Tower Light, Tower Bright

How the Orange Tower Tradition Began

1.OrangeTower.Lead.

It was a night like no other. On Tuesday, October 19, 1937, as the sun dropped behind the western hills, the azure sky darkened to dusk, and a full moon peeked above the eastern horizon, floodlights illuminated the University of Texas Tower for the first time. Austin was changed forever.

Frank White and Bob Wilkinson, reporters for The Daily Texan student newspaper, stood on the Main Mall in front of the Tower, looked up and took in the scene, but struggled to express what they saw. They eventually agreed upon the phrase “majestic splendor” for the following morning’s issue, but were open to suggestions. “If you can think of any better description for the bath of orange and white light that flooded the Library Building Tower last night for the first time, you should be writing this story. Seriously, the splendor was majestic; so majestic, in fact, that students seeing it with us were entranced with its colorful beauty, and found no words to describe it.”

The splendor was just beginning. For the University, the Tower was an instant icon, purposely designed to be the seminal landmark of the campus. As architect Paul Cret explained: “In a large group of buildings, be it a city, a world fair, or a university, there is always a certain part of the whole which provides the image carried in our memory when we think of the place.” The Tower was meant to be that image.

For the citizens of Austin, the Tower was a radical addition to the city’s skyline. It was the first building to rise higher than the venerated dome of the Texas Capitol, which generated more than the usual share of controversy.

1.5.Austin skyline.Tower.Capitol

The Tower was also built 20 years earlier than planned. It arrived in 1937, at a time when modern, lofty buildings had just come of age in American cities, along with a popular new development: the use of floodlights. Sometimes described as “painting with light,” architects in the 1920s and ‘30s widely experimented with external lighting on the walls of high-rises, often with dramatic colors and dazzling effects. This, in turn, influenced what was a pivotal decision to install floodlights on the Tower.

The Tower lights, especially the use of orange and white, brought with them a great surprise. The sight of the University’s colors, displayed on such a grand scale against the backdrop of a Texas night, transformed the Tower into something more than a landmark. The lights added a new and unexpected dimension to the building, both in its nighttime appearance and in the swell of public affection at the sight of it. Had construction of the Tower waited until the 1950s as intended, it would have been built when new stylistic trends in architecture minimized the use of external lighting. The Tower might not have been floodlit at all, and the University could have missed out on one of its best-loved traditions.

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2.AAS.1937.Skyscraper headline.

3.UT Library.Main Building and Tower.1930s Postcard.In the mid-1930s, construction of the UT Tower was front page news. The Austin American-Statesman described it as “luxurious and palatial,” while the Texan waxed poetic: “Like the shining spire of some fabled city, the new Library Tower will rise in the air to keep company with the birds and airplanes.” Austin was getting a new tallest building, though not everyone was happy about it.

Make no mistake. The Texas Capitol was first in the hearts of Austin citizens. Finished in 1888, the building’s 302-foot dome was taller than the National Capitol in Washington, DC, and affirmed Austin’s role as the seat of Texas government, something the locals didn’t take for granted.

4.Paul CretOn March 8, 1930, after a decade of mixed success in campus planning, the University hired Paul Cret  (image at left) as its consulting architect. A 53-year old native of France, he was a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts (“School of Fine Arts”) in Paris, at the time considered the finest architecture academy in the world. Cret had immigrated to the U.S., opened a private practice in Philadelphia, and was a professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.

Cret was tasked with providing UT with a campus master plan for future development, as well as finding a solution to the University’s acute library space problem. The existing library – today’s Battle Hall – had been judged inadequate for some time. There were several proposals, among them was a new library placed either north or south of the old Main Building, or a sizable addition to the existing library. All of the plans were either too expensive or inadequate.

5.1926 proposed addition to Battle Hall library.

Above: 1926 proposed addition to the UT library. Greene, LaRoche, and Dahl of Dallas. Today’s Battle Hall is on the left, while the extension would have been to the north.

By April 3rd, less than a month into his University employment, Cret sent the Board of Regents a “Report on the Library,” and argued that the best location was on top of the hill in the middle of the Forty Acres, the site then occupied by Old Main. He explained that the library would need to be centrally located and easily accessible. Because of the space requirements for book stacks and reading rooms, it would also be the largest and most monumental structure on the campus, which required a prominent setting. To Cret, the proper location of the new library was vital, as it was quickly becoming the focus of his campus master plan.

6.1933 Campus Master Plan.Paul Cret.

Above: The 1933 campus master plan for the University of Texas. The Tower is the focus, from which malls extend in the four cardinal directions. (The North Mall wasn’t implemented.) UT Buildings Collection, Alexander Architectural Archives, UT Austin.

While University authorities knew that the eventual removal of Old Main was likely, they weren’t prepared for it just yet. After all, the ivy-draped, Victorian-Gothic Old Main was the first building on the campus. It had great historical and sentimental value, especially with the alumni.

To solve the library space problem, keep the desired site, reduce costs, and not offend the alumni, Cret proposed building the library in two phases. The back, lower portion of the library would be constructed first. Officially designated the “Library Annex,” it included a main desk and reading rooms, along with several floors of book stacks. (Today, the area is used by the Life Sciences Library.) The north wing of Old Main would be razed, but it housed an auditorium that had been declared unsafe by the Austin Fire Marshal in 1916 and was unused. The annex would be connected to the rest of Old Main by a hallway.

After a period of time – Cret suggested 20 years, or sometime in the 1950s – when the campus had grown used to the annex and more funds were available, Old Main could be retired. The south façade and stack tower would be finished to complete the new Main Building, which would then assume the role as UT’s central library.

As discussion continued about a proposed tower at UT, the Austin City Council moved to protect the view and importance of the Capitol. The concern was understandable. Through the 1920s, fellow Texas cities of Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio had all added near 400-foot tall skyscrapers to their skylines. Some feared that a similar development in Austin could shroud the all-important Capitol dome.

On April 23, 1931, Austin passed its first zoning plan, which limited the height of new downtown buildings to 150 feet. (It was later amended to 200 feet.) Exceptions could be granted. Two days later, on April 25th, the Board of Regents approved Cret’s two-part construction plan. Funding was granted in 1932, and the Library Annex completed the following year.

7.1933.Construction of Library Annex.Phase one of Main Building.

Above: Construction of the Library Annex, which included a reference desk and and two large reading rooms: The Hall of Texas and The Hall of Noble Words. The central tower of Old Main  is on the right. (For more construction images, see: How to Build a Tower.) UT Buildings Collection, Alexander Architectural Archives, UT Austin.

Phase one was to quietly sit behind Old Main for the next two decades, but pressure was mounting to find a way to complete the building early. Despite the economic challenges of the Great Depression, the 1930s were boon years for the University. The discovery of oil on UT-owned West Texas land had caused the Permanent University Fund to balloon with newly-acquired oil royalties, while a special constitutional amendment allowed the University to borrow directly against the PUF and launch a multi-million dollar building program. The Texas Union, Gregory and Anna Hiss Gymnasiums, Hogg Memorial Auditorium, along with new facilities for chemistry (Welch Hall), business (Waggener), architecture (Goldsmith), geology (W. C. Hogg), physics (Painter), and home economics (Mary Gearing) were all included. All of this activity generated an abundance of construction jobs, which helped to spare Austin from the brunt of the Depression.

Wanting to continue the trend, the University hoped to go ahead and finish the library. It applied for and was granted a loan from the Progress Works Administration, one of the many New Deal programs created by President Franklin Roosevelt. The  Austin City Council approved a height exemption for the 307-foot Tower, the only building to receive such an allowance for the next 30 years. Steam shovels began construction on phase two of the library in January 1935, and the completed Main Building was dedicated on February 27, 1937.

8.J Frank Dobie“Austin’s bid for metropolitan fame is progressing,” announced the Statesman. The University’s new Tower was not only five feet taller than the Capitol, the UT site was on a hill farther up the Colorado River valley and higher than the Capitol grounds. All told, the Tower enjoyed a 48-foot advantage in elevation.

Most of Austin’s citizens approved of the new Tower, but not everyone. Famed author and folklorist J. Frank Dobie was pointed: “For a university that owns 2,000,000 acres of land . . . it’s ridiculous. It’s like a toothpick in a pie.”

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9.1923 Thanksgiving Eve.Old Main floodlit.

Above: Old Main floodlit on Thanksgiving Eve, 1923.

Initially, there were no plans to illuminate the Tower. After all, it wasn’t supposed to be built for another 20 years. Floodlights, though, had already been on campus for some time. In 1916, as part of a great homecoming celebration for Thanksgiving weekend, temporary lights were installed in front of the old Main Building. The south façade was brilliantly lit, and Old Main’s Gothic-arched windows and steep rooftops could be seen for miles. It was a first for Austin. The lighting effect was so popular, it became a biennial tradition.

10.1926 floodlighting of Texas Capitol domeNot to be outdone, the Texas Legislature appropriated funds to illuminate the Capitol dome. (Image at left.) In February 1925, more than 90 General Electric floodlight projectors, most of them placed on the roofs of the Capitol’s east and west wings, were aimed at the outside of the dome, while 20 amber-colored lights were placed inside to shine through the windows. Another three amber lights were located in the “tholos,” the glass-enclosed, lighthouse-like room just above the dome. The arrangement was similar to what was then being used at the National Capitol.

The efforts to floodlight the Texas Capitol and, to a lesser extent, Old Main, were part of a much larger, national discourse between lighting engineers and architects on the use of external lighting for buildings. With origins dating back to the late 19th century – the 1889 World Exhibition in Paris featured the Eiffel Tower as a “light tower,” while the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago was famous for its vivid “White City” – the increasing use of electric lights had reinvented the nocturnal urban landscape. As skyscrapers grew ever taller in the 1910s, experiments in external lighting soon followed. By the 1920s and ‘30s, aided by a substantial drop in the price of electricity, thousands of buildings in the United States were illuminated.

11.1893.Columbian Exposition.Chicago.

Above: The 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The use of electric lights to outline the buildings and illuminate fountains had a profound influence on urban planning and the nighttime environment of cities. 

12.Jewels in the Sky.New York scene.Some architects considered floodlights a new building material, and proactively designed their projects to be seen after sunset. “Night illumination attracts attention like a spotlight on a stage,” claimed skyscraper architect Harvey Corbett. “The possibilities of night illumination have barely been touched,” added Raymond Hood. “There is still to be studied the whole realm of color, both in the light itself and in the quality and color of the reflecting surfaces, pattern studies in light, shade and color, and last of all, movement.” The use of floodlights seemed to accessorize what might otherwise have been dark and ominous structures. It gave them bright and cheerful nighttime garments, which transformed the American city. “There is a new Manhattan skyline – a new city of light and color rising above an old one,” reported the New York Times in 1925, which described downtown as “a huge city of illuminated castles in the air.”

Above right: An idyllic image of a 1920s skyscraper with floodlights on the upper levels, described as a “jewel in a setting.”

The lights included colors and special effects. Red, amber, green and blue filters were the standard selection, though colors could be mixed to create different hues. On some buildings, repeating dimmers allowed colors to brighten and darken and blend in an endless variety.

Naturally, General Electric, Westinghouse, and other electric companies encouraged the use of illumination, especially after the onset of the Great Depression, when the sales of electrical appliances had declined. The companies published a series of booklets that not only provided detailed engineering specifications on how to install floodlights, but included essays by noted architects on aesthetics and design. At one point, GE launch an ad campaign that claimed building illumination was a means to counter the gloom of the Great Depression.

13.Floodlighting booklet covers.

Above: In the 1920s abd ’30s, General Electric, Westinghouse, and other electric companies produced booklets with lighting specifications and essays by prominent architects.

14.Dallas.Houston.San Antonio.1920s Skyscrapers.

Above: In the 1920s, other Texas cities added illuminated high-rises to their skylines, all about 400 feet tall. From left, Dallas’ Magnolia Building with its iconic red Pegasus, Houston’s Gulf Building, and San Antonio’s Tower Life Building.

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In June 1934, the Board of Regents met in the President’s Office – then in Sutton Hall – to review the final plans for phase two of the Main Building, which included the south façade and Tower. Paul Cret traveled from Philadelphia to personally present the sketches and drawings, and to answer the regents’ many questions. After a lengthy discussion, the designs were enthusiastically approved. Contracts were awarded in November, and construction began the following January.

Among the plans was a recommendation by the Faculty Building Committee. Influenced by national architectural trends, knowing the impact the Main Building would have on the Austin skyline as a counterpart to the State Capitol, and in deference to the much-loved tradition of illuminating Old Main, floodlights were proposed and approved for the Tower. The decision received scant attention for more than a year, until well after construction was underway. The Texan mentioned: “An indirect lighting system accomplished through the use of flood lights at strategic points along the ascension of the tower will render it visible at night for many miles around Austin.”

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15.Carl Eckhardt.The person assigned to oversee the floodlight project was 34-year old Carl Eckhardt, Jr. (Image at right.) Twice a UT graduate, he earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1925 and a master’s in 1930. Eckhardt joined the engineering faculty as an instructor in 1926, was promoted to adjunct professor when he completed his master’s degree, and was made a full professor in 1936.  An avid collector of the writings of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Byron, Browning, Thomas Paine, and others, he made it a habit to end each of his engineering classes with a tidbit of prose or poetry as a thought for the day. “In my opinion,” Eckhardt explained, “an engineer should be as cultured as anyone else, even more so.”

Along with his faculty responsibilities, Eckhardt took on several demanding roles on the Forty Acres. He was appointed Superintendent of Power Plants in 1930, and then was promoted to Superintendent of Utilities in 1936, just as he was named a full professor. In 1950, he helped to organize the physical plant department and served as its inaugural director for two decades. Eckhardt was, quite literally, in charge of the campus. His hours were legendary. Eckhardt usually arrived for work at 7 a.m., and, but for two half hour breaks for lunch and dinner, usually stayed until 10 p.m.

16.Spring Commencement Maces.For anyone who has spent some time on the Forty Acres, it’s difficult not to encounter one of Eckhardt’s many contributions to the University. Starting in 1956, he originated most of the ceremonial maces used for commencement. (Image at left.) Some made from pieces of Old Main, each one is full of imagery pertaining to the schools and colleges, University leadership, and alumni.

In 1958, as part of UT’s 75th anniversary celebration, Eckhardt oversaw the reconstruction of the Santa Rita oil pump on the south side of campus. Until recently, an audio recording at the pump relayed the story of the oil well and its effect on the University. Eckhardt was the voice of the narration.

He planted trees across campus, including many of the cypress along Waller Creek, advocated for an annual Service Awards program to recognize the efforts of UT’s non-teaching personnel, and self-published six booklets on University history, on topics that ranged from portraits of UT’s first 20 presidents, a volume about the University’s early years, and a booklet that explains the symbolism of each of the commencement maces.  (The works are in the library, and can still be found in local used book stores.) In 1980, a then-retired Professor Eckhardt was awarded UT’s Presidential Citation. The University’s Heating and Power Complex is named for him.

