Heads Up!

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

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

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

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

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


Biological Laboratories

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

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

Biological Labs.Northeast Corner


Garrison Hall


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

Below: The Running W brand of the King Ranch.

Garrison Hall.Running W Brand.King Ranch

Garrison Hall.St Louis Dispatch Article.1926

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

Garrison Hall.de la Garza Brand of 1762

Garrison Hall.Cattle Brand List

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


Brackenridge Residence Hall

Brackenridge Dorm.1930s. Processed

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

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

Brackenridge Hall from Tower Deck

Brackenridge Hall.Daily Texan Article

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

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

Brackenridge Hall.Ranch Life

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

Brackenridge Hall.Longhorn


Main Building: The Hall of Noble Words

Tower Consruction 1935.A

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

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

Hall of Noble Words.2


McCombs School of Business

Business Economis Building.West Entrance.1962.

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

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

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

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

Waggener Hall and Business School

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

Funeral for an Outhouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Town Funeral.1905.Close up.

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

How to Save Baseball

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

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

1906 Cactus.1905 Baseball Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

1906 Varsity Carnival Parade

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

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

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

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

The University Learns of D-Day

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

1944.V 12 Units on Main Mall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Listening!

Advice for UT Freshmen

Class of 2017 class photo at the stadium

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

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

The Texas Box

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


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

This isn’t Temporary

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

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

Be a Sponge

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

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

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

With that said –

Your Mileage May Vary

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

Go to Class

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

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

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

Main Building Inscription

Professors are your Friends

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

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

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

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

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

Study like a Tortoise


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

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

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

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

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

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

College is Hard

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

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

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

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

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

College Knowledge

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

Break Out of the Burnt Orange Bubble

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

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

Eiffel Tower.Paris

UT Phone Home

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

Stop and Think

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

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

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

Why are You Here?

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

How to Impress a Mule

MuleWhat good is a college education? When asked this question, recent University graduates have a variety of answers, though the most popular by far is, of course, “to be employed.” But in 1902, one UT graduate discovered a unexpected asset to his college degree. He used it to impress a mule.

Joseph Russell Johnson was a stocky, dark-haired civil engineering student who arrived in Austin from a farm near Clarksville, Texas, in Red River County.

A freshman in 1898, the campus bore little resemblance to the familiar sights of today. Enrollment was under 600 students, and all of them had classes in the old Main Building. Victorian Gothic in style, made of gold buff brick and cream limestone trim, “Old Main” sat on top of College Hill, near the center of the University’s original Forty Acres. Its spires and pointed windows softened only by the deep green ivy that hugged its walls.

Joseph Johnson.1902 Cactus YearbookAs an engineering student, Johnson (photo at left) had classes from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with an hour break for lunch. Monday afternoons were reserved for “field practice,” where he learned to take topographic surveys of the hills around Austin and hydrographic surveys of the Colorado River. Mechanical drawing was held in an attic room of Old Main, where several broken windows permitted “a keen wind to make its presence known,” especially during the winter. Drawing desks were plentiful, but stools were “a scarcity.” All of the engineering courses were taught by Professor Thomas Taylor, then the only member of the engineering faculty. Johnson’s curriculum was rounded out with courses in English, German, Greek, physics, math, and geology.

Johnson wasn’t all that interested in extracurricular activities. He didn’t belong to a fraternity or play on a sports team, didn’t join the “Gory Goo-Roos” or “Ancient and Honorable Rusty Cusses,” and he apparently wasn’t eligible to join the “Bowlegged Club.” Instead, he was elected president of the newly-formed Engineers Club in his junior year, and helped to write one of the group’s yells:

Rah, rah, rah!

Beer, beer, beers!

Texas, Texas, Engineers!

Engineers Club.1902 Cactus.

Above: The Engineering Club poses for a yearbook photo.

As a senior, Johnson was asked to represent the engineering students when the constitution for the first Students’ Assembly (today’s Student Government) was written in 1902. He also distinguished himself academically. Johnson was first in his engineering graduating class – out of three graduates.

