Old Main.

Above: Snow on the Forty Acres. A view of what would one day be the South Mall looking toward the Victorian Gothic old Main Building, where the UT Tower stands today. 

Austin was spared the worst, but didn’t entirely miss out on the party. The front arrived midday on Thursday, February 2nd, with a frigid wind and a steady, soaking drizzle. Temperatures continued to fall through the day on Friday, and the drizzle changed to freezing rain, then sleet, and finally snow. By Saturday, February 4th, the entire city was encased in a sheet of ice. The much-publicized brick paving of Congress Avenue was suspended at Fifth Street, buggy drivers on the treacherous roads didn’t know how to control their horses, a firewood shortage caused some to brave the elements and collect short-term supplies in the woods outside of town, and the fabled Moonlight Towers went unlit, which left much of the city in darkness.

Despite the miserable conditions, UT students dutifully arrived for their 9 a.m. Saturday morning classes. (At the time, classes met six days a week.) But the stubborn chill had seeped into the hallways and classrooms of the old Main Building, and with temperatures stuck in the low 20s, the University’s feeble heating plant simply wasn’t up to the task. After two hours of frigid lectures and complaints from a frozen faculty, President William Prather relented, officially dismissed classes, and closed the University. Just over 1,000 college students suddenly had a free Saturday and an ice-covered hilltop at their disposal. What happened next was inevitable.

AAS.1905.02.05.Toboggan Headline

Above: The 1905 headline from the Austin Daily Statesman.

Law student Bill “Mogul” Robinson took the lead. The popular blond-haired football star hailed from Missouri. Upon his arrival in Texas, it was rumored that he “broke maidens’ hearts unintentionally and athletic records on purpose.” Robinson found an empty wooden cracker box, and after a few tries, succeeded in coasting down the hill east of Old Main to the doors of B. Hall, the men’s dorm. Fellow students were eager to get in on the fun, but Austin’s stores weren’t exactly well-stocked with winter sports gear. Since traditional sleds were scarce, other objects were pressed into service. Chairs were surreptitiously robbed of their legs and the remnants used as sliding seats. Soap boxes, planks, wash tubs, and even a table from the B. Hall cafeteria were sent careening down the glassy hillside overloaded with boisterous students. “The University turned a cold, freezing day into a hill-sliding jubilee,” declared the Austin Daily Statesman, which dubbed the spectacle “The Great Frolic.”

Constrained by the social mores of the time, sledding for women was decidedly “unladylike” and strongly discouraged by Mrs. Helen Marr Kirby, the Dean of Women. Most co-eds remained indoors and watched from upstairs windows. A few dared to try and “skate” along the Peripatos — or “Perip” — as the walkway that encircled the campus was called. Two girls were seen pulling a third along in a box with ropes. “Several falls resulted,” reported The Texan student newspaper, but quickly assured, “always when out of sight of anyone.”

Snow Old Main. West Side view from the Womans Building

Above: The west side of a snow-covered old Main Building, seen from an upper floor in the Woman’s Building. The large north wing (on the left) housed the University Library on the first floor, and a 1,500 seat auditorium directly above.

Of course, boxes, chairs, and tables weren’t intended to be used as sleds, and didn’t last long. Within a few hours, the base of the slope was cluttered with debris, and better resembled “the remnants of a box house that had been hit by a Kansas cyclone.” But by then, the crowd had discovered better adventures. The footpath that led from Old Main to the southeast corner of the campus (where the McCombs School is today) was longer and more challenging. Turning and twisting between trees, and crossing campus drives, the rider had to be sure of his steering in order to avoid a collision and make it all the way to the corner of 21st Street and Speedway.

By late afternoon, a group of engineering students had cobbled together what they claimed was a makeshift toboggan (really an extended wooden sled) that provided room for up to a dozen riders at a time. With a mighty push from the top, the ponderous sled quickly built up speed, jumped the roads and flew down the hill. The front rider, hunched over and head first, controlled the rails and was responsible for navigation. Engineering Dean Thomas Taylor complimented his engineering students on their ingenuity and took a few rides on the sled himself. As the sun set, a lantern was placed at the head of the toboggan, and the fun continued well into the night. “The lantern, running across the campus at such a speed and as evenly as though borne along by the hands of some unseen spirit, was an object of great interest,” declared The Texan.

Bill Mogul RobinsonThere were a few casualties — nothing serious — but among them was the redoubtable “Mogul” Robinson. (Photo at left.) He was one of the first to try the longer path, flat on his belly on a cracker box, with his feet dragging behind to act as rudders. But as the box gained momentum on the ice, the toes of his shoes were less able to steer or brake. About half way down the hill, Robinson collided with a campus tree. The box tumbled to one side and a stunned Mogul rolled to the other.

At that moment, 14 members of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority witnessed the incident from their premises, a two-story house across the street with an unobstructed view of the Forty Acres. All of them were, secretly or otherwise, smitten with the football star. When the box and its passenger hit the tree, 13 of the girls fainted with their Mogul. The last, Mary Willis Stedman, wrote a fictional account of the incident that appeared the following month in the University of Texas Magazine. Titled, “A Woman’s Heart,” it was the tale of a callous, frigid co-ed who at last discovered her feelings, but only after her beau, a student athlete named John Berkeley, died in her arms after a campus sledding accident:

Mary Willis Stedman“The impenetrable shadow was gone from her eyes; instead there burned the ineffably tender light in the eyes of a woman who loves — John Berkeley, never to know, gone from human ken, had mastered her, and there had awakened the woman’s heart.”

Stedman (photo at right) had altered the names and made no mention of the University or Austin. No matter. It fooled no one, least of all classmate Huling Robertson.

Huling RobertsonRobertson, a fellow football player and baseball captain, was described as “smart as four kinds of paint, sarcastic, satirical,” and would go on to earn a law degree at Yale. He was on the hill, saw Mogul’s wild ride, read the mushy fictional account in the magazine, and in response decided to pen his own version.