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17.DT.1936.03.03.Amber and White Lights.

18.Tower.Proposed use of Amber for top.To start, Eckhardt’s crew reviewed all of the literature they could find on external illumination, including the booklets published by the electric companies, and especially those by General Electric. The University would use GE’s “Novalux” light projectors (image below right), similar to what had been employed at the Texas Capitol.

Along with white lights, the available colors were red, green, blue, and the popular amber. Initially, Eckhardt considered amber to highlight the upper portion of the Tower,  (image at left) particularly around the Doric columns that enclosed the Tower’s belfry. Amber, though, is a yellow-orange hue. One look, and Eckhardt immediately realized that amber was too close to orange not to go ahead and use the University’s colors. Orange wasn’t a standard choice, however, and GE first proposed alternating red and amber lights to acquire an orange tint. But this meant extra lights would need to be installed, and, besides, the shade of orange wouldn’t be consistent along the surface of the building. Instead, Eckhardt ordered custom orange covers for the floodlights.

19.General Electric Novalux floodlight projectorThe floodlights arrived May 1937, the last significant piece of the Main Building, and were installed and individually positioned through the summer. While the building had already been dedicated on February 27th, the University wasn’t to officially occupy the space until the fall.

In all, 292 floodlights, half orange and half white, were placed on the four recesses, or “setbacks” of the Tower. The largest were the 96 1,000-watt lights at the Tower base, another 64 250-watt lights placed on the observation deck, 48 500-watt projectors to illuminate the belfry, and 84 100-watt bulbs around the parapet at the top. There were two circuits at each setback: one for all-orange lights, the other for all-white. Switches on the ground floor of the Main Building permitted the choice of color for each level.

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20.Tower.First use of floodlights.Oct 19 1937.The evening forecast for Tuesday, October 19, 1937 was postcard worthy: clear, cool, star-filled skies with a full moon. Everything was ready. At dusk, just before 6 p.m., the Tower was officially illuminated for the first time.

Eckhardt’s crew didn’t go for a simple, all-white or all-orange Tower. For this first attempt, they opted for something more subtle and elegant, and practical at the same time. Perhaps inspired by the images of multi-colored buildings in the floodlighting booklets, the crew wanted to try out more of the available palette, which, in this case, included a shade of light orange by combining orange and white lights together.

21.Orange Palette

On the night a floodlit Tower made its debut, the lower portion remained white, while the area just above the observation deck – which included the clock faces – was bright orange. Above that, the belfry displayed a light orange tone, while bright white shown from the crown.  (Image above left.) Today, the colors might be likened to an orange creamsicle.

The lights drew raves on and off campus. The following morning, Texan reporters Frank White and Bob Wilkinson called it “majestic splendor.” Their fellow students, “seeing it with us were entranced with its colorful beauty, and found no words to describe it.” The Statesman’s gossip columnist “Peeping Peggy” Harding gushed, “that the University colors of orange and white could blend so perfectly as they did that first night in the lights on the tower was a surprise to me; but the shading from bright orange at the base of the clock to white at the peak was a splendid sight. I think that experiment after experiment may be tried but none will be as effective as it was the first night.”

22.Peeping Peggy Harding.column heading.The experiments to which Harding referred were a seemingly endless variety of Tower lighting schemes that began October 19th and continued for nearly a year. In her column, she praised “Carl Eckhardt, supervising engineer of the beautiful doings taking place on the tower of the administration-library building on the campus. The effects gained with the various combinations that have been shown are wonderful, and at night as the hills lift their purple crown over the city, heads turn in the direction of the university to see beauty there.”

Which design (or designs) University officials favored remained a mystery. “Tonight you may see an entirely different lighting arrangement,” stated the Texan, “depending upon the mood of the experimental crew. Acceptance of the lights is pending University approval, and what you see for the next few nights is definitely not definite.”

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23.UT Football Coach Dana X BibleFor UT football fans, the 1937 season was a long one. First-year head coach Dana Bible (image at left), recruited from the University of Nebraska to serve as both athletic director and coach, said that he would need five years to turn around what was then a lackluster football program. By the end of the season, it looked as if he might need all of it, and then some.

Texas opened with a win. Under cloudy skies and in front of a sparse 12,000 fans in Texas Memorial Stadium, the Longhorns scored a dozen points in the final quarter to beat Texas Tech 25–12. The undefeated streak, though, was short one. A trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana the following week resulted in a 0-9 drubbing from LSU, and the third game of the season ended in a 7-7 tie with rival Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl. Texas then posted three consecutive losses to Arkansas, Rice, and Southern Methodist.

24.1937.Texas 9.No 4 Baylor 6.

Above: 1937 Texas (in white jersey and helmets – with no face guards!) vs. Baylor.

25.1938.West Mall.First Color ImageThe great bright spot of the season came Saturday afternoon, November 6, in Waco, when a late field goal launched the Longhorns over the 4th-ranked Baylor Bears 9-6. Celebrations in Austin continued well into the night, especially on campus, where the weekly all-University Dance was held in the Texas Union Ballroom. Just a few steps from the Union, up the West Mall, the Tower base glowed white with the top portion bright orange. Like a giant victory flame in the middle of the Forty Acres, it reflected the jubilant mood of the University.

This has often been recorded as the start of the orange Tower tradition. While it’s true that the Tower was floodlit orange on the night of a Longhorn win, the former didn’t yet depend on the latter. Floodlights had been used for less than three weeks. No guidelines had been set, even the idea to use the orange lights in such a way hadn’t yet occurred to the lighting crew. The Tower was already set-up and scheduled to shine as it did, regardless of the final score in Waco. As Eckhardt later explained, “At the time we attached no importance to it. Like so many things that have become traditions, it only became important later.”

Above right: From 1938, one of the earliest color photographs of the Tower and Texas Union on the West Mall.

26.Tower.Top floodlight orange.Eventual victory lights.The campus was jazzed all week after the Baylor game. Was it a fluke, or had the Longhorns turned a corner? With Texas Christian University coming to Austin the next weekend, a Friday night football rally was scheduled on the newly-paved Main Mall, which hadn’t yet been landscaped with hedges and oak trees. On the morning of the rally, the Texan reported, “Even the University administration has gotten into the spirit of things. Bright orange lights, at special expense, will be diffused around the Tower tonight.”

Just after 7 p.m. Friday evening, a torchlight parade led by the Longhorn Band set out from the front of the Scottish Rite Dorm, marched down Guadalupe, turned east on 21st Street, and then up the South Mall to the Tower, which was floodlit in the same way it appeared the previous Saturday, with the top portion orange. (Image upper left.)

27.1937.TCU Football Rally on Main Mall.

Above: A crowd gathers on the Main Mall for the Beat TCU football rally. The familiar hedges and oak tress haven’t yet been planted. Below, Bevo III at the rally. 

28.1937.TCU Football Rally.Bevo III.More than 2,000 fans, Coach Bible, the football team, Austin Mayor Tom Miller, and Bevo III (image at right) made it the largest and loudest rally of the season. Unfortunately, Texas went scoreless on Saturday while TCU prevailed 0-14. The next week in College Station, Texas A&M beat the Longhorns 0-7, and the soon-to-be-forgotten 1937 season ended at 2-6-1.

Still, the win over Baylor and the TCU rally planted an idea with Eckhardt: what if the orange floodlights, instead of being used every night as part of a standard lighting scheme, were instead reserved for special occasions?

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29.60_000 Ways Headline

30.Tower.Light orange base.Orange and white top.The Tower light show continued into 1938 and was gaining a fan base both inside and out of the Austin city limits. “When lighted at night, the Tower can be seen in Round Rock, Manor, and other surrounding towns,” reported the Statesman. “Persons at San Marcos say it can be seen from the hills around San Marcos.” The best view was from the south, when entering Austin along present-day South Congress Avenue. “From the crest of the hill (today’s South Congress at Ben White Boulevard), the lighted Tower behind the lighted dome of the Texas Capitol offers a breath-taking sight.”

University officials boasted that, just by changing a single bulb, there were an estimated 60,000 possible lighting schemes. Among them, as the Texan described, “Some nights the main body of the Tower is white with a faint orange tinge. Solid white light plays on the clocks and deep orange lights on the area above.” (Image above right.)

31.Mary Lou HumlongAt other times, the lower part of the Tower was left dark, with only the upper portion lit up in some combination of oranges and white. From a distance, the effect made it seem as if the illuminated clock and belfry were disconnected from the rest of the Main Building, suspended over the campus. More than a few students voiced their support for the idea. Journalism major and track team sprinter Hiram Reeves said, “I don’t like the whole Tower flooded with light. The two sections at the top are enough. The first one should be orange and the next white.” Anida Derst chimed in, “Isn’t it beautiful? I think only the top should be lighted. I like orange and then white.” Mary Lou Humlong (image upper left) agreed with order of colors, but wanted to go bigger: “I would like to see them flood the complete lower part of the Tower with orange, and use white only at the very top.” The use of white lights on the upper portion also highlighted the extensive gold leaf that was originally placed around the clock and the belfry. (See: The Tower Gold Rush.)

At one point, the lighting crew attempted a striped Tower, with a center white stripe and orange along the sides. Students, though, claimed it reminded them of a barber pole, and joked that the University was advertising itself as a barber college. The stripes didn’t work all that well anyway, as the lights diffused and blended with height, which blurred the vertical lines. Alternating each of the four sides of the Tower in orange and white was also tried.

32.Full Tower Graphic.1.

Above: Some of the early Tower lighting experiments. From left: the “creamsicle” Tower seen on the first night, the top-lit only Tower, a vertically striped Tower, and a horizontally striped Tower with alternating orange and white levels..

 As winter warmed into spring, and on into summer, the Tower lights continued to entertain, but were more often seen in four basic configurations: all-white, with an orange base and white top (as Mary Lou Humlong preferred), with a white base and orange top, and all-orange. While light orange was popular and still made an occasional appearance, the use of both orange and white lights on the same setback made that section a little brighter than the rest and created an uneven composition.

33.Full Tower Graphic.2.

Above: The four basic lighting patterns that began to appear in the summer of 1938.

34.Tower.Alternate white and orange base to top.At the same time, the crew determined that lighting the upper portion of the Tower more than one color was difficult to see from greater distances. For example, the four levels of the Tower could be lit – and was, as one of the experiments – alternately white and orange from bottom to top, with an orange crown. (Image at left.) On campus and nearby, the design was easy enough to see, but from two miles away and farther, the details were harder to discern. Eckhardt determined it was best to light the entire upper portion of the Tower a single color.

As the fall semester opened, an all-white Tower was more often seen. Eckhardt began to use the orange lights sparingly, as reported by the Statesman, “confined to those times when the campus is visited by out-of-town and out-of-state groups, or when the university sponsors some annual event.” This included the June 1938 commencement ceremonies, held for the first time on the Main Mall, when the top portion of the Tower glowed orange to honor the graduates.

While the lighting experiments had slowed, there was still no formal policy on the use of the Tower floodlights. Why so long to make a decision? At the time, the University was without a formal president. The much-loved Harry Benedict, who‘d served as UT’s chief executive for a decade, died unexpectedly in May 1937. The Board of regents appointed John Calhoun, a math professor and the University’s comptroller, as president ad interim. Calhoun was a longtime and influential member of the Faculty Building Committee and had suggested the inscription that was carved on the front of the Main Building (See: The Inscription), but opted to leave the final decision on the Tower lighting to his successor.

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35.1938.Coach Bible at football practice.

Above: Coach Bible at a Longhorn football practice.

If the 1937 football season was bad, 1938 was worse.

At the start, the Longhorns suffered a frustrating, one-point, 18-19 defeat at the University of Kansas. LSU came to Austin the following week. The Tigers picked up where they left off the previous year, and handed Texas a second, 0-20 drubbing. Oklahoma was next on the schedule.

On Tuesday morning, October 4th, a few days before the showdown with the Sooners, the Statesman printed its popular and chatty “Town Talk” column by Editor-in-chief Charles Green.

36.Town Talkk Header“They’ve been having such a good time out at the University of Texas with the tower on the administration building that it seems a shame to say anything” wrote Green. “But why not have a little meaning in the change of the lights of the building – at least during football season? How would it be to flash on the orange lights and white lights when Texas had been victorious so that everyone would see and know and each night see and know again? And, on the other hand, when Texas goes down in defeat, light the tower in the calm white light? So that football players, as well as others, would see it every night and remember just what it meant.”

“Well, it’s just an idea,” Green continued. Maybe it’d be an inspiration. But any way you take it, that tower agleam with light is something to look at.”

The Texan responded. “One of the good ideas “Town Talk” in a downtown paper developed the other day was a new lighting system for the Tower. The plan called for lighting the Library shaft with the orange and white lights the following week if Texas won the football game and using solid white ones if we lost. The lighting effect would remind players as well as other students of the game the previous week and might help get them in the mood to keep the lights from being all white.”

While the time periods were different – Green proposed using orange lights only for the night of the football game, while the Texan had orange lights on the Tower for a week – the basic idea was the same. It fit perfectly with Eckhardt’s notions for making the orange lights special, and he welcomed the suggestion.

37.Tower.All orange.The “victory lights,” though, would have to wait a while. Texas was blanked by Oklahoma 0-13, and the Longhorns followed it up with losses to Arkansas, Rice, SMU, Baylor, and eventual national champion TCU. Only one game remained. The lone chance to redeem the season was the Thanksgiving Day bout with Texas A&M in Austin.

As had been the custom when the game was played at UT, alumni turned it into an unofficial homecoming and invaded Austin in droves. This was also the first home game versus the Aggies when the Main Building and Tower were fully operational. In the spirit of the prior tradition of floodlighting Old Main, Eckhardt ordered a distinctive all-orange Tower for the alumni the nights before and of Thanksgiving. (Image upper left.)

38.DT.1938.11.24.HeadlineWednesday night’s Thanksgiving Eve began with a football rally of 4,000 in front of Gregory Gym, followed by a second, bonfire rally on present-day Clark Field, and then a march en masse to Sixth Street downtown. Thanksgiving Day was a holiday for most, but much of UT held an open house in the morning to accommodate the surge of visitors. The president’s and deans’ offices, library in the Main Building, Tower observation deck, and campus museums were all available until 1 p.m. The Texas Union, then headquarters for the alumni association, was open all day. Kick-off for the game was at 2:30 p.m., and the University-wide Thanksgiving Dance was set for Gregory Gym that night.

More than 35,000 fans packed the stadium as an inspired Longhorn defense kept the game scoreless for three quarters. Early in the fourth, halfback Nelson Puett made a dramatic dive over the goal line to give Texas a touchdown, and while UT hadn’t converted an extra point all season, Wally Lawson found his mark to give the Longhorns a 7-0 lead. The win seemed assured until, with less than 20 seconds left, a botched Longhorn play meant to run out the clock resulted in a fumble that was recovered by the Aggies in the end zone for a score. Texas, however, managed to block the extra point as time – and the season – ran out, leaving the final tally 7-6. Jubilant fans rushed the field.