After commencement ceremonies in June 1902, Johnson returned home to the family farm just south of the Red River, where his proud parents were eager to see their college educated son at work, though perhaps not exactly as he had imagined. The morning after his arrival, Johnson was asked to plow the corn. It was a chore he’d performed many times, and though it was far removed from hydraulics, mechanical drawing, and the theory of bridges, Johnson was anxious to make use of his studies.

Just after sunrise, Johnson attached a double shovel plow to an old gray mule named Rebecca, and was ready to begin the day’s work. To start the mule, Johnson usually yelled, “Giddap, Beck!” but thought this to be too harsh. Instead, he remembered his experiences in freshman English, and in more gentler tones urged, “Rebecca, proceed.” The mule, unaccustomed to being handled by a university scholar, didn’t understand this new technical vocabulary, and only stood and stared. Johnson had to repeat his request several times, and with the help of a dirt clod or two, made himself understood.

On Rebecca went, though so disoriented by the human behind the plow, her step was not as sure as usual. She occasionally strayed out of the row, and began to tread on the tender corn sprouts. Johnson could correct the mule with a loud “Haw, Beck!” but instead uttered a more temperate “Rebecca, diverge.” Since the command was accompanied by a firm tug on her rein, Rebecca was a fast learner, and was soon “diverging” with the best of them.

Only one problem remained. At the end of the row, about a half-mile long, the mule had to reverse direction and begin on the next row. When the time came, Rebecca didn’t hear “Gee, Beck!” as she had in years past, but “Rebecca, revolve.”

After a few rows, Rebecca was comfortable with the new routine, though when she was returned to the stable that evening, she reportedly gave Johnson a most peculiar gaze. He never was sure whether it was a look of approval or pity. Johnson did become an engineer in north Texas, but never forgot his first experience as a college graduate.

The Thrilling Adventures of Alec!

Or, How April 1st became a UT Holiday

The Texan.April 4 1908

Above: Headlines from The Texan in April 1908. “Holiday Inaugurated” – “Professors Given Needed Rest.” How considerate of UT students to give the faculty a day off!

All hail UT’s patron saints!! Among the schools and colleges on campus, a few have taken on mascots which have affectionately been promoted to patron saints. The law school has its staid Peregrinus, business boasts the wily Hermes, architecture claims the mysterious Ptah. But the best-known is the patron saint of the Texas engineers: Alexander Frederic Claire, or simply, Alec. His arrival created an annual UT holiday.

When the University first opened in 1883, the academic calendar of choice was the quarter system, and holidays were in short supply. The fall term opened in early October, with final exams completed just in time for Christmas. Winter classes resumed the third or fourth day of January and ran through mid-March. And without a pause, the spring term began immediately after winter finals and continued mercilessly until the first week of June. In the spring, students were permitted only two days to catch their breath: March 2nd in honor of Texas Independence Day, and April 21st for San Jacinto Day.

In 1908, the start of spring classes was joined by a student movement for a third spring holiday, preferably April 1st, which was about halfway between the other two. Officially, the faculty opposed the idea, though professors did nothing to prevent the cause from gaining momentum. As the students began to organize, there were indications that if their request was refused, they would simply stage group walkout for the day.

About the same time, UT engineering students received an invitation from their counterparts at the University of Missouri to travel north to the Show Me State for St. Patrick’s Day. Since 1903, Missouri engineers have declared St. Patrick to be one of their own, and have used March 17th to celebrate.

As for the Texas engineers, they’d already claimed a patron saint. Since 1901, Alexander Frederick Claire – or “Alec” – was the main character in Hi Ho Balls, a favorite song of the engineers. But Alec was known in name only. There was neither an appropriate physical rendering, nor a special day, for UT’s patron saint.

Alec.Hi Ho Balls Music. - Processed

The invitation from Missouri, along with the students’ request for a holiday, sparked an idea. If the Missouri engineers take a day off to honor their patron saint, why not dedicate the first of April as a day of homage to Alec?

On the evening of March 31st, student members of the TECEM Club – which stood for Texas Engineers: Civil, Electrical, Mining – gathered for their weekly meeting on the second floor of the Engineering Building (today’s Gebauer Building). The group’s purpose, according to Dean Thomas Taylor, was to “promote practically everything but learning and scholarly attainments.”