 

 

 

In the columns of the weekly Texan newspaper, Robertson waxed poetic:

For surely a glimpse of his flaxen locks
Gliding down in his cracker box
Could not have caused a wish that he
Might go afoul against a tree.
And thus a chance to show the world
That even a cold, emotionless girl,
If once she meet the turtle dove,
Hers is the truest, deepest love.

Robertson added:

But wouldn’t a better ending be
That he was feigning injury?
And when to the rescue she had come
And beside him bending low,
Had raised his head out from the snow
And whispered to her so,
“Oh, by Gum!”

 

Tobbagan.1905 Cactus.2

400,000 Visitors and Countin’!

UT Campus Aerial.1938

Time again for a bunch of Thank Yous! Interest in last month’s 60th anniversary of the “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign set a record with over 6,000 shares on Facebook and gave the web site a thorough work out. As of today, the UT History Corner has passed the 400,000 visitor mark. Thanks to everyone who has dropped  by to take a gander at this little nook on the internet. I hope you found something worthwhile.

Sincerely,

Jim

 

Remembering Old B. Hall at 125

This month marks the 125th anniversary of UT’s first residence hall.

B Hall Color Postcard

 “You may tear down the Alamo, but never B. Hall!” – B. Hall Alumni Association

In the storied annals of Texas history, few places could ever compete with the spirit and lore of the Alamo. But for a select group of students who lived on the University of Texas campus from 1890-1926, the Alamo took a back seat to B. Hall.

Nestled on the eastern slope of the Forty Acres, within earshot of the ivy-draped old Main Building, Brackenridge Hall, or simply, “B. Hall,” was the University’s first residence hall. Opened December 1, 1890, it was intended to be an anonymous, unceremonious gift, a low-cost building to provide cheap housing for male students. But the gift of B. Hall grew to be much more.  For decades, the hall and its residents were central to campus life. A stronghold of student leadership, the birthplace of UT traditions, championed as a bastion of “Jeffersonian Democracy,” the hall sheltered future Rhodes Scholars, professors, philosophers, lawyers, physicians, state and national lawmakers, U. S. ambassadors, college presidents, a governor of Puerto Rico, and a Librarian of Congress. For a time the hall became so well-known nationally that letters addressed simply to “B. Hall, Texas,” were known to reach their destination. When it was finally razed in the 1950s, the legacy of the hall wasn’t simply a building and its donor. The gift that was B. Hall rested with the indelible contributions its residents had made to the University, and, later, to the world.

Ashbel SmithDormitories were not originally planned for the University. Ashbel Smith, the first chair of the Board of Regents (photo at left), was flatly opposed to them. “It is even worse than a pure waste of money. Nor should there be a college commons where students eat in mess. Experience is decisive on these points.” By experience, Smith knew of the raucous student rebellions that had plagued Harvard and Princeton and left their dorms in shambles, and of a violent incident at the University of Virginia in which a professor was shot and killed. All of these events involved young men housed together on the campus, which left many college authorities hesitant to build dorms. Cornell’s first president, Andrew White, hoped the hometown citizens of Ithaca, New York would provide room and board. White wrote in 1866, “Large bodies of students collected in dormitories often arrive at a degree of turbulence which small parties, gathered in the houses of citizens, seldom if ever reach.” Manasseh Cutler, a Massachusetts botanist who helped to settle Ohio and found Ohio University, was more direct: “Chambers in colleges are too often made the nurseries of every vice and cages of unclean birds.”

Old Main.1890

Above: In 1889, only two-thirds of the old Main Building was completed. The two children in the front are sitting among bluebonnets about where Sutton Hall is today.

As the University of Texas opened for its seventh academic year in the fall of 1889, enrollment exceeded 300 students for the first time, with almost two thirds of them men. As there was no campus housing, most students found room and board in private homes around Austin for about $25 per month. Additional costs included an annual matriculation fee of $10, a $5 library deposit, and the purchase of textbooks. Tuition for in-state students didn’t yet exist, so that a year at UT could easily be had for less than $300.

That might sound inexpensive, but the cost of living in Austin was too high for many college-aged youth in Texas. At the time, almost 90% of the state’s population was classified as rural, struggling against the Southern agricultural depression of the late 1880s. Poverty conditions were widespread among the farms and ranches of Texas, where eggs brought in just two cents per dozen, cotton netted four cents a pound, and a healthy steer earned five to eight dollars. Young men raised in these conditions, known as the “poor boys” of the state, sought a way out, and looked to the University as a promising opportunity for social mobility.

When the Board of Regents convened in February 1890, George Brackenridge, a wealthy San Antonio banker and University regent, offered up to $17,000 to build an economical residence hall for the state’s poor boys. He preferred to keep his donation anonymous and requested the building be named “University Hall.” His fellow regents, though, wanted to encourage a similar gift for a dormitory for women, and persuaded the reluctant donor to allow the building to be named for him. (They did, though it was from Brackenridge again.) Students would later shorten the name from Brackenridge Hall to simply “B. Hall.”

B Hall Original.1890

Above: The original B. Hall, opened in 1890. The house down the hill to the right sat along Speedway Street and would today be in the middle of the East Mall.

Completed on December 1, 1890, the original hall was a plain, no-frills structure, made from pressed yellow brick and limestone trim. Four stories tall, with simple bay windows and two front doors facing west, it better resembled a pair of low-cost city townhouses adrift on the Texas prairie.
1899 Cactus.Campus from 21st and Guadalupe

Above: The Forty Acres in the 1890s as seen from 21st and Guadalupe Streets. Old Main is in the middle of the campus, with B. Hall to the right.

Initially, Brackenridge Hall housed 48 men and could accommodate more than 100 persons in its ground floor restaurant, which doubled as the first campus-wide eatery. Rent was initially set at $2.50 per month for a room, and meals could be had for less than $10 monthly, half the usual cost of living in Austin by half.

1892 B Hall Menu

Above: The B. Hall menu for Thanksgiving Day, 1892. Check out the prices and the inside jokes with the quotations. Source: UT Memorabilia Collection, Box 4P158, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

A decade after it opened – thanks to another donation from George Brackenridge – the hall was renovated and expanded to house 124 students. Wings were added on the north and south ends, an open community room was built  above the top floor, and towers, turrets, and a red tin roof helped to improve its humble facade.