39.1938 Texas vs Texas AandM in Austin.Winning Touchdown

Above: The Longhorn’s winning touchdown to beat the Aggies.

As had happened the year before with the upset over Baylor, campus reveling continued well into the night, though this time centered at the Thanksgiving Dance in Gregory Gym. An all-orange Tower presided over the Forty Acres, and while it would have been orange regardless of the score, by now, too many people connected the floodlights with the football win. What Green had suggested in the Statesman, combined with Eckhardt’s own thoughts on the use of the orange lights, as well as the lighting crew’s year-long experiment on how best to light the Tower, had all matured into a new University tradition.

40.1941 Cactus.White Tower for 1940 losses.Orange Tower for wins.And this time, the UT football program had truly turned a corner. The following 1939 season would be a winning one. Newly-appointed President Homer Rainey formally approved the idea of victory lights (with an all-orange Tower reserved for wins against A&M), and left the use of orange lights for other occasions at Eckhardt’s discretion . . .

Which made Eckhardt a very popular person.

Above: From the 1941 Cactus. In a recap of each game of the 1940 season, an image of a white or orange-topped Tower signified wins and losses. 

~~~~~~~~~~

“Dear Professor Eckhardt, Would you please light the Tower orange for . . .”

Over the next several years, the Tower victory lights for football, spring commencement, and a few other dates became a well-established tradition, and seemed to have everyone’s attention. “If anything is wrong after some football game or some other event,” Eckhardt explained, “I get as many as two or three hundred calls at home.” There was, though, still no formal schedule for the lights, and Eckhardt constantly fielded requests, or, as he described it, “a great host of individuals who possessed a wide variety of reasons for wanting to call attention to a function in which they were participating.” Among the functions were alumni meetings and retirement parties, academic conferences hosted in Austin, fraternity formals, milestone birthdays, and championships won in sports other than football. Occasionally, Eckhardt acquiesced (always, of course, if the request was made by the president), but most were politely refused. Orange lights on the Tower were supposed to be rare and distinctive.

41.Texas Ranger.September 1942.In 1941, soon after the U.S. entered the Second World War, Austin was deemed too close to the Gulf coast and within range of enemy bombers. An air raid siren was installed on the top of the Tower, and the city formally placed on a nighttime blackout. From January 25, 1942 to November 1, 1943 – about 19 months – both the Capitol dome and Tower were dark, though the Tower was allowed to shine for spring commencements and a Thanksgiving Day victory over Texas A&M.

Image at right: Cover of the September 1943 Texas Ranger student magazine. A UT freshman during wartime is portrayed as a paratrooper, landing on the Forty Acres next to a dark Tower under blackout.

When the blackout was lifted, student Mary Brickerhoff (image below left) cheered via the Texan. “The Tower isn’t a building. You thought it was? That’s natural, but the building part is only an optical illusion . . . The Tower is Texas, symbolically speaking, and it is at its most impressive and its most Texan when it is lighted up at night.”

42.Mary Brinkerhoff“That tall column of stone,” Brickerhoff continued, “silhouetted against a blue-black night sky and looking as though it were lighted from inside transparent walls instead of from the outside, has been affecting many very different people in the same way for a long time. In our mind’s eye – or in what we have left of it after four years of study – we can see the Tower from a dormitory window on a night of our first year here. It was several blocks away then, and it looked big and impressive. But it wasn’t unfamiliar. Something about it said, “Don’t be scared. You’ll have both fun and trouble in this place, and when it’s all over you won’t want to go back and change anything. And the Forty Acres will mean more to you than anywhere you’ve ever been.”

Brickerhoff expressed what many of her fellow students felt – and what future generations of UT students would feel – about the Tower, especially freshmen, who were both on their own for the first time and adjusting to college life. During the day, the Tower could be seen (and heard) from almost any spot on campus, but at night, standing proudly under a starry sky or buffeted by a Texas thunderstorm, the illuminated Tower was an image of stability and purpose in an otherwise hectic college student’s life. Had the decision been made not to use floodlights, to leave the building dark after sunset, the Tower would still have been the iconic campus landmark, but wouldn’t have engendered the same kind of passion Mary Brickerhoff described.

43.1940.UT Tower at night.postcard.

Above: A 1940 postcard image of the UT Tower at night.

~~~~~~~~~~

After years of endless special requests, Eckhardt at last decided that a formal lighting schedule was needed. Late in 1946, with the president’s approval, a seven-member committee discussed the issue at length, and announced their guidelines in October 1947.

44.UT Tower.Top OrangeThe victory lights – with the top portion of the Tower orange – were to be lit on nights when the football team won, or when the men’s baseball, basketball, track, swimming, golf, and tennis teams secured a Southwest Conference championship. The lights would also be used for spring commencement and various holidays: Easter, Christmas, Texas Independence Day (March 2), San Jacinto Day (April 21), Victory in Europe Day (May 8), Victory in Japan Day (August 14), and Armistice Day (November 11). As the Second World War had ended only recently, and the University campus was crowded with veterans who’d enrolled through the G.I. Bill (See: Life in Cliff Courts), the last three holidays were still widely observed.

An all-orange Tower was to be a rare sight indeed, seen only on Thanksgiving nights when the Longhorns defeated the Aggies. A great many students, though, were out-of-town for the holidays and missed out on the view. After a decade of complaints, the policy was amended in 1957 to include both Thanksgiving night and the following Sunday evening to greet returning students.

45.1952 Flashcard Section.Daytime and Orange Tower.

Above: The 1952 flashcard section flipped from a daytime to a nighttime orange-topped Tower, with the moon in the upper left corner. Courtesy Bob and Lou Harris. 

As the years passed, the lighting schedule continued to evolve. The World War II-related holidays were eventually replaced with Memorial and Veterans’ Days. It was also quite obvious to everyone that the victory lights were reserved only for men’s sports. In 1952, Jaclyn Keasler, president of UT’s Cap and Gown, a senior women’s organization, wrote to Eckhardt about the possibility of using the lights for Swing Out. An annual spring event since 1922, part of the program involved transferring a long bluebonnet chain from the shoulders of the graduating seniors to the juniors, symbolic of passing the campus leadership roles and traditions on to the succeeding class. Eckhardt was receptive to the idea and brought it to the committee, which agreed. On May 1, 1953, the top of the Tower finally glowed orange for a women-only activity. Almost 20 years later, with the passage of Title IX in 1971 and the creation of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) in 1972, the University began to sponsor competitive women’s sports. By 1976, the victory lights were shining for their achievements as well.

46.1923.Swing Out and Bluebonnet Chain.

Above: 1923 Swing Out and Bluebonnet Chain ceremony on what today is the South Mall.

47.1963.Orange Tower with UT.On Thanksgiving night 1962, Longhorn fans were in for a surprise. The football team had not only defeated Texas A&M, but had completed its first no-loss record in over 40 years. If not for a mid-season, 14-14 tie game with Rice when Texas was ranked number one, UT would have earned the national championship.  In honor of the team’s success, and in the spirit of the lighting experiments of the 1930s, Eckhardt ordered an all-orange Tower and had his crew spell out “UT” in the windows, the first time the windows were a part of the display.

 

 

48.1963 National Football Championship.Tower with 1.

The next year, the football team finished the 1963 season undefeated and ranked first, then soundly defeated number 2-ranked Navy in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day to clinch the University’s first national football championship. To celebrate, the Tower was orange for three nights, from January 1 – 3, 1964, with a “1” lit in the windows on each side. To prepare, Eckhardt’s crew spent two days sealing more than 100 windows with sheets of black plastic, and then left reminders in the appropriate offices to leave their lights on for the night. Today, a specially designed pull-down shade makes the process quicker and easier.

49.UT Tower 75th Annivesary.Logo and Tower.

On February 27, 2012, the Tower turned 75 years old. Students distributed birthday cake on the West Mall, the Alexander Architectural Archives, housed on the ground floor of Battle Hall, sponsored an open house with some of Paul Cret’s Tower sketches and drawings on display, and a historical tour of the Main Building was conducted in the early evening. Thanks to special approval by UT President Bill Powers, the Tower glowed orange that night with a “75” in the windows – the first time the Tower was lit orange to celebrate itself!

50.2019 and 2020 Spring Commencement.

Above: The 2019 Spring Commencement was the 25th year fireworks were launched from the Tower. The pandemic interrupted the 2020 ceremony, though the Tower still sported a “20” in its windows. Photos by Marsha Miller. 

By the 21st century, the Tower lights were thoroughly enmeshed in the University’s culture. Today, the Tower shines orange to recognize academic pursuits, including Honor’s Day, as well as faculty, staff, and alumni awards. The Tower lights not only mark the achievements of UT’s athletic teams, but national titles earned by the sports clubs under the Division of Recreational Sports. At times, the Tower is darkened in memoriam for members of the University community who have passed.

Best known, perhaps, is the use of the Tower for Spring Commencement, the signature event of the academic year. Held on the Main Mall since 1938, it was a somewhat staid ceremony with average attendance. In 1995, UT President Bob Berdahl asked that commencement be reinvented with more pomp and excitement. Special lighting effects were added to illuminate the Tower the designated color of each school and college, and the graduation year was lit in the windows. The most significant change was the addition of fireworks at the end of the ceremony. In just a few years, Spring Commencement was attracting overflow crowds of more than 20,000 persons.

The Tower lights, added almost as an afterthought to a building that was constructed 20 years early, has matured well beyond its “majestic splendor” and become a vital part of the University’s identity.

  • Special thanks to the Austin History Center for helping to determine the height and site elevation of the Texas Capitol and UT Tower.

Why Texas Exes Celebrate March 2nd

The tradition has held fast for more than a century. On March 2nd, Texas Independence Day, some 40 Texas Exes chapters will gather for dinner, sing college songs, reminisce about their days as UT students, and learn something about the current goings on at the Forty Acres. It’s a time to celebrate everything and everyone connected to Texas and strengthen the bonds with the University.

Don’t forget, though, to thank Bob Saner.

~~~~~~~~~~

Robert Edward Saner (photo at right) hailed from the wilds of southwest Arkansas, born in 1871 on a farm near the small town of Washington, about 40 miles from Texarkana and the state border. He grew up attending public schools in one-room schoolhouses, and then won a scholarship to Searcy College in Arkansas. Bob stayed a year before he went on to Vanderbilt University in Nashville. For the next three years, he alternated between working various jobs and attending classes full-time, slowly making progress toward a law degree.

In the fall of 1895, when his family had relocated to Dallas, Bob elected to transfer to the University of Texas. At the time, aside from a $15 “matriculation fee,” tuition for in-state students was free. By then, Bob was only a year away from graduation, and the move to UT made financial sense. Bob’s younger brother, John, also registered, as a first-year law student.

With an enrollment of just under 500, and sprawled on a 40-acre campus with a Victorian-Gothic Main Building that was only two-thirds complete, the infant University of Texas was still very much a work in progress. Bob divided his time between law classes and assisting Professor Robert Batts with several legal publications, including Batts Annotated Statutes of Texas. John, meanwhile, found time to join the Athenaeum Literary Society, volunteer part-time at the law library, and pitch for the baseball team. For both, the highlight of the academic year turned out to be March 2nd, Texas Independence Day.

Above left: Only two-thirds of the old Main Building had been completed in 1895.

As Bob and John were newcomers to the Lone Star State, neither had experienced the unique swell of public Texas pride that accompanies the second day of March, but it was soon to make a deep impression on both of them. In 1896, Texas Independence Day was a state-wide holiday, except at the University, where classes were to be held as usual. For years, students had petitioned for the day off to celebrate their state, but their requests were always refused.

This time, the first-year law students, including John, decided to take matters into their own hands. Despite articulate and insistent pleas from Professor Batts, the group voted to skip classes en masse. Instead, they repaired to Scholz’ Beer Garden and spent the afternoon imbibing refreshments and waxing eloquent upon the virtues of everything Texas.

Though Bob hadn’t participated, he’d certainly taken notice. He graduated in June with an LL.B., or a Bachelor of Laws and Letters, as law degrees were then called, and then returned to Dallas to prepare for the state bar exam and seek employment.

The following year, 1897, John’s law class again decided to celebrate Texas Independence Day, but this time legally borrowed a cannon from the Capitol, pulled it more than a mile to campus, and then fired it in front of Old Main. University President George Winston was persuaded to address the students, and claimed that while he’d been born and raised in the land of liberty, “Texas University students take more liberty than anyone I’ve ever come in contact with!” (see How to Celebrate Texas Independence Day) The decision to use the cannon was a hit, and a new University tradition was born.

Above right: The 1897 senior law class fires a cannon in front of Old Main to celebrate Texas Independence Day. Click on an image for a larger view. 

John completed his LL.B. that spring, and then stayed an extra year to earn a master’s degree – an LL.M. – before joining Bob in Dallas where they soon founded their own law firm.

~~~~~~~~~~

While Bob’s tenure as a UT student was brief, his relationship with the University was just beginning. Coming to Austin in June to see his brother graduate, Bob sat in on the alumni association meeting, which was then held annually the day before spring commencement. After a couple of years, Bob was hooked, and became a regular attendee for the rest of his life. At one point, he served as the association’s vice president.

In 1900, the alumni had gathered in the auditorium of Old Main, and a serious discussion arose on how to increase participation. At the time, the University was less than two decades old. The alumni association, founded in 1885 by the first two graduating classes of ’84 and ’85, was observing its 15th anniversary. With very few exceptions, the oldest alumni hadn’t yet reached their 40th birthdays, and the majority of UT graduates were still in their 20s.  They were busy with new families and building careers. What was needed was an additional event, another excuse for alumni to gather, and something that was nearer to their homes rather than in Austin.

Above: Some UT alumni living in New York City gather on a chilly March 2, 1913.

Bob had an idea. In just a few years, Texas Independence Day had become a popular tradition on the Forty Acres. Might it be extended to the alumni?

In the middle of the discussion, Bob penned a brief resolution, and then passed it to the front to be reviewed by the officers and read to the group. It stated: “Whenever two ex-students of the University of Texas meet on March Second, Texas Independence Day, they shall sit and break bread together and pay tribute to the founders of the Republic of Texas, who made our education possible.”

The resolution was well-received and immediately passed, but nothing further was done to help alumni to contact each other, much less organize an event to “break bread.”

Later that summer, the University’s Board of Regents appointed Bob as UT’s Land Agent. While he continued to practice law in Dallas, Bob had to familiarize himself with the more than two million acres of University-owned lands in West Texas. Provided by the Texas Legislature when UT was created in 1881, it was the basis for the Permanent University Fund. At first, income was generated primarily through grazing and farming leases, but once oil was discovered in 1923, royalties exponentially grew the fund and forever changed the campus. Bob served as UT Land Agent for 30 years, a position that only strengthened his affection for the University.

Above: The Fort Worth alumni held their 1914 banquet at the Westbrook Hotel. At the bottom of the program cover is the Rattle-de-Thrat yell, which was then popular at UT sports rallies and games. 