Old Engineering.Gebauer Building

Above: students practice surveying in front of the old Engineering Building, today’s Gebauer Building, just east of the UT Tower.

First on the agenda was to make plans for April 1st. To encourage their fellow students to cut classes, the group wanted to smuggle a few stray dogs up to the top floor of the old Main Building, tie tin cans to their tails, and let them loose during the first class hour at 9 a.m. It was hoped the ruckus would create enough chaos to disrupt classes for the day. The group adjourned to find the required canines, but the neighborhood dogs weren’t very cooperative, and the idea was dropped due to a lack of volunteers. Instead, the club adjourned to Jacoby’s Beer Garden, just south of the campus on Lavaca Street.

Dean Thomas Taylor and Alec.Just after midnight, as the group was about to depart, they spied a wooden statue under a porch shed near the exit. Meant to promote Falstaff Beer, it was a chubby, medieval character. After a quick conference, the group decided to “borrow” the statue and quietly spirited it away to old B. Hall, the men’s dorm, where they perfected plans for the next day. (Photo at left: Engineering Dean Thomas Taylor stands next to Alec in the 1930s.)

On the sunny and humid morning of Wednesday, April 1st, everyone in the Engineering Building knew “something was up.” Professor Bantel went to his office and locked the door, while Dr. Benedict, who had scheduled a quiz for his first class, failed to show up at all. The engineering students gathered in front of the building and lined up in rows of four, while a few created a makeshift band from some tin horns, hastily crafted kazoos, and an improvised percussion section of trash cans and lids. At precisely 9 a.m., a noisy procession set off across the campus. The engineers marched around the perimeter, entered into the west wing of the old Main Building, through the central rotunda, then out the south main door. There, the group formed a circle around the new likeness of their patron saint.

In front of Old Main, Alec was formally unveiled as a handkerchief tacked on to his head was removed with great flourish. Sophomore Joe Gill spoke eloquently on the life of Alec, who, Gill claimed, was the founder of engineering science. It was Alec who created the Pyramids of Egypt, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and the Great Wall of China. Alec himself surveyed and built the roads of Ancient Rome, dug the Suez Canal, and invented the T-square, the original model still on display in the United States Patent Office. Alec’s achievements were so moving to Gill, he was reportedly overcome with emotion several times and had to constantly wipe away a stream of tears from his face.

Following Gill’s tribute, the engineering students filed past their patron saint one-by-one. Each placed a small bouquet of hand-picked bluebonnets at the base of the statue, then swore allegiance to Alec with their right hand resting on a “holy” calculus textbook.

The ceremony concluded, senior engineers promptly kidnapped Dean Taylor (who had neglected to lock his office door) and went for a picnic at Bull Creek. The rest of the engineers set out for a trip to the Austin Dam and a day of swimming. Not wanting to be left out, law students abandoned their classes en masse and turned the city’s electric street cars into roving party vehicles, while the Academic Department (Arts and Sciences) went as a group to Sixth Street. Though it was never officially approved, for years April 1st became an annual “cut class” day.

The celebration for Alec also became an annual ritual, much to the chagrin of the rival law students, who had designs on the statue for their own purposes.

In the spring of 1913, while Alec was resting comfortably at the foot of the stairs to the Engineering Building, law students captured the patron saint took him to a farm near Pflugerville. Placed in a pig sty and knee-deep in swine, Alec was photographed for the Cactus yearbook. “This,” claimed the lawyers, “shows Alec in his true element.”

“No!” retorted the engineers. “That is Alec feeding the laws.”

Alec has been found.1913.

Above: In November 1913, engineers celebrated the rescue of the original Alec after the laws took the patron saint to farm in Pflugerville.

In 1916, armed with the knowledge that Alec had initially been “borrowed” from Jacoby’s Beer Garden, the statue was kidnapped again when the laws approached Mr. Jacoby’s widow and “legally purchased” the statue from her. Armed with a bill of sale, the laws brought Alec before the Justice of the Peace, had him declared a vagrant, and sent him to the city jail. Dean Taylor and the engineers appealed to Governor James Ferguson, who issued a full pardon, and warned Alec to beware of “out-law-yers.”