B Hall Color

Above: In 1899, wings were added to the north and south sides of original building.

B. Hall provided young men in Texas with limited finances the opportunity to attend the University. Many of them were the sons of pioneers, born in log cabins and raised with few luxuries. Practical, self-motivated, and individualistic, all of them were poor. Often equipped with a single change of clothes, some would ride into Austin on horseback, sell their horses, and use the money to help pay for a year’s stay. Almost all held part-time jobs while they were students.

What the hall’s residents lacked in pocket change, they more than made up for in character. From the Texas range they brought with them the best attributes of frankness and determination, and their shared economic status provided them with a common motivation. With limited opportunities to attend school in rural Texas, many had no high school diplomas. They had to prepare themselves for college-level classes and were conditionally admitted through examination. Ages varied from 18 to just over 30.

Sometimes shunned by more affluent UT students, the occupants of B. Hall developed their own fraternal, close-knit community. Academics were taken seriously. Most of the honors students, along with the University’s first Rhodes Scholars, lived in the hall. Professors were frequent guests for dinner and often stayed for the post meal “pow-wow,” held in the dining hall or in the shade on the east side of the building. For an hour or so at dusk each evening, faculty and students engaged in a lively conversation on current affairs, campus issues, or academic topics. “The student that missed the daily pow-wow,” wrote one B. Hall alumnus, “never knew what University life at its fullest really meant.”

B.Hall.1904.Engineering Roommates

Above: Two engineering roommates in B. Hall.

Strong friendships developed between the hall’s residents, as mutual support was always encouraged, and sometimes required. The University’s first visually impaired students lived in B. Hall, among them Olan Van Zandt, who graduated from the Texas School for the Blind to enroll in the law school. None of the texts were written in braille, and recordings weren’t available. Instead, Olan’s fellow denizens spent untold hours reading to him and reviewing torts, contracts, and equity.  Van Zandt graduated with honors and went on to serve in the Texas Legislature: four sessions in the House, and another four sessions in the Senate.

Eyes of Texas First VersionAlong with classes, B. Hall occupants took an active part in UT affairs, voted for themselves in student elections, and were recognized as campus leaders. Their contributions to the University were many and long lasting. The origins of The Eyes of Texas, Texas Taps (“Texas Fight”), student government, The Daily Texan, UT’s first celebration of Texas Independence Day, the Longhorn Band, and even the purchase of the steer that became the longhorn mascot Bevo are all connected to B. Hall. Three of the hall’s alumni: Dr. Harry Benedict, the first alumnus to be appointed UT president; Dr. Gene Schoch, a noted chemical engineering professor who founded the Longhorn Band; and Arno Nowonty, the immensely popular Dean of Student Life, have campus buildings named for them.

Above left: The original lyrics of The Eyes of Texas, written on a scrap of laundry paper in room 203 of B. Hall by John Lang Sinclair.

1901 Cactus.Varsity Band

Above: In 1900, Gene Schoch purchased 16 musical instruments at a downtown Austin pawn shop, and then recruited a group of B. Hall residents to form what is today the Longhorn Band.

While most college dorms were heavily supervised by campus administrators, UT officials allowed the hall’s denizens to largely manage themselves. While there was a hired steward to look after finances, the students created their own B. Hall Association, wrote a constitution and by-laws, and enacted their own regulations. A suit and tie was required dress for all meals, musical instruments could only be played between 1-2 pm. and 5-7:30 p.m., and card playing was expressly prohibited.

Rusty Cusses.1908

Above: The Rustic Order of Ancient and Honorable Rusty Cusses was a very non-serious social club of B. Hall men who hailed from farms and ranches around Texas. Several campus organizations were born within the confines of B. Hall, including the Texas Cowboys and the Tejas Club.

That doesn’t mean life in the hall was all serious business. With little money for entertainment, the hall’s occupants often had to create their own diversions, and a favorite pastime was staging elaborate practical jokes.  One student discovered he was a great voice impersonator and, pretending to be University President Sidney Mezes, called professors and instructed them to “be at my house tonight at 8 to discuss a serious matter.” Harried faculty members showed up unexpectedly at Dr. Mezes’ front door. Another B. Haller physically masqueraded as the UT president and registered most of the freshmen with fake papers, which resulted in a very interesting first day of class. A lost donkey was led into the women’s dorm as a late night gift on Halloween. In search of a new morning wake-up alarm, some hall residents “borrowed” a bell from the Fulmore School in South Austin. When a few B. Hallers tricked the Texas Legislature into officially inviting a world famous pianist to the State Capitol to “sing” his most famous piece, the incident created national headlines. As Engineering Dean Thomas Taylor, a regular guest at the hall, once remarked, “Barely a week passed by that some freakish cuss did not spring something entirely original, and not half of it ever got into the newspapers or magazines.” Many of the antics became legendary and the stories were passed along to succeeding generations of students.

After graduation, when the “poor boys” of B. Hall had completed their hard won degrees, they set out to make to the most of their education. Along with an impressive list of professors, lawyers, judges, authors, state legislators, engineers, and physicians, the alumni roster included a Librarian of Congress, a governor of Puerto Rico, multiple U.S. ambassadors,  Morris Sheppard and Ralph Yarborough as U.S. Senators, and Sam Rayburn as Speaker of the House.

Most of the alumni maintained a lifelong, cherished attachment to the hall, often visited when they were in Austin, and were welcome guests. Prodded by the current occupants to tell stories of the “old times,” alumni shared their UT adventures, along with their experiences after graduation, and in the process inspired the generation of students.

B. Hall from Main Building.1945By the 1920s, as University enrollment surpassed 4,000 students, B. Hall was still the only on campus men’s dorm. Though it was no longer a designated refuge for the “poor boys” of the state, it was still less expensive than other housing options and in high demand. The hall’s popularity meant that most rooms went to upperclassmen or older students, who were solid academically and already involved as campus leaders.