While the alumni association had seemed to not follow through on Bob’s resolution, he persisted, and decided to do something locally. He helped to found the University Club of Dallas – among the first UT alumni chapters – and at its December 31, 1901 meeting to elect officers for the following year, Bob suggested an annual banquet be held on March 2nd, both to celebrate Texas Independence Day and the University. The idea was carried unanimously, and a five-person committee, with Bob as chair, was appointed and charged with “getting up the banquet.”

The idea was reported in The Dallas News the following day, and a month later, surfaced in The Texan student newspaper. “The Texan wishes to lend its hearty approval to this plan,” wrote the editor, “and insists that the alumni of the counties all over the state profit by the example.”

The Texan continued, “Nearly every county is represented by the student body, and the students should urge upon the alumni the necessity and wisdom of falling into line with this movement.” The 1902 Dallas banquet was a rousing success and quickly became the focus of spring activities.

The alumni association, though, continued to sputter and stall, much to the frustration of a small group of ex-students, including Bob, who saw alumni at other colleges and universities grow more active. It wasn’t until association president Ed Parker issued his seminal letter to alumni in December 1910, plainly stating that the association had no complete records, no funding, no headquarters, “no really effective organization,” did the outlook begin to improve. (see The Alumni Room)

Above left: The alumni association published an information booklet for Texas Independence Day in 1924. It included a brief history of how March 2nd came to be celebrated on campus, information about the association, and words to UT songs. 

The following June, at the 1911 annual meeting, the association made great strides to reorganize itself. Bob followed up his decade-old resolution with the suggestion that 31 vice-presidents be appointed, one for each state senatorial district, “whose special duty should be to bring University men and women in the district together for a University celebration on Texas Independence Day.” The association found 31 volunteers, along with two more for New York City and Mexico City. Success wasn’t immediate, but within three years, 14 cities were hosting annual banquets, and the number continued to grow.

To promote the March 2nd events, the Alcalde alumni magazine, which debuted in 1913 as part of the association’s reorganization, provided ample room for detailed reports from each banquet. Along with New York and Mexico City, groups in Boston, Saint Louis, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle joined the out-of-state list, which grew further to include London, Paris, and Tokyo.

Above right: The 1931 program for Boston’s March 2nd banquet included a performance of cowboy songs.

In 1916, UT President William Battle addressed both the Dallas and New York groups from the Austin banquet at the Driskill Hotel via long distance telephone. The “conference call” was a first for AT&T, which loaned a substantial amount of equipment for the effort. (see UT’s First Conference Call)

Above: On March 2, 1932, sculptor Pompeo Coppini, who created the Littlefield Fountain and the George Washington statue on the South Mall, hosted UT alumni in New York at his Manhattan studio. Coppini is standing in the back, fourth from left. Look close. Along the wall to the right is a plaster copy of one of the servicemen seen on the Littlefield Fountain. Click on an image for a larger view. 

As the popularity of the March 2nd banquets increased, so did the demand by alumni for news from the Forty Acres. A speakers bureau was created by the association and volunteer professors, deans, and UT administrators were dispatched around the state. To provide still more substance, the banquets included fundraising activities to support local scholarships to the University.

In the meantime, all of the activity and fun surrounding Texas Independence Day led directly to the formal establishment of local alumni clubs, what today are Texas Exes chapters. The banquets provided a venue for an annual meeting, where business was discussed and alumni officers elected.

Happy Texas Independence Day, y’all. And thanks, Bob.

Above: On March 2, 1980, the Texas Exes sponsored a parade of students and alumni from the Capitol to the Main Mall, there to observe Texas Independence Day at noon. 

The Old Main Cornerstone

Above: The cornerstone of the Old Main sits in the front loggia of the current Main Building. The stone was supposed to be placed on November 16, 1882, but a rainy cold front postponed the ceremony to the 17th. Austin stonemason Ben Muschamp, who’d carved the letters in the cornerstone, didn’t have time to create a new one with the corrected date. 

It was a wretched morning. A cold front the day before had brought with it a frigid gale and steady rain, which forced a postponement of the ceremonies. Conditions hadn’t improved much overnight. For the moment, the rain had stopped, but a brisk wind enforced the damp chill of the autumn air, and the cursed clouds threatened to douse the city again. It was hardly the kind of day anyone had imagined to celebrate the beginnings of a new university.

On Friday, November 17, 1882, in defiance of the raw elements, a crowd of several thousand turned out in Austin to watch the laying of the cornerstone for the University of Texas. Just before noon, a parade assembled at the head of Congress Avenue, in front of the Capitol grounds. The place was nearly vacant. The old capitol had burned nearly a year ago, and construction of a grand new building hadn’t yet begun.

Leading off the parade was the popular George Herzog Marching Band. With their crisp, red and gold uniforms and brass horns, the group splashed through the muddy streets playing “souls stirring and foot stomping music.” Behind them, a long procession of horse-drawn carriages carried the governor, the University regents, the Mayor of Austin, and other state and city dignitaries. Following on foot were many of the city’s civic groups, dressed in uniform or their finest attire. Members of the Knights of Honor were joined by the United Order of Workmen and the Knights of Pythias.  The polished wagons of the Austin Fire Department came next, along with the Germania Association and the Austin Greys.

At the west entrance to the campus along Guadalupe Street, the procession was met by Austin schoolchildren, who joined the group as it climbed the hill. The assemblage gathered near the top, where the foundation had been laid for the west wing of the University’s first building.

Above: The cornerstone ceremony for the old Main Building. The stone is held by a hand crane just right of top center. In front was supposed to be seating on long planks supported by wooden barrels, but most elected to stand and huddle together in the cold. Click on an image for a larger view.

A crude, wooden platform was hastily erected at the construction site, upon which were seats for the distinguished guests. For the audience, benches had been improvised with long planks supported by wooden barrels. Most of the spectators, though, in order to keep warm (and avoid splinters), elected to stand, and huddled together against the cold.

Dr. Ashbel Smith, the 75-year old chairman of the Board of Regents, spoke at length. “We have come together to do a great work,” boasted Smith. “The corner stone of the University of Texas . . . far surpasses in solemn importance and in weighty, widely diffusive and long reaching consequences, any corner stone of any building hitherto laid, or likely hereafter to be laid, in the broad territory of the future millions of Texas.” A feisty orator, Smith was neither modest nor short of words. His speech lasted well over an hour, and he predicted a wonderful future for the new university.

Following Dr. Smith’s address, a few “official” items were placed in a small lead box that would be sealed inside the cornerstone: copies of Texas newspapers, a list of the Board of Regents, and a proclamation written by Governor Oran Roberts. But there was room for more, and the public was invited to contribute.