Alec Pardon.1917

Above: After being declared a “vagrant” at the hands of the law students, Governor James Ferguson issued a pardon to Alec in 1917. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Because the laws still held a bill of sale, Dean Taylor elected to retire the original statue. In 1917, Alec’s right leg was cut into small strips, branded “CELAFOTRAP” (“Part of Alec” spelled backwards) and sent to Texas Engineers fighting in the American Expeditionary Force during the First World War A second statue was created by local woodcarver Peter Mansbendel. The new Alec was kept locked in a vault in the Littlefield Building downtown, where he could make a short but safe trip to the annual Engineer’s Banquet at the Driskill Hotel next door.

A decade later, on February 21, 1927, the evening of an Engineer’s Banquet, the Laws took Alec once again. Sixteen law students climbed up a fire escape to enter a hotel room guarded from the hallway by Dean Taylor and several engineers. The laws dismembered the statue, sent the head to Governor Daniel Moody, and delivered other pieces to law alumni. The torso was hung in a tree on the campus for a brief time, then disappeared, only to turn up years later in the Law School library.

Governor Moody returned Alec’s head to Dean Taylor, who commissioned a third rendering by Austin master woodcarver Peter Mansbendel, who incorporated the head and other salvaged pieces of the patron saint.

Alec Display.Engineering LibrayAs retirement approached, Dean Taylor was very secretive about Alec. The statue was seen in public only a few times, always surrounded by an armed guard of engineers. After Taylor’s death in 1941, Alec remained in hiding, stored by the Texas Memorial Museum in a house north of the campus. Some journalism students discovered him there in 1964, after a report that someone had spotted a coffin in the basement. Alec was restored, and in 1972 was put on display in the engineering library. (Photo at left: Alec secured in a glass case with a concrete base in the engineering library.)

In March, 1987, word reached the College of Engineering that the dismembered torso of the second Alec had recently been discovered in the Tarleton Law Library, an opportunity the engineers couldn’t resist. On March 30th, David Walker and Chris Flynn, then engineering seniors and members of the newly formed “Order of Alec,” approached Julia Ashworth, an archivist at the law library. The two claimed to be from the Cactus yearbook, and asked if they could take a photograph of the torso. Ashworth agreed. Making the excuse that there wasn’t enough light in the library, Walker persuaded Ashworth to take the torso outside. Once outdoors, three masked “unknown and unnamed ruffians” rushed by, grabbed the torso and disappeared.

The events seemed far too coincidental. Law School Dean Mark Yudof wrote a scathing memo to his engineering counterpart, Dean Earnest Gloyna, demanded the torso’s return, and labeled the scandal “Gloynagate.”

On April Fool’s Day, Gloyna was subpoenaed, along with a few engineering student leaders, to appear in court. The laws argued the engineers had waited too long to claim ownership of the torso, and demanded Alec be returned to them.

The two groups met in court on Friday, April 3rd. On one side were the “law nerds” while others wore buttons that read “unknown and unnamed engineering geeks.” Judge Harley Clark (who, as head cheerleader in 1955 introduced the “Hook ‘em Horns” hand signal) presided, and listened to both arguments. In the end, Clark made no decision of ownership, hoped that Alec’s “thieves” would keep him safe, and that the rivalry between the two schools would continue.

Today, Alec, along with the recovered torso, are stored in sealed exhibit cases in the engineering library. The statue is bolted to the display case, which has a heavy concrete base.

Alec is safe, for now.

Alec Display.Torso

Above: The recovered torso and pieces of the original Alec statue – included one branded “CELAFOTRAP” – are on display in the engineering library.

How to Celebrate Texas Independence Day

Texas Flag

For some Texans, it’s the most important day of the year, and a holiday that no other state can claim. March 2nd is Texas Independence Day, and its observance on the University of Texas campus began with some tenacious students, a missed class, an afternoon spent at Scholz’ Beer Garden, and a very noisy cannon.

In the spring of 1896, the fledgling University was confined to a 40-acre campus, with a white-washed wooden fence around the perimeter to keep out the town cows. A Victorian-Gothic Main Building, only two-thirds complete, commanded the hill in the center. It was flanked by the Chemistry Lab Building to the northwest, and B. Hall, a men’s dorm, down the hill to the east.