 

Above left: Where on campus was B. Hall? This photo, taken from the Tower observation deck in the 1940s, shows the hall straddled what today is the East Mall. Immediately behind the building is Waggener Hall and Gregory Gym, with the stadium in the upper left.

However, the building itself was in the way of future campus development. In 1925, the Board of Regents decided that B. Hall was too close to Garrison Hall – then under construction – to remain a dormitory. Garrison was to be a co-ed classroom building. According to the regent’s minutes, “young women should not be required to attend classes in full view of the bedrooms of men, particularly in a dormitory where freedom in matters of clothing is well-known.” Alumni of the hall loudly protested, organized into a formal B. Hall Alumni Association, and threatened legal action. (The Association’s president was, appropriately, Walter Hunnicutt, the composer of the “Texas Fight!” song.) Before the situation became too tense, University officials and alumni settled on a compromise: the current B. Hall could be re-purposed if a new Brackenridge Hall was built on a more appropriate site.

The hall was closed in 1926, renovated, and served, among other things, as the first home of the School of Architecture until it moved into more spacious quarters at Goldsmith Hall. In 1932, a new Brackenridge residence hall was formally dedicated on 21st Street.

Brackenridge Dorm.1930s.

Above: A new Brackenridge Hall was opened in 1932, just south of Gregory Gym.

B Hall was finally razed in 1952 to clear the way for the East Mall. As it was being demolished, the contractor did his best to satisfy the many requests from alumni for specific bricks, doors, floorboards, and other pieces of the building. Former Austin Mayor Walter Long also ensured that some parts of the hall were kept and preserved by the University. One of those pieces, a decorative pediment from the roof, spent decades in storage at the Pickle Research Center, but has been restored and is now on display in Jester Center, just outside the auditorium.

B Hall Pediment.

Above: it’s still possible to see a piece of old B. Hall. A decade ago, the author discovered a decorative piece from the building in a warehouse at UT’s Pickle Research Center in north Austin, sitting on top of a pile of dusty boxes that contained the clock from the old Main Building (upper left). Thanks to funding from the UT Division of Housing and Food and the Texas Exes, the six foot tall piece was restored and is now hanging in Jester Center (above center), complete with a story board. The piece comes from the top floor of B. Hall (upper right, highlighted in brown).

1900. B Hall from Speedway

The University’s First Thanksgiving

UT Campus.Mid 1890s.

Above: The University of Texas campus in the early 1890s, seen from the corner of 21st and Guadalupe Streets. An unpaved Guadalupe runs along the bottom of the image. On the campus, from left: the Chemistry Labs (where the biological ponds are today); two-thirds of the old Main Building, not completed until 1899; and old B. Hall (near the present day intersection of Inner Campus Drive and the East Mall). The campus was surrounded by a wooden fence to keep out the town cows.

Thanksgiving has always been on the University calendar. A national holiday since 1863, celebrated on the last Thursday in November, the Board of Regents has dutifully ordered a suspension of classes for the day since UT opened in 1883. At the time, the University followed the quarter system. The fall quarter usually started in mid-September and classes were held six days a week (Monday-Wednesday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday). Thanksgiving was the first opportunity for a break in the academic routine, though it only lasted a day. Classes resumed on Friday.

Students from Austin spent the day with their families. Out-of-towners either took the train home if it wasn’t too far, or celebrated together at their boarding houses or local restaurants. For its first seven years, UT had no residence or dining halls; the Forty Acres was a quiet, lonely place on Thanksgiving.

B Hall Original.1890On December 1, 1890, the University opened Brackenridge Hall – known on campus simply as “B. Hall.” A $17,000 donation from San Antonio Regent George Brackenridge, the building (photo at left) was intended to be temporary and provide inexpensive housing for the state’s poor boys, who otherwise couldn’t afford to come to Austin and attend the University. A no frills structure, built from yellow pressed brick and limestone trim, it better resembled a pair of city slum houses adrift on the Texas prairie. Rent for a room was $2.50 per month. Expanded and improved a decade later, B. Hall became legendary. A stronghold of student leadership, the Hall was the birthplace of many UT traditions and campus organizations, including: the Longhorn Band, The Daily Texan, Student Government, The Eyes of Texas, Texas Cowboys, and the Tejas Club.

While the upper floors were student rooms, the ground floor of the hall housed a restaurant. Designed to accommodate more than 100 patrons, it was also the University’s first campus-wide eatery. Outfitted with oak tables and chairs, tablecloths, heavy china plates and bowls, utensils, and glassware, each table was provided with salt and pepper shakers, sugar, cream, and a porcelain pitcher filled with water. A popular prank was to add a few minnows from Waller Creek to a pitcher. Waiters, usually B. Hall residents working their way through school, delivered meals from a fully stocked and staffed kitchen on the north side of the hall. Food was modestly priced. A student could eat well for $5.00 per month.

B. Hall.1890s

Above: B. Hall residents assemble for a group portrait in the 1890s.

AAS.1891.11.26.University Thanksgiving HeadlineThe following year, November 26, 1891, the first Thanksgiving Day meal was served in B. Hall. As most of the residents were too poor to afford a train ticket home, the hall’s steward, Harry Beck, had a feast prepared and a special menu printed on 4 ½ x 7 inch cards. Though the menu has not survived, it was published in the Austin Statesman.

B Hall.1891 Thanksgiving Menu

Above: The menu for the first Thanksgiving Day feast served on the Forty Acres, re-typed from an issue of the Austin Statesman. (The original version, found on microfilm, was difficult to read.)  B. Hall Steward Harry Beck had some fun with the listings. Do you recognize everything?

  • ConsommeA flavored, clear broth soup.
  • Oleaginous Porcine with Apple Sauce“Oleaginous” is a word for “greasy,” while “Porcine” is to resemble a pig. This is really roast pork with apple sauce.
  • Crushed Hiberian SpudsHiberia is an island off the coast of Ireland. These are mashed Irish potatoes.
  • Baked Convolvulus BatatasA botanical reference to sweet potatoes.
  • Punk-In-PiYou guessed it. Pumpkin Pie.