The crowd was ready, and the box was filled with an odd assortment of items. Business cards, police badges, a Bible, rosters and constitutions of local organizations, a piece of sheet music from a member of the George Herzog Band, locks of hair from several Austin debutantes, a cigar, and coins of all types were donated. Former Texas Governor Frank Lubbock contributed a lucky charm – a brass button – that he’d carried for over 40 years to ward off rheumatism, presumably to keep the University agile as it aged. Lastly, of all things, was a picture of Queen Victoria, clipped from a Harper’s magazine and mailed to the regents by “an unfortunate man in jail.” Once filled, the lead box was closed and set, and the hollow cornerstone lowered over it by a hand crane.

~~~~~~~~~~

Above: Some of the onlookers gather to watch the removal of the of the Old Main cornerstone in 1934, some sitting on the balconies of Battle Hall. In front, UT President Harry Benedict is fourth from right in the white hat. The camera on the tripod at front right took the image below. 

Above: The Old Main cornerstone is removed from its perch on the southeastern corner of the building, then taken to the president’s office to be opened.

Just over half a century later, on the sweltering summer afternoon of Saturday, July 21, 1934, UT President Harry Benedict, Board of Regents Chair Beauford Jester, and about 100 others gathered near the same spot to witness the cornerstone’s removal. Old Main was about to be razed to make room for the current Main Building and Tower.

Unlike the highly organized 1882 ceremony, the 1934 event was very informal. There were no planned speeches, though among the spectators was 64-year old Arthur Stiles, the only person present to have seen the cornerstone set in place. He recounted the colorful parade that braved a true Texas Norther and the “rotund bearded figures” who spoke glowing terms of the University’s future. As the cornerstone was removed from its resting place, a lone trumpeter at the top of the building’s central tower sounded “Taps,” which officially closed Old Main. The lead box was recovered from inside the stone and taken to the president’s office, where the contents were examined, recorded, and then replaced.

Above: The cornerstone as it appeared in Old Main. The carved letters were filled with paint to make them easier to read. One side listed members of the Board of Regents, the other displayed the names of the building’s architect and construction contractor.

Above: A crowd in the president’s office, then on the first floor of Sutton Hall, to see the contents of the Old Main cornerstone. The open lead box is on the right side of the desk. Click on an image for a larger view. 

When the present Main Building was dedicated on February 27, 1937, the box was placed inside the new cornerstone, complete with a lucky charm to fend off rheumatism.

Among the contents of the 1882 Old Main cornerstone:

  • The Austin Daily Statesman, Friday, November 17, 1882
  • The Galveston Daily News, Thursday, November 16, 1882
  • Dallas Daily Herald, Friday, November 10, 1882
  • Fort Worth Daily Gazette, Friday, November 10, 1882
  • The Daily Post (Houston), Thursday, November 16, 1882
  • “Governor’s Message” – Proclamation or Governor Oran Roberts,
  • to convene a special session of the Texas Legislature,
  • Executive Office, Austin, Texas, March 1, 1882
  • One picture card advertisement: George A. Brush, Austin, Texas, Dealer in Stoves, etc
  • One package of cigarette papers, belonging to N.P. Houx
  • A poem called “The Book of Life,” by Lee C. Hasby, Houston, Texas, November 14, 1882
  • “Constitutions of Grand and Subordinate Lodges of the Knights of Pythias of Texas,” adopted, Galveston, April, 1882.
  • Handwritten copy of the Roster of Mount Bonnell Lodge, No. 34, Knights of Pythias, April, 1882
  • “The Constitution and By-Laws of the Kindred Association of Texas,” 1882
  • A handwritten copy of the Board of Regents of The University of Texas, November, 1882
  • Printed Booklet: “Plan of Organization and Rules and Regulations for the Government of the Public Free Schools of the City of Austin for 1882-1883.”
  • A copy of “Form of State or Provincial Constitution Recommended for the Association of a State or Province,” and handwritten on the cover, “Return to James Down, Secretary and Treasurer, Austin Y.M.C.A.”
  • A handwritten letter to Alexander P. Wooldridge, Secretary to the Board of Regents. Dated November 16, 1882, the letter was from F.W. Hanks, then an inmate at the Travis County Jail. Enclosed in the letter was a picture of Queen Victoria, clipped from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.
  • Muster Roll, Company “A” 2nd Regiment, Texas Volunteer Guards
  • Muster Roll of Terry’s Texas Rangers
  • Printed Booklet: “Reminiscences of Persons, Events, Records and Documents of Texian Times” by Mrs. W. A. C. Wilson, Austin, 1882
  • Drawing of the “New Capitol of the State of Texas,” by S. B. Hill, 818 Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas
  • An envelope containing the names of the artisans and mechanics employed in the construction of the University’s Main Building, a drawing of the completed building, and a photograph of its architect, F. E. Ruffini.
  • Advertising pamphlet for “Bandy and Parker, Manufacturers and Dealers in Saddles and Harnesses,” East Pecan Street, Austin, Texas
  • A piece of an envelope with the return addresses printed: J. W. Graham, Druggist, 918 Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas”
  • The business card of “J.A. Southern, Austin, Texas, Hack No. 12” (a horse-drawn taxi)
  • Locks of hair from: Miss Stella Wooten, Miss Etta Wooten, Miss Maud Wooten, Miss Tommie Wooten, Miss Tully Folts, Miss Mary Goldwyn, Miss Will Elle Hardeman.
  • A copy of the music to “Allegheny,” by I. J. Heffley with the words “Herzog Band” written on top in pencil.
  • A one hundred dollar Confederate bill
  • A sergeant’s badge from the Austin Police Department
  • A copy of “The Holy Bible,” printed in New York, 1882
  • One U.S. Silver Dollar, 1881
  • One Peso, Republica de Chile, 1876
  • A round whistle
  • A cigar
  • Three pecans
  • One brass button (a lucky charm donated by Governor Frank Lubbock)
  • 8 street car tokens for the “Austin City Railroad Co.”
  • A 50 Centavos coin, Republica Mexicana, 1879
  • 2 U.S. quarters, dated 1853 and 1877
  • A U.S. nickel, dated 1876
  • A U.S. two-cents coin, dated 1865
  • 7 U.S. pennies, dated from 1857 – 1882
  • One dozen marbles

Sources: Photos of the cornerstone removal are found in the Alexander Architecture Archives of the University of Texas at Austin, Main Building and Library Extension files, Box D171.

One Hundred Thirty-Six

Above: The earliest known image of the UT campus, taken in 1883 at the present intersection of University Avenue and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. The west wing of the old Main Building – where the present Main Building and Tower stand today – is the only structure.

The arrival of the University of Texas wasn’t greeted with trumpet and fanfare, but with neighs and whinnies.

At 10 a.m. on a sunny, sticky, Saturday morning, September 15, 1883, nearly three hundred persons gathered for the opening ceremonies in what was the unfinished west wing of the old Main Building. The audience sat on chairs arranged on a makeshift floor of undressed lumber, surrounded by unpainted walls. The incomplete windows were open to the elements, and required the day’s speakers to compete with the brays and snorts of the many horses hitched outside.

The west wing sat near the center of a square, uneven, 40-acre campus, initially dubbed College Hill. It was almost devoid of flora, save for a thicket of mesquite trees and a handful of live oaks, some festooned with Spanish moss. A great gulley extended from the top of the hill to the southeast, dry most of the time but a quagmire in wet weather. According to Halbert Randolph, who earned his law degree in 1885, the ornamental shrubbery consisted of “cactus sporting its full-grown fruit, looking like the ripe nose of a drunkard.” For a few weeks in the spring, the campus was aglow with a blanket of Texas Bluebonnets, and the pitiful state of the landscape was temporarily forgotten.

Above: The west wing of the old Main Building, about 1885, surrounded by newly planted hackberry trees. Plumbing for the building was incomplete. Out of sight and behind the hill to the right was a temporary lavatory.

To the east, beyond the University grounds, lay vast tracts of pasture and open prairie. Just to the west, along a dusty and unpaved Guadalupe Street, stood two grocery stores, a dry goods shop, and a saloon.

The sprawling town of Austin filled the view to the south, its 11,000 inhabitants still abuzz over the local telephone service that was installed two years earlier. Austin won the privilege to host the main campus of the University after a hotly contested state election, and as it was already the seat of Texas government, civic leaders predicted Austin would soon be the “Athens of the Southwest.” Fortunately, there were no proposals to change the city’s name accordingly. (Through much of the 19th century, as the United States expanded westward, colleges and universities were desired assets of newly founded, up-and-coming towns with lofty ambitions, and communities sometimes renamed themselves to reflect their goals. It’s no accident that two of Ohio’s state universities reside in towns named Oxford and Athens, that students enrolled at the University of Mississippi travel to Oxford, or that the University of Georgia is located in Athens.)

Ashbel Smith, a 76-year-old physician from Galveston (photo at left), was selected to chair the first Board of Regents, and was entrusted with the Herculean task of creating the new university. A graduate of Yale, Smith was a secretary of state for the Republic of Texas and served multiple terms in the state legislature. The University of Texas was Smith’s passion in the final years of his life, and his top priority was to recruit the best faculty possible. He traveled extensively, visited colleges throughout the country, and spent many late nights devoted to University-related correspondence, often scribbling letters by candlelight.

After nearly two years of effort, Smith and the Board of Regents selected eight professors. Six of them formed the Academic Department, and most were assigned to teach multiple disciplines: English, literature, and history; chemistry and physics; mathematics; metaphysics, logic, and ethics; ancient Greek and Latin; and Spanish, French and German. The remaining two composed the Law Department. Salaries averaged $2,500 per year, a generous sum in the 1880s.

Most of the professors hailed from Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. To save on travel expenses, Smith convened the first faculty meeting in May 1883 not in Austin, but at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Above: The University’s first faculty. From left: John Mallet, professor of physics and chemistry; Leslie Waggener, professor of English language, history, and literature; Robert Dabney, professor of mental and moral philosophy and political science; Robert Gould, professor of law; Oran Roberts, professor of law; Henri Tallichet, professor of modern languages; Milton Humphreys, professor of ancient languages; and William LeRoy Broun, professor of mathematics.

The initial entrance requirements were determined by the faculty. Candidates for the Academic Department were expected to know elementary Greek and Latin, though French and German could be substituted for those planning to pursue science or literature. Competency in algebra and plane geometry, English composition, history, and political geography were also required. Admission to the law department did not yet require a bachelor’s degree, though candidates were urged to have a strong background in reading and writing English, and a “familiarity of the history of the United States and England.”

In the weeks before the University was scheduled to open, college-aged youth made their way to Austin to present their credentials and be interviewed by the faculty for admission. In a state where 90 percent of the population was classified as rural, many of the candidates were from farms and ranches, the children of pioneers, raised in log cabins with few luxuries. They were practical and self-motivated, but their preparatory education was incomplete. Many did not possess high school diplomas, and the standards for admission were too high. One prospective student who hoped to study mathematics, when asked how much math he had taken, proudly responded that he’d completed a class in “discount and bankruptcy.” Though hindered by a lack of formal education, the young Texans managed to impress the faculty. According to chemistry professor John Mallet, “Boys whose spelling and arithmetic were much behind their years, talked and thought like grown men of house building on the prairie, of cattle driving, even of social and political movements.” At the end of the first day of entrance examinations, the faculty met, discussed the situation, and with a collective shrug decided not to rigidly enforce the “grade of scholarship” established for admission, due to the “limited advantages for education in this state.”

From the beginning, the University was open to women, a progressive statement at a time when opportunities for women in higher education were rare. That UT would be co-educational was the result of a compromise in the state legislature as it debated the bill to create the University. Some members of the House who were opposed to female students were also political opponents of Governor Oran Roberts, and they feared that Roberts, whose term in office was coming to a close, would be named UT’s first president. In order to support the inclusion of women, the legislators demanded that the University be modeled after the University of Virginia, which was then led by a faculty chairman instead of a chief executive. An agreement was reached. Women were admitted as students, but for its first decade, University affairs were the responsibility of the elected head of the faculty. Roberts was denied the possibility of serving as UT’s president, but he was appointed one of the two initial law professors.

While the 1876 Texas constitution mandated the creation of the University, it also required the legislature to “establish and provide for the maintenance of a College or Branch University for the instruction of the colored youths of the state,” which implied that the campus in Austin wouldn’t be open to everyone. It would take another 70 years, starting with the 1950 enrollment of Heman Sweatt in the School of Law, for the University to truly become of and for all Texans.

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Among the speakers for the opening ceremonies was Dr. John Mallet (photo at left). Hired away from the University of  Virginia to teach chemistry, Mallet was elected by his fellow UT professors to be the first Chair of the Faculty.

Mallet cautioned those present not to expect too much too soon, and prophetically compared the progress of a university to the growth of a tree. “It must have a fruitful field . . . but you will be disappointed if you expect it to grow from the seedling to the proportions of a stately tree in a single night. And more will you be disappointed if, in your efforts to hasten its growth, you pluck it up by the roots to see how much the roots have grown.” Mallet also spoke of the students, “to whom the faculty look with peculiar interest and hopes,” and then, directly to the students in the audience.

To the students: “We ask you to be fellow workers with us. You should try to understand your true relations to the University. You frequently hear the phrase used, ‘coming to the university,’ not remembering that you are the university. More than the faculty – more than the Board of Regents – more than all else – it is the students that make the university. It is not the crumbling stones of Oxford, nor the memories of its hundreds of able teachers that make it the great university of England, but it is the never dying intellectual and moral life of the five and twenty generations of men who have gathered there as students. The students are, in the highest and truest sense, the university themselves. If Texas is to have a university of the first class, worthy of the name, the work of the faculty can form but a small part in its success. Its development must be the result of the united efforts of the people of Texas, of the State government, of the Board of Regents, of the faculty, and above all, of the students of the university.”

With an incomplete building, sitting on a mostly barren campus, boasting an inaugural faculty of eight professors, and joined by 221 students, the University took its first, tentative steps upon the stage of Academe.

The Misadventures of Bevo’s Head

For the burnt-orangest of Longhorn fans, the story of the first Bevo mascot is as familiar as the scent of fresh breakfast tacos on game day morning, and the sight of an orange tower that night.

In 1916, UT alumnus Stephen Pinckney, with some help from fellow alumni, purchased a West Texas longhorn steer and had him shipped to Austin on a train in time for the Thanksgiving Day football bout between the University and the A&M College of Texas. The steer, chosen because of his orange-shaded hide, was presented to the students at halftime (photo above) and then taken to a South Austin stockyard for care and safekeeping. Texas went on to win the game 21 – 7.

The steer was named “Bevo.” It was likely a play on the word “beeve,” which is both the plural of beef and a slang term for a cow or steer, followed by an “o,” though it was also the name of a non-alcoholic beer introduced by the Anheuser-Busch Company at the same time. (Think of it as “Beeve-o” or “Beef-o.”)

An on-campus debate ensued over what to do with the steer. Some wanted to brand Bevo with a “T” on one side and the winning “21 – 7” score on the reverse. Others thought that was animal cruelty and advocated for putting the steer out to pasture. The discussion was settled months later on February 12, 1917, when a group of Texas Aggies broke in to the stockyard and branded Bevo with the numbers “13 – 0,” the score of the 1915 football game A&M had won the previous year. With rumors swirling that the Aggies planned to return and kidnap the steer outright, Bevo was hurriedly moved to the Tom Iglehart Ranch west of Austin.

Six weeks later, in early April, the United States entered the First World War, and thoughts of mascots quickly took a back seat to the war effort until the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.

When peacetime again returned to the campus, University officials considered the Bevo situation, and declared the steer was simply too wild to attend football games. Besides, many UT students had lost interest in Bevo; he had, after all, only made a single public appearance two years previously, and those who remembered him thought the mascot had been “ruined” by the 13 – 0 brand still on his side. Besides, the students already had a huggable, pettable live mascot in the form of Pig Bellmont. As it was costing 60 cents a day to keep an unsuitable Bevo on a ranch, the athletics department decided to make the animal the barbecued main course of the January 1920 football banquet for the 1919 Longhorn team.

Both Pickney and Iglehart attended the event, along with a delegation from A&M. “The branding iron was buried and the resumption of athletic relations, after an unhappy period . . . duly celebrated,” announced the Longhorn magazine, a monthly published by UT students. “The half of the hide bearing the mystic figures 13 to 0 was presented to A and M with appropriate ceremonies.” Bevo’s head and horns were mounted by a taxidermist in New Braunfels, and it and the other half of the hide were to be kept on the Forty Acres.

So, whatever happened to Bevo’s head?

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Above: The Victorian-Gothic Old Main Building.

A visitor to the University of Texas campus in the 1920s would have discovered a jumble of buildings whose disparate styles sent a mixed message for what was supposed to be a “university of the first class.” At the top of the hill stood the Victorian Gothic old Main Building, stately and elegant, its pointed windows and rooftops softened by the deep-green ivy that draped its walls. Nearby, the library and education building (today’s Battle and Sutton Halls), along with the Biological Laboratories and Garrison Hall, boasted Mediterranean facades with red-tile roofs, a style the Board of Regents thought was both appropriate for the bright Texas sun and honored the Spanish heritage of the state. Decorations on these buildings ranged from ancient classical symbols to contemporary images, and brought an air of sophistication to the Forty Acres.

And then there were the shacks.

Starting in 1911, with the University expanding faster than its funding allowed, and without monies for conventional classroom buildings, UT President Sidney Mezes had cheap, temporary facilities constructed. They were made from pinewood, without proper foundations, and outfitted with potbelly stoves for heat. Mezes ordered the “shacks” – as they were informally known – to be left unpainted in the hope that their appearance would be so embarrassing, the state would quickly replace the shacks with adequate buildings. It didn’t work.