UT Campus in the 1890s

The University’s 482 students were divided into two departments: Academic and Law. The Academic Department encompassed studies comparable to today’s Colleges of Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences, and the “Academs,” as its students were known, pursued their classes for the usual four years, most leading to a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Law students, though, needed only two years to complete an LL.B. – a Bachelor of Laws and Letters – and a previous undergraduate degree wasn’t required for admission. Junior Laws were first-year law students and often the same age as other UT freshmen, while Senior Laws were completing their final year.

On the cloudy, warm, and humid morning of March 2, 1896, the Junior Laws were waiting for their next lecture in criminal law, taught by Judge Robert Batts, when one student bemoaned the fact that the day was Texas Independence Day, a legal holiday for Texans, except, apparently, for those on the University campus.

For years, students had regularly petitioned the faculty for a break on March 2nd, but had always been refused. “Our faculty is afraid to grant us holiday, even on such occasions,” complained the Alcalde, a weekly student newspaper that pre-dated The Daily Texan (and not to be confused with the present alumni magazine). “They fear that some 2 x 4 politician, or still smaller newspaper, will accuse them of not earning their money. That is the real cause of their reluctance to grant a cessation of routine grinds, to allow our Texan bosoms an inflation of truly patriotic atmosphere.”

After serious discussion, the Junior Laws decided they would honor such an auspicious day by avoiding class altogether, and invited Judge Batts to join them. The diplomatic Batts responded with an eloquent speech, espousing all of the grim and dire things that might happen to Junior Laws who skipped lectures. The students listened, politely applauded, and promptly ignored Batts’ pleas, choosing instead to spend the day at Scholz’ Beer Garden just south of the campus, where they were reportedly “very gemuethlick.”

George Tayloe WinstonOne year later, in 1897, the now senior law class was determined to include the entire campus community in a celebration of “the natal day of Texas Independence,” and again petitioned the faculty for a holiday. But the Board of Regents had recently appointed George T. Winston (photo at left) as president of the University. A native of North Carolina, Winston had attended the U.S. Naval Academy and was at the head of his class when he was reluctantly forced to leave school because he was too prone to seasickness. Winston completed his studies at Cornell, though he continued to follow the rigorous exercise regimen instilled in him at the Academy. While in Austin, President Winston often ended the work day by first removing his suit coat, and then leaving the office for a brisk walk/jog west of campus to the Austin Dam, where the “Hula Hut” restaurant is today. There he acquired a canoe, paddled up the lake to Mount Bonnell, climbed to the peak to take in the view, and then returned to the campus along the same route. Occasionally, a few professors or students would join him. (He might have been UT’s most physically fit president!)

Winston’s Academy experience also taught him to be a thoroughly patriotic American. He neither understood nor shared the affinity Texans had for March 2nd, recognized only one Independence Day, and that was on July 4th. Undaunted, the Senior Laws pressed ahead with their plans, hoping to impress upon the president the importance of the second day of March.

Working with the Texas Attorney General, four of the students signed a bond in order to borrow one of the two brass cannons that stood guard – and are still on display – in front of the State Capitol. It took most of the afternoon of March 1st to roll the cannon to the Forty Acres, where the Laws planned to use it for a 21-gun salute to Texas at dawn the following day.

Just before sunrise on March 2, 1897, the Senior Laws arrived, anxious to start the festivities, only to discover that the cannon had been spiked. A large nail had been driven in to the ignition hole, and it took some time, persistence and the employment of several pocket knives to remove the offending item. By then, President Winston had arrived on the scene, and was rather unhappily resigned to the fact that the students were going to celebrate, whether or not the faculty approved. (Years later, Winston finally admitted that he had spiked the cannon himself!) Hoping to minimize the damage to the class day, Winston asked the Laws to move the cannon away from the Main Building, down the hill to the University’s athletic field, about where the O’Donnell Building and the Gates-Dell Computer Science Center now stand. Or, they could wait until after noon to have their fun. The students elected to do both.

Boom!! Starting at 9:30 a.m., an otherwise peaceful March morning was harshly interrupted by a series of cannon blasts from the athletic field. The entire Law Department attended, including Professors Robert Batts and John Townes, and following the cannon fire, each person present gave a short but sincere patriotic speech. The talks by Batts and Townes were greeted with particularly loud cheers from the students.