At 1 p.m. in the afternoon, about 55 hungry UT students, mostly B. Hall residents and a few others, enjoyed a full Thanksgiving Dinner. According to several accounts, “all spoke in praise of the excellent fare.” A round of speeches and toasts followed the feast, including a special tribute for Harry Beck. “He was warmly cheered by the boys and his sentiments of friendship were greatly appreciated by them.” The festivities continued through most of the afternoon.

Our “Hook ’em” Hand Sign is 60!!

Harley Clark. 2013 Gone to Texas. Marsha Miller

Above: Harley Clark, flashing the Hook ‘em Horns hand sign at the 2013 Gone To Texas freshman convocation. Harley passed away in October 2014. Photo by Marsha Miller

1955FootballScheduleHarley Clark loved to tell the story. It was the second week of November, 1955, and the University of Texas football team, “high on brain power, but low on brute force,” was preparing for an important contest against the 6th ranked TCU Horned Frogs. The game was to be played in Austin on Saturday afternoon, November 12th, at the usual 2 p.m. kick-off.

The UT squad hadn’t fared all that well. Though Memorial Stadium had just been outfitted with lights and night games were played for the first time, the team was 4-4 overall and 3-3 in the Southwest Conference. But league front runner Texas A&M was on probation for recruiting violations and not eligible for post-season play. If Texas could pull a mighty upset over TCU and then win out, the Longhorns would spend New Year’s Day at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

The week before the game, Texas fans did all they could to support the team. Signs were hung on the Texas Union. Impromptu football rallies were held almost every night in front of Hill Hall (later expanded to Moore-Hill), the residence for most of the athletes. The red candle tradition was employed. First used in 1941 to “hex” the Texas Aggies, candles burned brightly in store windows along the Drag, in offices downtown, and in homes all over Austin. Local businesses found it difficult to keep red candles in stock.

Harley Clark for Head Yell Leader

Above: To campaign for the Head Yell Leader spot, Harley distributed cards that fellow students pinned on their shirts.

At the center of all this activity was Harley Clark, who’d been elected Head Yell Leader in a campus-wide election the previous April. In the 1950s, the position was highly prized. The Head Yell Leader was responsible for the health and well-being of the Texas Longhorn spirit, and Harley took the assignment seriously.

~~~~~~~~~~

Harley Clark.Head CheerleaderA government major, Harley and his trademark crew cut was an easy figure to spot on the Forty Acres. He seemed to be involved in everything: gymnastics team, Texas Union committees, freshman orientation, Friar Society, Texas Cowboys, and the Tejas Club, his home base, where he roomed with his close friend (and future Austin mayor) Frank Cooksey. Harley would eventually be elected student body president – the first to serve while enrolled in grad school – and earn three UT degrees, a BA and MA in government, as well as a law degree.

Elected Head Yell Leader at the end of his sophomore year, Harley spent part of the summer of ’55 backpacking through Europe with fellow UT student Speed Carroll. Occasionally, the two would write or phone their whereabouts to family and friends in Austin, and Willie Morris, then editor of The Daily Texan, would report on their adventures in the newspaper. “The Eiffel Tower,” said Harley, “is taller that UT’s and has the added attraction of being quite free of English professors.” Along with taking in the sights of the Old Country, Harley was also hatching plans for the upcoming fall term. The stadium, he thought, was far too quiet during football games, and he wanted to do something to boost the decibel level.

Personal Megaphones

Above: Ten-inch plastic megaphones were distributed at the Texas vs. Baylor game. Fans used them for the rest of the season.

On their way back to Austin, Harley and Speed first stopped in New York, and, not yet recovered from jet lag and without making any appointments, spent two days pestering every advertising company they could find along Madison Avenue. They were looking for a company to sponsor ten-inch plastic megaphones to be distributed at a football game. If the fans had their own megaphones, Harley reasoned, the stadium would certainly be a little louder. Just before they had to push on to Austin, Old Gold Cigarettes (It was the 1950s, remember.) agreed to provide 10,000 orange and white personal megaphones with the company logo printed on the front. The order didn’t arrive until the Baylor game in early November, but they were a big hit with the students and were used for the rest of the season.

~~~~~~~~~~

1955.UT Cheerleaders

The official Texas vs. TCU football rally was set for Friday evening, November 11, 1955 in Gregory Gym. A torchlight parade of several thousand students, led by a Dixieland Band on a flat-bed truck, set out from the northwest corner of campus, marched south on Guadalupe, then east on 21st Street to the gym. There was rousing music by the Longhorn Band (with its newly acquired “world’s largest bass drum,” dubbed Big Bertha), yells by the cheerleaders, and spirited talks by Dean of Students Arno Nowotny, Head Coach Ed Price and Team Captains Herb Gray, Johnny Tatum, and Menan Schriewer. Then, at the end of program, Harley decided to introduce something new.

A few days earlier, while in the Texas Union, Harley was talking with classmate Henry “HK” Pitts, who suggested that the hand sign with the index and little fingers extended, looked a bit like a longhorn, and might be fun to do at rallies and football games. The Texas Aggies had their “Gig ‘em” thumbs-up sign, inspired while playing the TCU Horned Frogs. With the TCU game coming up on Saturday, why can’t Texas fans have their own hand signal?

TCURallyHookEm

 Above: The Moment. The “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign is shown for the first time in Gregory Gym. At the lower left, someone is trying out the new signal for themselves. The head at the lower right belongs to Longhorn Band Director Vince DiNino. 

Harley liked the idea, and decided to introduce it at Gregory Gym rally. He demonstrated the sign to the crowd, and promptly declared, “This is the official hand sign of the University of Texas, to be used whenever and wherever Longhorns gather.” The students and cheerleaders tried it out (some seemed to have it backwards), and Harley led a simple yell, “Hook ‘em Horns!” with hands raised.

Immediately after the rally, Harley was confronted by a furious Dean Nowotny. “How could you say the hand sign was official?” the dean wanted to know. “Has this been approved by the University administration?” Harley admitted that the idea hadn’t been approved first, but the cat was already out of the bag – or the longhorn was already loose in the pasture.