Entire academic departments were housed in the shacks, which were summarily labeled with letters of the alphabet. Professor Spurgeon Bell, the founder and first dean of UT’s business school, taught his initial accounting classes in “G” Hall (photo at left). On chilly winter days, in order to warm the classrooms before students arrived, Bell’s daily routine began by stoking the coals in the stove left by the custodian the night before, and then hauling in firewood from a stack behind the building. The visible contrast of unpainted shacks standing next to the library or Old Main was striking, and was certainly not the impression UT administrators hoped to convey for an aspiring first class university.

In 1918, during the First World War, a row of additional shacks was built along the eastern edge of the Forty Acres next to Speedway Street. They were first used as barracks for the Student Army Training Corps as part of the University’s war effort (see “To Serve the Nation”), but were re-purposed as classrooms and offices after the war.

The shack at the south end of the row, perched on the corner of 21st and Speedway (where the business school is headquartered today), was “Z” Hall, home to UT’s Department of Men’s Athletics.

Above: A row of pinewood shacks on the east side of campus, where Waggener Hall and the business school are today. Speedway Street runs behind the buildings. Closest, at bottom right, is part of “Z” Hall, used by the athletics department.

The front door was on the west side, and upon entering, a visitor first encountered a long corridor filled with displays of banners and trophies, as well as footballs, baseballs, basketballs, and track relay batons from important contests. Here, too, were rows of team photos and framed portraits of those who had earned varsity letters (“T” Men), with a special section for athletes who’d lettered in three or more sports.

Above left: One of the trophy displays in “Z” Hall. 

Past the coaches’ offices, whose walls were crowded with still more team photos, action shots, and Texas pennants, a suite of rooms in the rear of the building was reserved for Athletic Director Theo Bellmont. Along with space for an executive assistant and Bellmont’s own office, an adjoining conference room was used for Athletic Council meetings. Here, mounted on one of the conference room walls, was the head and hide of the first Bevo.

By the mid-1920s, Bevo was largely forgotten by the University community. Few, if any, of the students were on campus when the steer made his 1916 debut or knew of his integral contribution to the football banquet a few years later. Bevo, though, wasn’t simply gathering dust. In “Z” Hall, a place overflowing with awards and mementos, the steer’s four-foot two-inch horns were put to good use. From each horn, a prized football was hung. One was the ball used at the 1923 Texas vs. A&M game, still splattered with mud from Kyle Field in College Station, when the Longhorns won 6 – 0 to cap an 8 – 0 – 1 season. The other football was saved from the A&M game of the following year, on Thanksgiving Day 1924, when the new Texas Memorial Stadium was formally dedicated. The Longhorns earned a 7 – 0 victory over the rival Aggies.

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“Texas spirit, which by many had been acclaimed a thing of the past,” announced the Cactus yearbook, “was officially revived this year by an exceedingly capable yell leader.”

In the fall of 1928, Lynwood Boyett (photo at left) was full of new ideas. Elected head yell leader in the campus-wide elections, Boyett worked hard to improve the measure of Longhorn spirit around the Forty Acres and at football games. He tapped in to the energy of the freshmen class and created a special “Rooter Section” in the stadium just for the greenhorns. So that the section would be unmistakable, Boyett asked the frosh to wear uniforms of long-sleeve orange shirts and bright white suspenders, with the traditional freshman class green caps. The University Co-op agreed to sell the rooter uniform at cost, and by the first game of the season, hundreds of first-year students had registered for the rooter section and purchased their uniforms. Along with leading the rest of the stadium in the Rattle-de-Thrat and Lollapaloose  yells, Boyett had the freshmen perform “card stunts,” better-known today as a flash card section.

Above: The freshmen rooter section performs a “card stunt.”

Boyett also hoped to add some pizazz to the football rallies, which were then held at the campus Open Air Theater, an amphitheater just north of the old Law School. (Today, it’s the hill just north of the Graduate School of Business building that leads up to Garrison Hall.) He bolstered the line-up with more speakers and performers, and worked to increase attendance not only of the students, but of local alumni and Austin citizens.

Before he was elected head yell leader, Boyett had served two years as an assistant yell leader. He’d dropped by “Z” Hall to see the Athletic Director Bellmont many times, attended meetings in the Athletic Council conference room, and learned the history of the steer hanging on the wall. As head yell leader, Boyett wanted Bevo to be a part of the football rallies by mounting him on the wall at the back of the stage. Having the original longhorn mascot on the backdrop, where everyone could see him, would certainly add to the atmosphere of the event, and it would elevate Bevo out of obscurity to a more “mainstream” University tradition. Boyett approached Bellmont about the idea.

Bellmont was hesitant at first.  Moving the steer head could damage it, or, away from the protective confines of Bellmont’s office, something worse might happen. He eventually agreed to allow it for the rally set for Friday, October 19th at 7:15 p.m., the night before Texas opened Southwest Conference play against the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Above right: Yell leaders address the crowd at the football rally before the UT vs. Arkansas game.

The rally was a great, standing-room-only success. A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) news reel crew recorded it and Saturday’s game, and highlights of both were later shown in movie houses nationwide. (Unfortunately, the film hasn’t survived.) Texas defeated Arkansas 20 – 7. Two weeks later, Boyett again received permission to borrow Bevo for the “Smash S.M.U.” rally slated for Friday, November 2nd.

It was the largest rally of the fall and featured baseball coach Billy Disch, who made his first speaking appearance of the season. “If you will just do your share tomorrow,” Disch told the cheering students, “the team will go forward to victory. The very atmosphere seems to spell it. You are going to help put the boys over the top!” A quartette from the UT Glee Club performed, Longhorn team captain Rufus King gave a pep talk, and the assembly practiced their yells for Saturday’s game against Southern Methodist. All the while, Bevo looked out to the crowd from his mount on the stage backdrop.

Above: The Glee Club quartet performs at the “Smash SMU” football rally, with Bevo mounted on the stage backdrop.

When the rally was finished and the lights turned off, Boyett and a student helper – identified only as “Freshman Harkrider” – were to carry Bevo to the law school library in the Law Building, just a few steps behind the stage. The athletics offices were already closed and locked, and the library staff volunteered to keep the steer safe until the next morning, when he could be returned to his usual haunt in the conference room.  The Daily Texan, though, needed a quick interview to complete a story on the rally before the newspaper’s deadline. Instead, Boyett and Harkrider, with Bevo in tow, headed north to the Texan’s offices, finished the interview in a few minutes, and then left for the Law Building shortly after 9 p.m..

Half way to their destination, Boyett and Harkrider were ambushed in the dark by five men. Bevo was wrestled away. The abductors made their escape in a car that Boyett could tell “had a rumble seat” and went the wrong way on the single-lane campus drive.  It exited the Forty Acres near the present day Littlefield Fountain and sped off into the night.

Boyett and Harkrider ran back to the Texan to report what had just happened, phoned the Austin police, and then went downtown to inquire at the hotels. No one had seen Bevo. It was a clean getaway. To add to the misery, the Longhorns lost to S.M.U. 2 – 6 on Saturday.

For the next two weeks, rumors swirled about the location of Bevo. A witness in Waco claimed to have seen an overcrowded car heading north to Dallas the Sunday after the game. Someone in the rumble seat had an orange Texas blanket covering “something suspicious.” An S.M.U. fraternity was allegedly openly boasting it had the kidnapped Bevo. The abductors were rumored to have been five freshmen – possibly fraternity pledges – who were ordered to drive to Austin and steal the steer. The S.M.U. student newspaper, The Daily Campus, printed a pair of articles: one claimed that engineering students were behind the Bevo heist, the second reported the steer had been seen at S.M.U.’s football rally before its game against A&M. All the while, Dallas area alumni were quietly making inquiries and reported what they learned back to the athletics department.

On Friday, November 16th, as the football team and yell leaders arrived in Fort Worth for Saturday’s game against Texas Christian University, word reached Boyett that Bevo was being held in a rooming house near the S.M.U. campus. A quick excursion to Dallas proved to be fruitful, as a rescue party composed of the yell leaders and a few local alumni safely recovered the steer without incident.

Bevo was triumphantly shown at a pre-game gathering of Longhorn fans on Saturday, and Texas won out over T.C.U. 6 – 0. After his brief “tour” of North Texas, Bevo at last returned to the serenity of the Athletic Council conference room, permanently retired from football rallies.

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Above: An almost-completed Gregory Gymnasium in 1930.

At 11 a.m. on Friday, April 11, 1930, the Longhorn Band met in front of the old Main Building, then proceeded to march down what today is the South Mall, turned left on to 21st Street, and continued to the corner of Speedway. Several thousand students, faculty, and staff followed along, as UT President Harry Benedict had declared classes cancelled for the rest of the day. The occasion was the official dedication and open house of Gregory Gymnasium.

The gym was the first of phase of the “Union Project,” an ambitious and unprecedented $600,000 fundraising campaign by the Texas Exes to build Gregory and Anna Hiss Gyms, the Texas Union, and Hogg Auditorium. The project was launched in 1928, but the stock market crash the following year and ensuing Great Depression made the going difficult. Some alumni were only able to contribute a single dollar, as that was all they could afford, while others wrote that they’d skipped meals in order to save enough for pledge payments.

Gregory Gym was intended to be both an athletic facility and auditorium, and it initially served UT and the citizens of Austin. In its first decade, jazz greats including Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller performed for all-University dances (photo at left), but so, too, did the Austin symphony and opera. The gym was home to the men’s swimming and diving, and basketball teams, and was headquarters for UT’s intercollegiate athletics, recreational sports, and physical education. The coaches and staff in “Z” Hall were happy to vacate the old shack and move across the street.

In the main foyer, glass cases were filled with trophies and photos, and Bevo, removed from his confines in the conference room, was reverently hung above the center doorway, where everyone could look up and see him as they passed through the foyer and entered the gym. There he remained for over a decade.

“Again calamity and shame have befallen on Bevo I,” announced the Texan on Wednesday, November 24, 1943, just a day before the Thanksgiving football game with Texas A&M. The University community discovered at the stadium and near the Tower “there was evidence that someone had been quite busy with generous amounts of whitewash.” The anonymous painter had left messages on how badly Texas would lose to the Aggies in College Station on Thursday.

Worse, though, was the outright destruction found in Gregory Gym. The horns of Bevo’s mounted head had been physically torn off, leaving only ragged edges. Whitewash can be cleaned; this was permanent damage to something irreplaceable.

“We do not know who is responsible for either prank; they left no clues,” wrote Texan associate editor Marifrances Wilson (photo at left). “Those who played these tricks were moved by a theory which is now out-of-date on this campus. They thought that by doing these things they could make the University of Texas students mad – fighting mad. They thought that they could dig up out of the dirt some of the old worn-out traditions – the same old UT – A&M hatred, reprisal vandalism, fights at the game, and so forth.”

At the time, the people of Texas, along with the rest of the nation, were thoroughly enmeshed in the effort to win the Second World War; a cross-state rivalry took a back seat. The football game was to be broadcast on short-wave radio to U.S. Armed Forces everywhere. “There isn’t time this year to hold old grudges,” Wilson continued, “it just isn’t worthwhile when we remember that all over the world, on fields other than Kyle, Aggies and Longhorns are fighting together.”

Texas won the game 27 – 13, and what was left of Bevo’s head was removed and rumored to have been placed in the storage area underneath the front stairs of Gregory Gym. Both the head, and the hide, have long since disappeared.

The Hall of Noble Words

On the University of Texas campus, it’s a place like no other. A room where the ceiling seems almost anxious to speak with visitors, to offer a nugget of wisdom, share a spiritual proverb, or proffer encouraging advice.

Here, over 80 years ago, the University’s faculty and staff came together hoping to inspire the students of their day and future generations.

When you visit, be sure to look up. It’s the best way to appreciate the Hall of Noble Words.

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Opened in 1934, the hall was part of the first phase of construction of the Main Building as the new central library (see “How to Build a Tower“) and one of a pair of spacious reading rooms. Embellishing the ceiling with quotations was the brainchild of Dr. William Battle, the chair of the Faculty Building Committee. Battle joined the UT faulty in 1893 as a classics professor, and had served as Dean of the Faculty (what today would be called the provost) and as Acting President. Along the way, he founded the University Co-op and was responsible for the design of UT’s official seal.

Above left: William Battle (left), poses with UT’s consulting architect Paul Cret (center) and supervising architect Robert White. 

With construction of phase one well underway, the Faculty Building Committee met in May 1933 and heartily approved of Battle’s idea for the east reading room, and then compiled a list of possible of citations as a starting point, “to serve as a basis for discussion.” It was hoped that the quotations on the ceiling would provide a source of inspiration for students studying below, who might occasionally glance up during breaks in their studies. The committee, though, wanted input from more of the campus, so that the final result was truly a University-wide effort.

Above right: Construction of phase one of the Main Building and Tower. The future Hall of Noble Words is on the second floor of the east side – the far side in this photograph. Click on an image for a larger view.

In early June 1933, Battle sent mimeographed copies of a letter to selected members of the faculty and staff. “Dear Colleague,” wrote Battle, “As a part of the decoration of the ceiling of the east reading room of the new library, the Building Committee contemplates the use of noble and inspiring utterances appropriate to the function of the room as an educational agency. The concrete beams offer long, broad surfaces well adapted for such a purpose . . . We might, with propriety, call the reading room The Hall of Noble Words.”

“The Committee would be greatly pleased if you would suggest utterances that seem to you appropriate,” Battle continued. “Perhaps the thoughts expressed may occasionally find lodgment in the minds of users of the reading room.”

Battle didn’t have to wait long for submissions, and they arrived from all parts of the campus. “I am much pleased by your suggestion for the use of noble utterances,” wrote accounting and management professor Chester Lay from the College of Business Administration. “I have myself often remembered and pondered such a quotation in the main reading room of the Harper Memorial Library at the University of Chicago:”

“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.” – Roger Bacon

“I like the idea of using inspiring inscriptions,” responded home economics professor Lucy Rathbone, “The thing that impressed me most in the Library of Congress was the quotations carved on the columns.” Rathbone offered:

“The strength of a man’s virtue is not to be measured by the efforts he makes under pressure but by his ordinary conduct.” – Blaise Pascal

History professor Ed Barker submitted Martin Luther’s “Heir stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders.” (Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.) Anthropology professor James Pearce suggested an Issac Barrow quote: “He that loveth a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counselor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter.” And Mattie Hatcher, an archivist in the University Library who specialized in the Spanish and Mexican eras of Texas history, provided a regional offering with a quote from Stephen F. Austin: “A nation can only be free, happy, and great in proportion to the virtue and intelligence of the people.” All of the above quotations found their way onto the beams in the reading room.

Above: The quote from Republic of Texas President Mirabeau Lamar’s 1838 address, “Cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy,” became the University’s motto and appears in Latin on the official UT seal as Disciplina Praesidium Civitatis, or “Education is the safeguard of democracy.”

Architect Paul Cret also offered his support. “The idea of inscriptions on the beams of the east room is excellent.” He encouraged the use of bright, intricate, and interesting designs to accompany the words, and counseled, “Do not be afraid of having the color scheme too high in key at first. It will become subdued with age – like all of us.”

Of course, Battle received far more suggestions that could be used, and the Faculty Building Committee spent the month of July making difficult choices. The end result, though, was a list that was both varied in content and well-represented across the Forty Acres.

Eugene Gilboe, the celebrated Dallas painter and interior designer, perhaps best-known for his murals in theaters throughout the state, was recruited to paint the ceiling. He used stencils for the letters and freehand for the surrounding designs. On campus, Gilboe was also hired to paint the beams in the Texas Union Presidential Lobby and the ceiling of Hogg Auditorium.

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In the Hall of Noble Words, each side of the eight ceiling beams has a designated theme, under which appropriate quotations are grouped. Freedom, education, and wisdom are among the topics, along with friendship, determination, law and mercy, and the value of books. Citations from Shakespeare, Tennyson, Kipling, Aristotle, and the Bible are here, as well as a passage from Alice in Wonderland.

The side of one beam was designated “Appeal of the University of Texas” and displays a single quote from Yancey Lewis, an 1885 UT law graduate (right):

“Let us in this University strike hands with the ancient and goodly fellowship of university men of all time . . . and pledge ourselves, as university men and Texans, to love the truth and seek it, to learn the right and do it, and, in all emergencies, however wealth may tempt or popular applause allure, to be sole rulers of our own free speech, masters of our own untrammeled thoughts, captains of our own unfettered souls.”

The brackets that support the beams display printers’ marks from the 15th and 16 centuries. Among them is the Aldine Press, founded by Aldus Manutius of Venice, Italy. Known for publishing Greek, Roman, and Italian classics in their original languages, Manutius was famous for his new italic typeface, emulated by his peers across Italy.

Aldus’ printer mark (left) displays a swift-moving porpoise wrapped around a ship’s anchor with the cautionary motto “festina lente,” or, “Make haste, slowly.”

Above: A quote from Sa’di of Shiraz (Saadi Shirazi), a distinguished Persian poet and author from the 13th century. To the lower right, the bracket displays the printer mark of Antonio de Espinosa, who immigrated to Mexico City from Spain in 1550 and founded one of the first printing houses in North America. Click on an image for a larger view.