Meanwhile, a distracted Academic Department continued to hold classes as best as it could in the old Main Building, some of the faculty hoping the Laws would tire of their efforts, while other professors were no doubt wishing they could join in the fun. The Laws, though, weren’t going to allow Texas Independence Day to pass without including the rest of the University.

Texas Independence Day.March 2 1897

At 1 p.m., a fresh supply of gun powder was secured, and the cannon was dragged up the hill and positioned directly in front of the Main Building, facing the Capitol. Boom!! The first blast “threatened to break every window in the building,” claimed an eyewitness. In a flurry, the Academs vacated their classrooms and joined the Laws outside and the scene of the morning was repeated, with more speeches from students and professors.

Midway through the afternoon, it was discovered that President Winston had quietly made an escape to his home just north of the campus, to which a large and boisterous committee of students promptly followed. Refusing to take no for an answer, Winston was persuaded to return and make a speech of his own. He opened with the paraphrased remark:

“I was born in the land of liberty, rocked in the cradle of liberty, nursed on the bottle of liberty, and I’ve had liberty preached to me all my life, but Texas University students take more liberty than anyone I’ve ever come in contact with.”

The students responded with their loudest cheers of the day, and gave President Winston a rousing rendition of the ‘Varsity Yell:

Hullabaloo! Hoo-ray! Hoo-ray!
Hullabaloo! Hoo-ray! Hoo-ray!
Hoo-ray! Hoo-ray!
Varsity! Varsity! U. T. A.!

Since then, UT students and alumni have recognized March 2nd as a time to celebrate both the Lone Star State and their favorite University. In 1900, the Ex-Students Association adopted a resolution which states: “Whenever two Texas Exes shall meet on March 2, they all shall sit and break bread and pay tribute to the institution that made their education possible.”

Today, the on-campus celebration is limited to a popular annual breakfast hosted by the Tejas Club, and attended by the UT president, faculty, staff, and invited graduating seniors, though alumni chapters worldwide join in on the fun, and organize events that raise funds for UT scholarships.

Texas Independence Day.March 2 1981

Above: In the 1980s, Texas Independence Day was remembered on the Main Mall at noon with members of the Longhorn Band, Alpha Phi Omega’s “world’s largest Texas flag” draped in front of the Main Building, and Texas birthday cake served by the Orange Jackets women’s service organization. To continue the 1897 tradition, the Texas Cowboys fired Ol’ Smokey, the cannon used at football games. The image above is from 1981.

The Pig Bellmont Centennial

Pig Bellmont

This month holds a special anniversary. While UT fans are well-acquainted with Bevo as the mascot for the University of Texas Longhorns, the first UT mascot was a beloved tan and white dog named “Pig,” who would be celebrating his 100th birthday.

Theo BellmontBorn in Houston on February 10, 1914, Pig was a seven-week old puppy when he was sent to Austin to live with his new owners: Theo Bellmont and his family. A native of Rochester, New York, Bellmont (photo at left) attended the University of Tennessee, played football and basketball, ran track, was an accomplished gymnast, and in 1908 graduated with a law degree. His interest in physical training and education soon led him to the position of Director of the Houston YMCA, where he worked to expand the programs and influence of the “Y.” Bellmont’s efforts were noticed by UT President Sidney Mezes, who was looking for someone to oversee what was a quickly-growing University athletics program, and in December 1913, Mezes hired Bellmont as the first full-time athletic director for the University of Texas. Bellmont, his wife, Freda, and their two children made the move to Austin soon after the new year. The family had acquired a new pet dog, but the puppy remained in Houston until he was weened.

As soon as the dog arrived in Austin, it was evident that he was a special character. An adventurous pooch, he refused to remain confined to the family’s backyard northwest of campus, and instead followed his owner to work on the Forty Acres. The UT campus was an exciting place, full of attentive students, squirrels to chase, fields of bluebonnets, and plenty of trees. At the encouragement of Theo Bellmont, the dog attended a few sports contests and found the games loud, fun, and very much to his liking. Almost immediately, the puppy was adopted by the campus community, and while UT athletic teams were already known as “Longhorns,” the dog was officially declared to be the University mascot.