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Sometimes, when recounting the story, Harley said that Dean Nowotny also demanded, “Do you know what this means in Sicily?!!” Or Italy. Or Europe. I asked Harley if it were true, did Nowotny really saythat, and Harley admitted that it was the only embellishment he added, mostly just to get a laugh from his audience. For accuracy’s sake, while Nowonty was unhappy that Harley hadn’t first cleared the idea of an “official” hand sign with the administration, the reference to Sicily, didn’t actually happen.

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The next day at the football game, the student section practiced what they had learned the night before, and the alumni were quick to follow. By the end of the game, the stadium was full of “Hook ‘em Horns” hand signs. And while TCU won the day (47-20) the University of Texas had a new tradition it would cherish for decades to come.

AAS.1959.11.13.Hook em.TCU Game - Copy

Above: A 1959 issue of the Austin Statesman. The “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign hand already become a well-established UT tradition.

The Longhorns’ Secret Weapon

Texas Cal Cheerleaders.1961

Above: UT alumnus Bill Bates (fourth from left) and the cheerleaders he recruited for the 1961 Texas vs. Cal football game in Berkeley. Oh my…

Texas Cal HelmetsIt was a heartbreaker. Last September, despite a furious comeback, the Texas Longhorns wound up just short of defeating the Golden Bears of the University of California. Fortunately, the game was the first of a home-and-home series, and the rematch is set for September 17, 2016 in Berkeley.

No doubt, the players and the coaching staff will do all they can to be ready. But what about the fans? How can they help ensure that Texas will get its revenge? The burnt orange faithful might take a cue from a UT alumnus who, in 1961, employed the Longhorns’ Secret Weapon.

The 1961 Texas Longhorns were ranked 4th nationally as they prepared for their season opener against the Cal Golden Bears. Expectations were high, but both head coaches – Mark Levy for Cal and Darrell Royal for Texas – knew very well that first games often came with surprises.

Texas fans, excited about their prospects, planned to be at California Memorial Stadium in droves. The UT alumni association chartered its first ever football excursion. A package price of just under $200 included round-trip airfare, two nights stay at a San Francisco hotel, ground transportation to Berkeley, and a ticket to the game. Also scheduled was a pre-game reception at Cal’s Alumni House. UT alumni president John Holmes was so taken by the facility, it inspired him to spearhead an effort to build an alumni center in Austin, which opened in 1965. (See: The Alumni Center Turns 50!)

1961 Cheerleaders

Above: Five of the members of the 1961 UT cheerleading team.

Notably missing from the game, however, were the Longhorn Band and Texas cheerleading squad. At the time, there simply weren’t enough funds in the athletic department’s coffers to help fly the students out to the Golden State. This meant that UT fans would be, well, leaderless, as far as cheering was concerned.

920x920Enter Bill Bates.Originally from Tyler, Texas, Bates transferred to UT for his junior and senior years, 1949-1951. An art major, he had classes with Fess Parker (who would become famous as Disney’s Davy Crockett as well as the Daniel Boone TV series), and for a time dated Cathy Grandstaff, the future Mrs. Bing Crosby. A UT cheerleader, Bates was also a artist for The Daily Texan. He would later travel the world as artist-in-residence for Royal Viking Cruise Ships, then settle in Carmel, California as a cartoonist for the local Carmel Pine Cone. Twice Bates was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He passed away in 2009, survived by his wife and daughter.

In 1961, the 31-year old Bates was just getting his start as a cartoonist for The San Francisco Examiner, and was very disappointed that the UT cheerleaders wouldn’t be present for the all important Texas vs. Cal game. What to do? What any resourceful Texas Longhorn would do, of course. Get replacements. And not some run-of-the-mill substitutes, either. Just as UT strives to be a university of the first class, Bates went looking for the best stand-in cheerleaders he could find.

365 ClubBates was a regular at Bimbo’s 365 Club (photo at left), a nationally known San Francisco nightclub. Founded in 1931 by Italian immigrant Agostino Giuntoli, who was nicknamed “Bimbo” by friends who had trouble pronouncing his name (Unlike the current American slang, “bimbo” comes from the Italian “bambino,” a young boy. The nickname was fairly common.), the 365 Club was a place to see and be seen through much of the 20th century. Hollywood celebrities were frequent customers. Rita Cansino – better known as the actress Rita Hayworth – was discovered there. Now more than 80 years old, the 365 Club continues to thrive in downtown San Francisco.

In the 1960s, among its varied nightclub acts, the Club was also known for its leggy chorus line, something like the New York Rockettes. Bates spoke with Bimbo about his problem, a deal was made, and Bates hired six members of the chorus line to be substitute UT cheerleaders for a day.

The weather was perfect for the 1:30 p.m. kick-off on Saturday, September 23, 1961. Clear, sunny California skies and 70 degrees greeted the 41,500 fans at Cal Stadium. Exactly how Bates won permission to bring his cheerleading squad into the stadium isn’t known, but the girls lined up in front of the Texas fans in white, low-neck dresses and high heels, and, having practiced with Bates beforehand, began to lead the crowd in traditional UT yells.

LA Tiimes.1961 HeadlineA football game was taking place on the field, but a good many fans – and players – were more than a little distracted by the spectacle on the sidelines. “University of Texas rooters more or less disrupted the Cal – Texas football game Saturday by hiring a half dozen chorus girls from a San Francisco night club to act as cheerleaders,” reported The Los Angeles Times (photo right). “The girls, scantily clad in lowcut playsuits and wearing high heels, attracted nearly as much attention from the fans as did the football players.During the times-out and half-time ceremonies, thousands of binoculars stayed glued on the field to watch the girls,” which likely included the reporter. “At halftime a mob scene developed where the dancers were sitting as thousands of college students gathered around just to look.”