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The Hall of Noble Words opened to rave reviews in 1934, though students sometimes complained that the chandeliers didn’t provide enough light in the evenings. In the 1950s, fluorescent lights replaced the original fixtures (photo at right), though the new lights were installed directly on to the painted ceiling. Just over half a century later, in 2007, the room was restored much as it was in the 1930s, with new – and brighter – chandeliers, though the removal of the fluorescent lights left permanent scars.

Left: The Hall of Noble Words soon after its 2007 restoration. Click on an image for a larger version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How George Washington came to the University of Texas

Mary Frances Campbell – known as “Frances” by her friends – was the daughter of a successful cotton merchant who brought his family to Austin in 1876. Two years later, Frances wed Thomas S. Maxey, an up-and-coming attorney also new to the community, who would later be appointed by President Grover Cleveland as the federal judge of the Western District of Texas. Judge Maxey would serve 28 years and be counted among the prominent citizens of Austin.

In the meantime, Frances became involved with the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), as well as the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, the nation’s first historic preservation group, dedicated to the promotion and conservation of George Washington’s home along the Potomac River (image at left). Though Mount Vernon was more than 1,500 miles from Austin, Frances didn’t let the distance get in her way. By the 1890s, she was the Texas representative for the Association’s governing board, and was determined to contribute.

An opportunity presented itself with the popularity of electric trolley systems during the last decade of the 19th century. Faster and more reliable than the old horse-drawn trolleys, the new mode of transportation brought with it a swell of thousands of sightseers to the Mount Vernon grounds. It quickly became apparent that a main ticket gate was needed to handle the ever-increasing crowds.

Frances decided that Texas would provide the facility. She organized a state-wide grassroots fundraising campaign, where school children donated nickels and dimes to the project, while members of Masonic lodges arranged for larger donations. The “Texas Gate” was dedicated in 1899. More than a century later, it still serves as the main portal to the Mount Vernon estate for millions of visitors.

Above: The Texas Gate at Mount Vernon, from the early 1900s (left) and in more recent times, has welcomed millions of visitors to George Washington’s estate.

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In 1924, a news report declared that Texas was the only state in the Union without a statue of George Washington. Surprised and dismayed, Frances knew she had to do something about it. The issue stayed in the back of her mind for years until discussions began within her DAR chapter on how best to observe the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth, coming up in 1932. Frances had the answer.

At their July 1930 meeting, the Board of Regents of the University of Texas unanimously approved the idea of a “suitable monument honoring the memory of George Washington,” and “cordially invites the daughters of the American Revolution to place the monument on the campus of the University.” The goal was to unveil the monument on February 22, 1932, Washington’s 200th birthday. Details of the project would be coordinated with Dr. William Battle, then the chair of the Faculty Building Committee, and newly-hired architect Paul Cret, who had just begun work on a campus master plan for the University.

The immediate questions were about design, cost, placement, and an artist. By early 1931, the DAR had decided upon a replica of an existing, well-known Washington statue, rather than create something new. Their first choice was the Washington equestrian monument on the Place d’lena in Paris, France (photo at left), sculpted in 1900 by American artist – and appropriately named – Daniel Chester French.

Paul Cret, who was born in Lyon, France, studied architecture at the lauded Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, immigrated to the United States, and was then head of the architecture school at the University of Pennsylvania, heartily approved. He provided a drawing of campus with several possible locations, but the obvious and favored spot was on the proposed plaza directly in front of a new Main Building, facing toward the Texas Capitol.

Above: Architect Paul Cret’s original scheme for the Washington memorial. An equestrian statue was placed on a high pedestal near the front of the Main Mall (look closely at the lower right). Click on the image for a larger view.

The estimated cost was an ambitious $60,000. Frances hoped to recreate the fundraising strategy that worked so well for the Texas Gate. “It is the plan that this monument,” reported The Daily Texan, “be paid for by the school children of Texas. Each child will be given the opportunity of contributing whatever he wishes through his school.”

However, the rules had changed since the 1890s, and state regulations no longer permitted fundraising of this kind. And the 1929 stock market crash and Great Depression that followed were being felt in the state. The DAR’s fundraising efforts earned only a few hundred dollars at a time, far short of what was needed.

To have something dedicated on the target date, the DAR arranged for a large, five-foot tall granite boulder to mark the spot of the future Washington statue. Attached to the boulder was a bronze plaque which read: “The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution on February 22, 1932, has marked this site on which will be erected a monument of affection and gratitude to George Washington, who is the father of our country, and has given the world an immortal example of true glory.” (The plaque can still be viewed, installed in the sidewalk directly behind the base of the statue.)

University President Harry Benedict found the idea droll. “I have to thank them for a boulder!” he scribbled in a note to Dr. Battle. Benedict would later call the boulder the world’s only “monument to a monument.”

Above: The dedication ceremony for the boulder marker for the Washington statue, with the Texas Capitol dome in the distance.

February 22nd was cloudy and chilly, but a generous-size group huddled in front of the old Main Building to celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of George Washington and dedicate the site to a future monument. The Longhorn Band played patriotic tunes, President Benedict’s nine-year old son, Harry, Jr., was dressed in a Washington costume, and Frances, now elderly and frail, made the journey from her home just north of campus to personally unveil the boulder.

Above left: The boulder on the future Main Mall marked the site of the Washington memorial, with Garrison Hall in the background. 

As the Great Depression dragged on, the project lost momentum. The monument was revised from an equestrian statue to a less expensive standing Washington. The boulder, with permission of the DAR, was moved in 1934 when construction began on the Main Mall, to a place better favored by Cret at the head of the South Mall. Frances passed away in 1938, which left the monument without its initial champion. In 1941, Dr. Battle received a letter from the DAR: “In regards to the Washington memorial, the Daughters of the American Revolution will not proceed at the time because of world conditions . . . when conditions are more favorable, they will again consider the matter.” Fundraising was suspended for the duration of World War II.

Above: The view of the South Mall from the UT Tower observation deck. At the bottom center of the photo is the Washington statue boulder.

Not until the post-war, economically improved mid-1950s did interest in the statue return. Enough money had been collected for a Washington likeness, and Pompeo Coppini, the Italian-born sculptor who produced the University’s Littlefield Gateway was recruited to add one more piece to the South Mall. The 85-year old Coppini had already sculpted two George Washington statues: one for Mexico City and the other for Portland, Oregon. He spent four months crafting the Washington monument for the University of Texas. It would be his last project to close out an extensive and highly distinguished career.

Above left; Artist Pompeo Coppini, in his San Antonio studio, works on the statue of George Washington. 

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Thirty-one years after Frances Maxey had learned that Texas didn’t have a bronze likeness of George Washington, the statue was officially dedicated on February 20, 1955, still the first in the state. Coppini, who attended the ceremony, had cast Washington as he appeared on the day he was made Commander-in-Chief of the American Continental Army in 1775.

Dr. Battle, who retired in 1948 but was still professor emeritus, spoke at the proceedings. “I take special pleasure in congratulating the Daughters of the American Revolution on the completion of their movement to present to the University a statue of George Washington.  . . . Certainly the first function of the University of Texas is the development of high ideals of citizenship in the young men and women who study here and who will be the leaders of the coming generation. As an effective aid in this task I welcome the conception of keeping constantly before the eyes of students a noble presentation of the man to whom, more than anyone else, is due the existence of the nation, and who embodied in himself the highest qualities that a citizen of the Republic ought to posses.”

Photo of Coppini at work on the Washington statue is by Carl J. Eckhardt and found in the William J. Battle Papers, di_11305, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin

 

 

Third Base Lemonade

The 1911 Faculty vs. Senior Class Baseball Game

The mighty faculty baseball team was supposed to be unstoppable, but no one was prepared for Gene Harris’ lemonade.

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“The date for the henceforth-to-be-annual Faculty-Senior game has been set at Thursday, May 18,” announced The Texan student newspaper. The 1911 spring term had only a few weeks to go before final exams, followed by commencement week in early June. “Everybody talk it up,” the Texan continued, “Let’s make this one of our best annual ‘doings.’ It’s going to be a hard, fast contest, and everyone should turn out!”

The idea for a faculty vs senior class bout apparently originated with first-year baseball coach William J. “Billy” Disch, who had organized something similar at his previous coaching post at Saint Edward’s College (now University) in South Austin. As many present-day Longhorn fans know well, Disch remained head coach for 28 years, won 465 collegiate games, 22 conference titles, and molded the UT baseball program into a national powerhouse. But in 1911, Disch was a rookie on the Forty Acres, and was looking for ways to be involved on the campus.

Above: The 1911 University of Texas Baseball Team. First-year coach Billy Disch is on the right in the middle row.

The faculty team wasn’t going take it easy on the graduating seniors. The squad included physics professor Bill Mather, who’d played shortstop for Amherst College, and German professor (and former UT football coach) Bill Metzenthin, who’d been a center fielder for Columbia University. Dan Penick, a Greek professor, tennis coach, and UT alumnus, had earned three baseball letters during his undergraduate years. Also on the team was education professor Caswell Ellis, botany professor Frank Heald, philosophy instructor John Keen, education professor Bill Sutton, zoology professor John Patterson, and Alex Krey, a Medieval history instructor who reportedly played “like a big leaguer.” Disch was to play catcher, and for more than a week, after regular practice with the UT team, Disch worked with the faculty squad to get them ready.

The seniors, meanwhile, weren’t allowed to include any members of the baseball team on their roster, and struggled to find comparable athletes who also had time to practice. With the end of the academic year approaching, term projects, research papers, and upcoming final exams were higher priorities. Prospects for the senior class were grim.

No worries. Gene Harris had the solution.

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Above: A 1908 view of the UT campus, with the newly-opened Law Building at lower right. It was replaced by the Graduate School of Business building in the 1970s. 

Eugene L. Harris hailed from Ysleta, Texas, then a small town just southeast of El Paso. In the summer of 1906, after graduating from El Paso High School, Gene boarded a train for the nearly 700 mile ride through Marfa, Del Rio, San Antonio, and finally north to Austin.

Harris planned to enter the University of Texas and earn a law degree, at the time a Bachelor of Laws and Letters (LL. B.). While the study of law then required only two years, University officials highly recommended “pre-law” students take two years of general studies in the Academic Department (arts and sciences) to gain a stronger background in history, government, and English. Harris completed his academic studies and entered the Law School in 1908, only to discover that he was part of the first class to be admitted to a new, three-year law program that had recently become the national standard. Though Harris’ time on the Forty Acres had been extended by a year, he could take some comfort in knowing he was also among the first to occupy a new Law Building in the southeastern corner of the campus.

Above: The Law Building, dedicated in 1908, as seen from the top floor of Old Main. 

Outgoing and jovial, Harris was well-liked and respected by his fellow students. He was active in the Students’ Assembly, joined the Athenaeum Literary Society, and participated on the UT Debate Team. He was editor-in-chief of the Texan newspaper for the 1907-08 academic year, and for four years served as the University’s Head Yell Leader. A highly-prized, elected position, the yell leader was considered to be the caretaker of UT’s college spirit. While the students had an established tradition of yells and cheers, Harris invented a few of his own, including the “Long Hey” yell:

Harris, though, also had a mischievous streak, one that often ran afoul of the faculty. A talented voice impersonator, Harris would telephone a newly-hired faculty member, claim to be University President Sidney Mezes (photo at left), and demand the young professor “be at my house at 8 p.m. tonight to discuss a serious matter.” More than once, Mezes was surprised to find an anxious college instructor at his doorstep, hat in hand, at the appointed time.

Over the course of his student career, Harris “accepted” multiple invitations to appear before Dr. Mezes and the Faculty Discipline committee. He participated in too many freshman-sophomore class rushes, painted the water tank behind the old Main Building one night that led to a skirmish between rival law and engineering students, and his ability to imitate the president over the phone was eventually discovered. At one point, the faculty planned to suspend Harris for three months. It took a great deal of pleading by his friends to save Harris from an enforced vacation from the Forty Acres.

As a senior law student, Harris kept his head low as he wanted to graduate, but the Faculty vs. Senior Class Baseball Game provided an irresistible opportunity. The underdog seniors needed help to win the game, and Harris knew just how to provide it.

Above: Congress Avenue and downtown Austin in 1911.

On the morning of May 18th, Harris took the electric trolley downtown to Graham’s Drug Store and purchased a gallon of Citrate of Magnesia, a quick and effective laxative to the uninitiated. (Harris would later recall the genuine look of concern on Dr. Graham’s face.) At Weilbacher’s Confectionary, Harris acquired a bag of sugar and several dozen lemons. Elsewhere, he found two pails, a pair of tin cups, and ice, and proceeded to make a special kind of lemonade with rather serious side effects. To one of the pails, Harris attached an anonymous note: “For the Faculty, from an admiring friend.”

The game was to be held at old Clark Field, about where the O’Donnell Building and Gates/Dell Computer Science Complex are today. Harris arrived a few minutes before the first pitch and gave the pails full of spiked lemonade to a youngster, with instructions to place them next to third base.

Above: The original Clark Field, UT’s first athletic field, was used for both football and baseball. Up the hill to the right is the old Main Building, where the Tower stands today.

It was a warm and sunny afternoon, and a large crowd was on hand to witness the home field senior class take on the faculty. President Mezes and engineering dean Thomas Taylor helped to officiate, and Dr. Mezenthin took the pitcher’s mound. Two pails of lemonade, so thoughtfully provided for the faculty, waited for those who made it as far as third base.

As expected, the professors scored early. Dr. Ellis, the team’s shortstop, hit a stand-up triple, and was the first to sample the refreshments. He scored when Coach Disch, to the delight of the fans, knocked the ball toward left field for a home run. Dr. Patterson (for whom Patterson Labs are named), surprised everyone with a beautiful slide into home to score in the fourth inning. As the game continued, though, more and more of the faculty availed themselves of the lemonade, whether or not they’d made it to third base.

The determined seniors fought back, but by the seventh inning stretch, the score was 11 – 7 in favor of the faculty.  Suddenly, Dr. Ellis hurriedly left the field without a forwarding address. As the team huddled to discuss his replacement, the entire outfield went missing. The rapid exodus continued until Dr. Mezenthin, alone atop the pitcher’s mound, was the only player left for the faculty. The game was over prematurely, for no matter how closely lemons, sugar, and Citrate of Magnesia might taste like lemonade, it doesn’t act like lemonade. The senior class promptly declared victory by default.

Above: The old Main Building. President Mezes’ office was on the first floor.

Thanks to a tip from pharmacist Graham, President Mezes soon uncovered the truth and determine the culprit, and issued an “invitation” for Gene Harris to come to the president’s office Friday morning in Old Main. Harris arrived to find Mezes alone; much of the Faculty Discipline Committee had played baseball the day before.

Mezes was livid. Harris had violated just about every rule possible, had disrupted the academic work of the University, and had caused members of the faculty extreme discomfort and embarrassment. And Harris was a law student. After an extended and stern lecture, Mezes asked the customary question: “Mr. Harris, what action to you think should be taken?”

Harris panicked, confessed his guilt, and then blurted out that the faculty had already taken all of the action possible or necessary.

The usually staid president stared for a moment, then chuckled, and finally leaned back and roared. He rose, extended his hand, and said that he’d enjoyed their relationship, and thought Harris not as bad a person as his actions might appear. A stunned Harris was ushered out of the office with a final “Good luck!” and graduated a few weeks later.

Life in Cliff Courts

The G. I. Bill more than doubled UT enrollment in three months.

Above: Post World War II class change on the Main Mall. 

When the war ended, the invasion began.

On June 22, 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, more commonly known as the “G.I. Bill.” (Photo at left.) With millions of veterans returning home from the Second World War, and with limited employment and housing opportunities to greet them, the legislation was meant both to ease the transition to civilian life, and mitigate the surge of jobseekers on the economy.

The G.I. Bill provided a variety of assistance from which a veteran could choose: a year of unemployment benefits, low interest loans to start a business or buy a house, or stipends for tuition and living expenses to attend a vocational school or a four-year college or university.

Designers of the bill added the education benefit both to allay concerns that too many of America’s youth had missed college because of the war, and to delay some veterans from entering the job market immediately. As the war was ending, surveys of the troops indicated that about 200,000 planned to enter college, but the actual number surprised everyone. Just over two million veterans – more than ten times the estimate – opted to continue their education.

Universities scrambled to accommodate the flood of new students. Additional teachers were hired. Congress authorized $75 million for a Federal Works Administration Project that transported what were then unused barracks and other buildings from military bases to college campuses as makeshift dorms and temporary classrooms. But the issue was more complicated than just finding room for everyone. As students, the veterans were unlike any of their predecessors.