Of course, the puppy needed a name, a topic which generated serious discussion. The matter was solved one day when the dog, exploring the environs just west of campus, found himself standing next to Gus “Pig” Dittmar. A captain of the football team, Dittmar, who also hailed from Houston, was named All-Southwestern for three years and was mentioned as an All-American by Walter Camp. A honors history major, he was impressive in the classroom as well. His professors urged him to apply to Princeton for graduate school. Dittmar’s nickname, “Pig,” was given to him by fellow UT students who thought he could pass through a defensive line “like a greased pig.”

1914 Football Team.

Above: the 1914 UT football team. Gus “Pig” Dittmar is pictured on the second row, third from the right. Click on image for a larger view.

But Dittmar also just happened to be bowlegged. “Dittmar was rather noted for the graceful way in which his underpinnings curved,” reported the UT student Longhorn Magazine. With the puppy and Dittmar standing together, students noticed that the dog’s legs evoked the same characteristics as the football player. Seized by a happy inspiration, “Let’s call him Pig!” was the decision of the day, and the new University mascot was dubbed Pig Bellmont.

For the next three years, Pig greeted students and faculty on daily rounds. He frequented classrooms, though sometimes he had to be removed because of his delight in joining the class discussions. Occasionally, he climbed the marble stairs up to the reading room of the University Library (today the Architecture and Planning Library in Battle Hall) in search of a scratch behind the ears or a lap in which to snuggle. When he was hungry, Pig sometimes visited the University Cafeteria, though he preferred the cuisine of the boarding houses west of campus. At night, Pig retired under the back steps of the University Co-op.

Pig Bellmont.March 1920

Of course, Pig was a regular at home and most out-of-town athletic events. He paced the sidelines for football and baseball games, and ventured indoors to the gym for basketball season. Pig eagerly lent his voice to the support of UT squads and developed a profound dislike for anything related to rival Texas A&M. “If you say ‘A&M’ to him, he will promptly lie down as though ready to give up the ghost in disgust,” related one account. “On the other hand, say ‘Texas’ to him and he starts barking with joy.” Pig was so loyal, some of the University’s athletes suggested that he deserved a letter, which was granted by the athletic department. (As the athletic director was also his owner probably helped in this regard.) Naturally, Pig wasn’t able to don a standard UT letter jacket. Instead, a small brass “T” was fashioned at the University’s mechanical shop and attached to Pig’s collar. He was inducted as the only canine member of the newly established “T” Association.

In 1917, when the United States entered the First World War, Pig enlisted. The war transformed the campus overnight, as the University sponsored three military schools on its grounds. The largest was School of Military Aeronautics. A precursor of the Air Force Academy, the SMA was created to provide basic technical instruction for beginning pilots before they moved on to flight training. Housed in the buildings on the “Little Campus,” just north of the present day Erwin Center (only John Hargis Hall and the Nowotny Building remain), several hundred soldiers at a time arrived for six-week sessions. Pig joined them. If a long hike was part of the day’s activities, Pig was usually near the front. He kept an eye on the barracks while the cadets were in class, and faithfully attended inspection each evening. The cadets adopted Pig as their mascot, included him in their graduation photos, and he twice took the train ride to Dallas, where the cadets were sent for initial flight training. When he had time, Pig wandered back to the main campus to check in on UT students, most of whom were part of the Student Army Training Corps.

WWI Baracks with Pig Bellmont

Above: Ready for drill. UT students enlisted in the Student Army Training Corps during World War I, and were housed in a line of wooden barracks along Speedway, where Waggener Hall and the McCombs School of Business are today. Up on the hill to the right, Pig inspects the troops. Click on image for a larger view.

Below: A blurry Pig waits with the band that will lead the School of Military Aeronautics back to their quarters at the Little Campus. The towers of the old Main Building and part of B. Hall on the campus can be seen in the background.

WWI.School Military Aeronautics with Pig Bellmont

When the war ended in 1918, Pig resumed his duties at the UT mascot, though he made several trips back to the Little Campus, just to be sure the soldiers hadn’t returned. He expanded on his previous routine to include visits to the women’s study hall, where he was always welcome.