As the Longhorn offense began to take control of the game, The Dallas Morning News related, “There wasn’t much for the California partisans to cheer and they spent a good bit of the time ogling Bimbo’s sextet, even though the girls were ostensibly leading the cheering of a band of Texans who came here to root the Longhorns home.” The Austin Statesman called the group “Texas’ Twelfth Man” and Bate’s “secret weapon . . . The strategy worked fine.” United Press International (UPI) snapped a few photos and sent the story out on the news wires. National television newscasts discussed it on their nighttime broadcasts, and Sports Illustrated mentioned it in its next issue.

UPI Image.Texas Cal Cheerleaders.1961

Above: Not the best quality image (it’s from microfilm), but one of the UPI photos and cutlines sent out on newswires across the country.

Oh, and the game? The Texas Longhorns overwhelmed the Golden Bears, 28 – 3.

Head’s up, Cal. We’re looking forward to next September’s meeting in Berkeley. Just beware the Secret Weapon. And would someone get the 365 Club on the phone?  :-)

1950s Football Flare

UT Football Pin 1950s

When it’s time for kick-off, how do you show your team colors? Football fashions have been around as long as, well, football itself. In the 1880s and 1890s, fans going to a game pinned colored ribbons to their lapels to show which team they supported, though the guys often sported longer ribbons to be sure they’d have extra to share with a pretty girl who had none.

By the 1950s, ribbons were still being worn, though though they were more popular with the co-eds. Some were solid color ribbons attached with a team button (see photo at left), and perhaps decorated with “football charms” – tiny footballs, helmets, megaphones, or trophies.

At the University of Texas, paper ribbons printed with a catchy phrase about the day’s opponent were also popular. Pinned to a shirt or blouse, the ribbons were simply strips cut from a regular 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper. The University Co-op sponsored the printing costs, and the ribbons were distributed in front of the entrances of the stadium as fans arrived for the game. Below is a sampling from the 1950s and 60s. (Click on an image for a larger view.)

Ribbon Image 1

Above, from left. Paper ribbons used for home games against Texas A&M, when the annual Thanksgiving Day game was often billed as the Tea-Sips vs. the Farmers, rather than Longhorns and Aggies; Oklahoma Sooners (Who else?); Rice Owls; and the TCU Horned Frogs. The “T” and longhorn logo at the bottom was used for only a few years in the early 1950s. The “yelling Bevo” icon was first appeared in 1953. 

Ribbon Image 2

Above, from left. An early 1950s ribbon for a Texas Tech game; from the 1964 Texas vs. Army bout in Memorial Stadium (UT won 17-6.); Oklahoma State was a non-conference opponent in 1963, when Texas went undefeated and claimed its first national football championship; in 1953, third ranked Baylor came to Austin, but UT students had been burning red candles to hex the Bears. Baylor fell 21-20.

Ribbon Image 3

Above, from left. Click on an image for a larger view, and you can still see the holes at the top where the ribbons were pinned. These are from the 1950s and 60s for games against Oklahoma, as well as Southwest Conference opponents Rice, Baylor, and Arkansas.

1955 UT Image

350,000 Thank Yous

UT Football Fans
As of today, the UT History Corner has hosted more than 350,000 visitors from over 120 countries since it opened in May 2012.

A very sincere “Thank You” goes to everyone who has dropped by to look, read, listen, comment, and explore the history of the University of Texas. I hope you found something interesting and worthwhile.

Jim

How to Build a Tower

Image

Main Building and Littlefield Fountain

It’s the Tower, the definitive landmark of the University. For more than three-quarters of a century, it has quietly watched over the daily campus bustle, breaking its silence every quarter hour to remind everyone of the passing of the day. Bathed in warm orange lights to announce honors and victories, crowned in fireworks at the climax of spring commencement ceremonies, it’s been a backdrop for freshman convocations, football rallies, concerts, and demonstrations. Architect Paul Cret intended it to be the “image carried in our memory when we think of the place,” though author J. Frank Dobie, incensed that a state so rich in land would build something better suited to New York City, branded it a “toothpick in a pie.” While academia has sometimes been called a metaphorical “ivory tower,” the University of Texas doesn’t settle for expressive substitutes. We have a tower all our own.

Old Main Library.1902.The Main Building with its 27-story Tower was to be the long-term solution to a problem that had plagued the Board of Regents for decades: how to increase the size of the library. The University library was initially housed on the first floor of the old Main Building (Photo at right. Click for a larger view.), but as its holdings increased, the space needed for additional bookshelves literally squeezed the students out of the reading room. The problem was temporarily relieved with the construction of a separate library building in 1911 (now Battle Hall), but by 1920, its quarters were again hopelessly overcrowded. A new library was needed, but where to place it?

1908 Postcard.Old Main with bluebonnets

Above: The old Main Building, surrounded by Texas Bluebonnets in the spring.

While the crest of the hill at the center of the Forty Acres was the obvious best setting for such a monumental building, it would have meant the destruction of the Victorian-Gothic Old Main. As the first structure on the campus, it was the sentimental favorite of both of faculty and alumni, and its offices and classrooms couldn’t be easily moved elsewhere. There simply wasn’t room.

Proposals included the addition of a new library north of Old Main, or, perhaps, to the south, where it would have sat in the middle of today’s South Mall and prevented the development of a grand main entrance to the University. A third scheme was to expand the existing library, double the size of the front façade, and add a 16-story tower for book stacks. All of the proposals either placed the library in an inconvenient spot or were too expensive.

Paul CretIn 1930, the Board of Regents hired Paul Cret as Consulting Architect for the University. Born in in 1876 in Lyon, France, Cret had graduated from the Ecole des Beaux Arts (School of Fine Arts) in Paris, at the time considered to be the world’s best university for architecture instruction. He immigrated to the United States early in the 20th century and was the head of the School of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania when he was agreed to take on the consulting position for UT. Cret was to design a new master plan for the campus, and among his first priorities was the solution for a new library.

Cret quickly realized that the library belonged on the top of the hill, and as he developed his master plan, the library building became the focal point of his designs. Because the plan was to be a guide for campus construction over several decades, Cret proposed building the library in parts, both to reduce costs – especially important during the 1930s and the time of the Great Depression –  and ease the pain over the removal of Old Main.