But Pig was also getting older. By the 1920s, he was noticeably more mellow than in his younger days, and he was going blind in one eye, a condition that would have significant consequences.

Early on a Tuesday morning, New Years Day 1923, Pig was hit by a car – a Model T Ford – near the corner of Guadalupe and 24th Streets, and his blindness may well have been a factor. He was apparently only injured, and made several of his usual appearances before he decided to retreat under the back steps of the University Co-op, but the injuries were to be fatal in the long term. Pig’s body was discovered mid-afternoon on Friday, January 4th. The news was a tragedy for the entire campus and the decision was made to provide a proper farewell to the loyal canine.

Pig Bellmont.Austin Statesman Headline.Jan 5 1923.

Above: Headline from the January 5, 1923 Austin Statesman.

On a cloudy, dreary Saturday afternoon, January 5th, starting at about 3:30 p.m., Pig Bellmont lay in state in front of the University Co-op. He rested in a specially-crafted black casket, complete with a viewing window, that was draped with evergreen garland and orange and white ribbon. More than a thousand mourners filed pass to pay their last respects.

Pig Bellmont.In State in front of Coop.Jan 5 1923.

Above: Mourners of all ages visited the casket containing Pig Bellmont.

At 5 o’clock, members of the Longhon Band arrived and a funeral procession organized. The band led a march from the Co-op, south on Guadalupe to 21st Street, then east to the old Law Building, where the Graduate School of Business now stands. Pig’s pallbearers were members of a new student group called the Texas Cowboys.

Pig Bellmont Funeral Procession.Jan 5 1923.1.

Above: Head cheerleader Arno “Shorty” Nowotny confers with the drum major of the Longhorn Band as the funeral procession begins on Guadalupe Street. Nowotny later served as Dean of Students and the Nowotny Building is named for him. The University Methodist Church is seen in the background.

Pig Bellmont Funeral Procession.Jan 5 1923.2.

Above: Immediately behind the Longhorn Band, members of a new student group called the Texas Cowboys carry the casket of Pig Bellmont.

The procession ended under a grove of three live oak trees, just north of the old Law School building, on the southeastern corner of the campus. Rows of folding chairs were provided, but quickly filled, and it was standing-room only for the service.

Pig Bellmont.Funeral Service.Jan 5 1923.1.600.

Above: Along the walkway that connected the old Main Building to the Law School, the funeral procession ends under a grove of three live oak trees. In the background to the right is B. Hall, the first men’s dorm. To the left behind the shack is the original Engineering Building, which survives today as the Gebauer Building. Click on image for a larger view.

Pig Bellmont.Funeral Service.Jan 5 1923.2.600.

With some onlookers perched in the trees, Thomas Taylor, the Dean of Engineering, delivered a 20-minute eulogy for Pig Bellmont. Click on image for a larger view.

Pig’s eulogy was delivered by the red-haired Thomas Taylor, dean and founder of engineering studies at the University. “Let no spirit of levity dominate this occasion,” Taylor began. “A landmark has passed away.” The Daily Texan student newspaper reported that Taylor, “In a voice that he could not restrain from trembling slightly … recited those lines penned by Lord Byron as a song to his dog. ‘I do not know what joys await Pig Bellmont on the Other Side. But I do know this: that if there is a place of Elysian happiness for dogs, Pig will join that great dog of Lord Byron. Certainly, no dog was ever more deserving of such a reward as he.’ “

Following Taylor’s remarks, the Longhorn Band played “Taps” as Pig’s casket was lowered into a prepared grave. “Then, as the last low strains of the call died away,” observed The Texan, “and as the listeners were standing breathless, there wafted on the air the notes of the same call, from another point on the campus.” On cue, a lone trumpeter played “Taps” in front of the old Main Building.

Harry Beck, longtime Superintendent of Grounds for the University, created a tombstone which read: “Pig, Born February 10, 1914; Died January 4, 1923; Only a dog, but the friend of every Varsity student.” The students, though, had prepared their own, simple marker, with the basic epitaph: “Pig’s Dead. Dog Gone.”

Pig Bellmont.Funeral Marker.Jan 5 1923

Above: Marker left at the grave site: “Pig’s Dead. Dog Gone.”