The back, lower half of the building was to be constructed immediately. It required only the destruction of the little-used north wing of Old Main, and a hallway would connect both structures. Officially it was to be known as the “library annex,” though at some point in the future it would assume the role as the primary University library. It was important for Cret to get at least part of the building on top of the hill, as it was the lynch pin for the rest of his plans.

Cret imagined that after 20 years or so – in the 1950s – when additional structures had been built to compensate for any space lost with the destruction of Old Main, UT’s first building could be finally retired, and the South façade and stack tower added to complete the library.

Main Building Construction.1.

Above: The back, lower part of the current Main Building was completed first, in 1934. Officially named the “library annex,” it was connected to Old Main, which can be see on the right. The Life Sciences Library, along with the Hall of Texas and the Hall of Noble Words, is still here.

The Board of Regents approved the plan in 1933, and construction for the north annex was finished the following year. It boasted a new Loan and Catalogue Room, also known as the Hall of the Six Coats of Arms. Two stories high, framed in marbles from West Texas, New York, Vermont, and Missouri, with walnut doors and screens, and illuminated by bronze light fixtures, the room featured the coats of arms of the six nations of which Texas has been a part: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States, and the United States.

Hall of Noble Words.2Two spacious reading rooms were placed on either side of the Catalogue Room. To the east was the Hall of Noble Words. (Photo at left.) The ceiling featured a series of heavy concrete beams painted to look like wood. Each side of a beam was decorated with quotes within a specific theme, among them: friendship, patriotism, freedom, wisdom, and truth. It was hoped that the students studying below would occasionally glance upward and be inspired by the exhortations above them. The Hall of Texas opened to the west. The beams here depicted periods of Texas settlement and history, from the times of Native Americans up to the opening of the University. While the Plant Resources Center takes up part of the Hall of Texas, it and the Hall of Noble Words are still open to the public, used by UT students for almost eight decades.

Main Building Construction.2..

Above: In the summer and fall of 1934, Old Main was demolished, and by the following January, steam shovels had arrived to dig out a foundation for the new Main Building’s facade. Battle Hall can be seen on the left and the West Mall in the distance. From the Alexander Architecture Archive.

Once completed, the library annex was to have hidden behind Old Main for decades. But as the Great Depression worsened, UT sought ways to minimize the number of unemployed in Austin. The University’s ever-growing building program brought with it construction jobs that helped soften the economic blow. Robert Leon White, an alumnus who was also the University’s Supervising Architect, approached UT President Harry Benedict about finishing the library sooner. Money through the Available University Fund wasn’t available, but White wanted to apply for a loan through the newly created Public Works Administration, one of many New Deal programs initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt. Benedict was skeptical, but allowed White to try.

Main Building Construction.3.

Above: With Old Main razed, work begins in front of the “library annex.” This was the view from Battle Hall on a cold, cloudy day in January 1935. Boardwalks were constructed for students to change classes. From the Alexander Architecture Archive.

White filed an application with the PWA for a $2.8 million loan, $1.8 million to complete what was labeled the Main Building and Library Extension, and the rest for three men’s and three women’s residence halls. White was optimistic, in part, because one of his childhood friends was Tully Garner, son of then Vice President John Garner from Uvalde. Using these connections, White arranged a meeting with the vice president for him and Beauford Jester, chair of the Board of Regents. The meeting was a positive one, and Garner agreed to give his support to the University’s application.  A few months later, UT received the funds it needed, and the early completion of the University’s new Main Building and Tower was guaranteed.

Main Building Construction.4.

Above: With work well underway in front of the Main Building, the Tower, which will serve as the book stacks for the library, begins to rise from the one-time “library annex.” From the Alexander Architecture Archive.

The formal dedication ceremony was held Saturday, February 27, 1937. President Benedict, and Regents Beauford Jester and Lutcher Stark made appropriate remarks. A sealed box filled with papers pertaining to the construction of the new Main Building was placed inside a cornerstone next to the south entrance in the building’s loggia.

Main Building Construction.5.

Above: By the end of 1935, the Main Building and its Tower are taking shape. From the Alexander Architecture Archive.

Designed as a closed-stack library, the Tower was intended to store the University’s general collections. Sheathed in Indiana Limestone, its infrastructure was built by the Snead Stack Company of New Jersey. Patrons entered the building through the south loggia, climbed one flight up the central staircase, and entered the Catalogue Room. After searching an immense card catalog, readers requested books at the front desk. Orders were then forwarded upstairs to a Tower librarian, who often navigated the rows of bookshelves in roller skates. Once found, books were sent downstairs in a special elevator, then to the main desk to be checked out. Newspapers and magazines were stored on the ground floor, and special collections, including rare books and Latin-American literature, were housed in separate rooms in the building. For a while, it was informally dubbed the Mirabeau B. Lamar Library, but the name wasn’t very popular. Students and faculty preferred a remembrance to Old Main that had once inhabited the spot, and simply called the library the new Main Building.

Main Building Construction.8.

Above: Exactly one year away from its dedication, the Tower is more than halfway complete. From the Alexander Architecture Archive.

Main Building.Littlefield Fountain.1938

Above: Officially opened on February 27, 1937, the Main Building and Tower served as the University Library until the 1960s, when higher enrollment and greater usage meant more than a half hour wait to retrieve a book from the Tower stacks. In 1964, the Undergraduate Library – today’s Flawn Academic Center – was opened with direct access to the bookshelves. 

Photo credits: Many of the images in the post come from the University of Texas Buildings Collection, Alexander Architecture Archive, University of Texas Libraries.

Moonlight Prowl set for September 18th

Moonlight Prowl.September 5 2014

It’s the Beat Cal Moonlight Prowl! Scheduled for the Friday night before the football game between the Texas Longhorns and the Golden Bears from the University of California.

The Moonlight Prowl is a nighttime walking history tour of the University of Texas that I first conducted in June 1988. Over the years the Prowl has evolved, but it’s always packed with anecdotes of student life, UT traditions, campus architecture, and University history. Everyone is welcome to attend.

For all the details and how to RSVP, go to the Moonlight Prowl page here.

See you on September 18th!