Traditional college undergraduates had long been between 18 and 22 years old, just out of high school, and living on their own for the first time. The veterans, though, were older, more mature, and the war had provided many of them with significant life experiences. They were serious about completing their degrees, asked more questions in class, and usually earned higher grades than their younger counterparts.  “The returning service men and women who now fill our institutions of higher learning to overflowing are by far the ablest students American college teachers have been privileged to instruct,” lauded Chancellor Bill Tolley of Syracuse University. “Thousands of college professors dread the approach of that inevitable day when they will be back among the eighteen-year-olds, and once more must measure their strength against the resisting medium of the adolescent mind.”

Some of the veterans were also married. Before the GI Bill, a married student was still a campus rarity; at some colleges it had been grounds for dismissal. And a size-able number of married students had already started families. For the first time, baby carriages, diapers, and high chairs were a part of the American collegiate scene.

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While the University of Texas had prepared for an influx of veterans, the full effect of the GI Bill created something of a campus emergency. Enrollment at the end of the spring 1946 semester was 6,794. Three months later, 17,108 students arrived for fall classes, of whom almost 11,000 were veterans. (Over the next decade, over 25,000 World War II vets would attend UT.) Some academic departs doubled or tripled in size overnight, while the law school increased ten-fold, from 78 to 797 students.

Class registration, to put it kindly, was a challenge. Students crowded the loggia at the south entrance to the Main Building to pick up registration time cards (photo at left) before waiting in extensive lines at Waggener Hall to complete forms, present medical records, and sign up for placement tests. Registration itself was held in the un-air conditioned Gregory Gym, where tables for academic departments were arranged in rows and students placed their names on class rosters. The more popular courses and class times filled up early; those who waited to start the process at the Main Building had fewer choices.

Above: Class registration in a crowded Gregory Gym.

Living off limited government stipends, most veterans couldn’t afford to replace their entire wardrobe with civilian clothes right away, and instead sported the military apparel they still owned. The campus teemed with flight jackets, naval pea coats, and Eisenhower jackets (or “Ike jackets”). All were worn with the ubiquitous gold discharge lapel pins (photo at right). For a time, it was impossible to enter a store on the Drag and not hear veterans sharing their war stories.

As expected, Veteran-related student organizations proliferated. The Ex-Servicemen’s Association was, by far, the largest group on campus, along with the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Navy Pilot Club, Canopy Club (Army parachutists), Semper Fidelis Club (Marines), Disabled American Veterans, and even a group for former prisoners of war.

Above: With a table in front of Gregory Gym during class registration, the Ex-Servicemen’s Association recruits new members.

Sprinting just ahead of the flood of new students, University administrators raced to add 176 full-time teaching positions and revamped the class schedule to run continuously from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., while lab classes continued until 11:30 p.m. Additional classroom space was provided through 14 surplus military buildings transported from Camp Wallace in Galveston. One was placed on the South Mall – where Parlin Hall stands today – to serve as the campus offices of the Veterans Administration. The others housed 36 classrooms, four chemistry labs, an engineering workshop, faculty offices, a student health service annex, and a cafeteria.

Above left: Temporary classroom facilities installed on the East Mall as seen from the UT Tower observation deck. Look close! Two more are on either side of Gregory Gym. Click on an image for a larger view.  

What used to be a longstanding, campus-wide lunch break from 1 – 2 p.m. was abandoned, in part, because there simply wasn’t room for everyone to dine at the same time. The Texas Union’s Commons could accommodate 2,000 persons, and cafes along the Drag and just south of campus could handle another 1,500. Most students either went home or brought lunch with them.

The greatest concern, though, was housing. Residence halls, boarding houses, and apartments filled quickly. Soon, there were veterans living in attics, basements, garages, or any nook that might hold a bed and a desk.

The University’s three men’s residence halls – Brackenridge, Roberts, and Prather- temporarily increased the usual two persons per room to three  room. Eight, two-story Bachelor Officers’ Quarters – or “BOQs” – were acquired from Louisiana and placed along San Jacinto Boulevard as additional men’s dorms.To accommodate some of the married students, UT constructed the Brackenridge Apartments on the Brackenridge Tract southwest of campus near Lake Austin.

Above: This photo of the 1963 groundbreaking for the alumni center includes an image of one of the two “BOQs” placed on the site as temporary dorms. In all, eight BOQs were positioned along San Jacinto Boulevard. 

Perhaps the most unusual housing arrangements were 150 hutments. Pre-fabricated, 16-foot square units, they were originally built for Higgins Industries, a large, prolific defense contractor based in New Orleans. The hutments were to house employees but never used, and acquired by the University through the Federal Emergency Housing Administration. Grouped in to three “mini-neighborhoods” on campus and at the Brackenridge Tract, each unit housed up to four persons. Furnished, with electricity, running water, heat, and with a bathroom (though no kitchen, air conditioning, or telephone service), rent was $22.00 per month, split among the residents. To better serve the students, the University connected the hutments with sidewalks, and added clotheslines, storm drains, and trash bins.

Above: The University constructed three neighborhoods of hutments: at Little Campus, where the Collections Deposit Library now stands; on the northeast corner of campus, the site of today’s Law School; and on the Brackenridge Tract. 

At the last minute, 33 additional “double hutments” were ordered. These were twice the size (16 x 32 feet), divided into a study area on one side, and with sleeping quarters and a bathroom on the other. Arranged in four rows, the hutments were placed just south of Prather Hall, about where the RecSports outdoor basketball courts are today. The location was atop a short cliff that overlooked present day Clark Field, and was named “Cliff Courts.” Rent was slightly higher, $30.00 per month, divided among roommates.

Above: An overhead view and map of the Cliff Courts area. Gregory Gym, Brackenridge, Roberts, and Prather Halls, as well as the stadium, can be seen along the top. To the left, the intramural field is the present site of Jester Center residence hall and the Blanton Museum of Art. The open field to the right is today’s Clark Field. In the middle, the four rows of pre-fabicated huts that were cliff Courts.

The hutments were meant to be a makeshift housing solution and expected to last three years. But while the other hutment communities had disappeared by 1950, Cliff Courts remained for over a decade.

Isolated from the busier areas of campus, the “Cliff Dwellers,” as the residents came to be known, created their own community. As veterans, they shared their war experiences, helped each other through the trials of returning to school, and formed lifelong friendships. While they were serious about completing their degrees, more than one Cliff Dweller noticed that the Courts were much closer to Scholz’ Beer Garden than to UT’s main library, then in the Tower.

The residents found ways to dine together (either by using electric hot pots to cook simple meals or going together to one of the off-campus cafes), fielded intramural sports teams, and organized their own social events. The group’s first dance party was held in the Roberts Hall lounge. Refreshments were provided, music was courtesy a borrowed record player, prizes awarded to the best waltzers and jitter-buggers, and “card tables, ping-pong tables, and other amusements” were available. When warm weather made sleeping in the un-air conditioned hutments difficult, the Cliff Dwellers moved their beds outside, next to the overhang above today’s Clark Field, and slept under the stars, taking advantage of the southeastern breezes that arrived from the Gulf of Mexico.

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Over the years, as the surge of returning veterans eased, Cliff Courts remained as an inexpensive housing option for more traditional UT students. Rent was raised slightly, to $45 per semester for each resident, to help with the rising costs of maintenance on the hutments. It was, in the long run, a losing battle. The structures were meant to be temporary, but the constant upkeep made it economically difficult to operate them. Besides, the lack of conveniences, especially of telephone service, made the Courts less popular.  In 1960, after a 14-year run, Cliff Courts was closed and the hutments sold.

Above: An aerial view of the Cliff Courts area. Waller Creek and San Jacinto Boulevard are lower right, next to today’s Clark Field. Cliff Courts was perched on the shallow cliff above the field, just south of Prather Hall.

To Serve the Nation

The University’s World War I service flag is 100-years old March 2nd.

Above: A century ago, on March 2, 1918, a hand-sewn, 10 1/2 x 16 foot World War I service flag was presented to the University.

It’s nine pounds of wool and grommets that tells a story like no other.

Among the extensive collections preserved by the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, a 10 ½ x 16 foot relic from UT’s past is a poignant reminder of a time when normalcy on the Forty Acres was upended and replaced by a single-minded effort to aid the country at war. While universities have often described their missions in terms of education, research, and service, the First World War required the University of Texas to put almost everything else on hold and focus on its service to the nation.

One of the many wartime projects was the creation of an enormous University service flag. A team of faculty wives and UT co-eds carefully hand-cut and sewed more than 1,500 stars – on each side – to honor members of the University community enlisted in the armed forces. Officially presented on March 2, 1918 as part of UT’s Texas Independence Day celebration, the flag is a century old this year.

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World War I was a defining moment for American higher education. Before 1917, colleges and universities were viewed by many to be frivolous or elitist, not as opportunities for social and economic mobility. Professors were rarely asked for advice on issues or problems of the day. Despite curriculum reforms to include more “practical” courses in science and engineering, and business — along with the more traditional Greek, Latin, and the classics — colleges in the early 20th century had failed to win widespread support from government, business, and the public. The world war changed everything.

Caught up in the patriotic fervor that pervaded the nation, male students rushed to enlist in the armed forces, which decimated college enrollments. At co-ed institutions like the University of Texas, women assumed leadership roles that had traditionally been denied to them. Professors who specialized in subjects useful for war were recruited for their expertise.

To avoid the closure of hundreds of male-only colleges, a national Student Army Training Corps was created, which allowed students to both remain in school and receive military instruction. Because the corps was open to any high school graduate, legions of young men who might otherwise have joined the work force found themselves on a college campus, and either graduated or returned after the war to finish their degrees.

By the end of the conflict, universities had firmly established themselves in the public eye as a national resource. The college campus became a place where American youth could be transformed into broadly-educated and valued citizens.

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In Austin, the entry of the U.S. into the First World War on April 6, 1917, transformed campus life almost immediately. Unsure where to begin, the faculty promptly organized itself into a military company. Led by philosophy professor Al Brogan as honorary captain, 84 professors agreed to participate in one hour of drill and shooting practice three days a week. The group included honorary Private and UT President Robert Vinson. Senior members who were too old for active military training assisted history professor Eugene Barker with planting a war garden.

The faculty, of course, did much more than drill. Almost 40 professors were granted leaves of absence to engage in government service, often in officers’ training camps, hospitals, or intelligence. On campus, research in psychology, biology, and chemistry was directed toward the war effort.  Home economics professor Mary Gearing organized a widely-touted war college for Texas women that focused on food production and conservation, as well as women in wartime industrial roles. With funding from the Department of Agriculture, Gearing dispatched groups of UT co-eds to rural areas across the state to instruct farmers on the best methods for food preservation. At the same time, the University produced four widely-distributed bulletins with recipes to help conserve food staples.

Above: The “Save the Sugar” bulletin was one of four in a series. Other bulletins were filled with recipes – created and tested on campus – to conserve wheat, meat, and fat.

Most notable, perhaps, was chemistry professor James Bailey (photo at left). As a UT undergraduate, Bailey was better known as one of the authors of the University’s first yell, but after completing his Ph.D. at the University of Munich, he returned to Austin as a professor of organic chemistry. In 1915, when war broke out in Europe, medical supplies of the anesthetic drug Novocaine quickly ran short. The drug had been discovered in Germany, which wasn’t going to share the formula with its wartime enemies. Bailey volunteered to help, worked with Alcan Hirsch in New York, and “rediscovered” both Novocaine and a synthetic Adrenalin, a significant contribution to the war effort for all of the Allies.

In 1917, over 1,000 UT students rushed off to enlist, but with the advent of the Student Army Training Corps a year later, campus enrollment again swelled to accommodate those who were concurrently students and members of the U.S. Army. The Forty Acres was converted into an armed encampment, as students in uniform woke to the sounds of “Reveille,” marched in formation to meals, and followed a strict schedule that included both academics and military training. Sentries were posted at University buildings, and professors were required to present proper identification to enter their offices and classrooms.

Above: Members of the UT Student Army Training Corps fall in to formation in front of a row of wooden barracks along the west side of Speedway (where Waggener Hall and the McCombs School are today). On the hill to the right, Pig Bellmont, UT’s first live mascot, inspects the troops.

In late April 1917, President Vinson was appointed to the Council of National Defense and requested to attend a strategic conference in Washington, D.C. The meeting formalized an idea supported by President Woodrow Wilson to better involve universities in the war effort. In order to take advantage of existing college facilities and instructors, the U. S. government established special military schools for aviators at campuses throughout the country. Six colleges were initially chosen to host a School of Military Aeronautics (SMA), and the University of Texas was among them. The SMA was to provide basic technical instruction for beginning pilots before they moved on to flight training. An eight-week session included classes in the history and theory of flight, meteorology, astronomy, machine guns, aerial combat, and the use of signal flags in communication. Those attending the SMA were soldiers in a new branch of the Army known as the “Air Service,” later to become the Air Force, and were not considered university students. Instructors for the SMA included both army officers and UT professors.

Above: The official flag of UT’s School of Military Aeronautics is still preserved in the University Archives, a part of the Briscoe Center.

The SMA opened in June 1917. It was first housed in B. Hall, the first men’s dorm, but the SMA quickly grew from 50 students to several hundred. It was moved to more spacious quarters in buildings once used by the state’s Blind Institute, now called the “Little Campus,” just north of the Erwin Center, where Hargis Hall and the Nowotny Building remain. When the war ended, the SMA had expanded to almost 1,200 students. The largest in the country, it was given the nickname “West Point of the Air,” and was a prototype for the U. S. Air Force Academy.

Above: The School of Military Aeronautics in formation on the Little Campus. Only the building on the left remains as today’s John Hargis Hall, used for Freshman Admissions.

The success of the School for Military Aeronautics placed the university in good stead with the War Department, which assigned two additional schools to the Austin campus. The School for Automobile Mechanics opened in March 1918 at Camp Mabry in northwest Austin. Three hundred men at a time completed a six-week course before being sent overseas to the war. Like the SMA, instructors included members of the university faculty.

A month later, the School for Radio Operators was established on the campus. It took over the B. Hall quarters vacated by the SMA, but needed more classroom space than was available. To solve the problem, several rows of large canvas army tents were pitched in front of the old Main Building (photo at right), along what is now the South Mall. Once opened, radio students and their equipment were a common sight on the hilltops and in the valleys west of Austin.

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One of the by-products of World War I was the invention of the service flag (photo at left). Designed by Robert Queissner, an Army captain from Cleveland, Ohio, the rectangular banner featured a blue star on a white background with a red border. Queissner initially created and displayed a pair of flags as a patriotic tribute to his two sons, who were in France fighting on the front line. But the idea quickly became popular nationally, and service flags were visible on front doors, in living room windows and on Main Street storefronts. Each blue star represented a son or daughter enlisted in the armed forces during wartime. If a person died in service, the blue star was covered with a gold one.

In February 1918, members of the University Ladies Club — spouses, daughters, sisters, and mothers of UT faculty and staff — decided that the University of Texas needed a service flag of its own, one large enough to display blue stars to honor all of the faculty and alumni engaged in the war effort. Spearheaded by the wife of engineering professor Ed Bantel, the Ladies Club recruited the Women’s Council, a student organization for UT co-eds, and discussed plans for an ambitious project.

Above: The University ladies Club and the Women’s Council work on the service flag.

The flag required a full two weeks of labor, with volunteers divided into 15-person shifts. Made from “a fine grade French flannel,” the entire flag measured 10 1/2 x 16 feet. The white center was 6 1/2 x 12 feet, and was initially filled with 1,570 blue stars. Each was 1 1/2  inches tall, individually traced, cut, placed, and hand sewn in meticulous straight lines. While Captain Queissner’s original service banner was intended to be hung against a wall or in a window, with the blue star visible only on one side, the ladies elected to make the university’s version a true flag, so that two star fields were created, attached back-to-back, and a two-foot wide red border sewn around it.

Above: The University’s service flag was presented on March 2, 1918.

Ready by March 2nd, the flag was introduced at the University’s Texas Independence Day ceremonies in the old wooden gym that pre-dated Gregory Gymnasium.  Following a rousing rendition of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” by the UT Band, Charlotte Spence, chair of the Women’s Council, formally presented the flag to the university. Space was left for 140 additional stars, and, instead of a gold-colored material, eight of the stars had white toppings to indicate those who had died. Before the war was over, the remaining stars would be added (more faculty and alumni served in the war than the flag could accommodate), and 85 stars would be topped in white.

Once completed, the service flag was a popular public symbol of the university’s commitment to the war effort, and was proudly displayed in the rotunda of the Old Main Building. On rare occasions it was attached to the outer brick walls of the old Main Building for commencement and other ceremonies.

Above: Patriotism Day on Nov. 14, 1919. The service flag is carefully lowered from the University’s flag pole. Click on an image for a larger view.

One year after the war ended, on Friday, November 14, 1919, the university held a “Patriotism Day” memorial. At noon, in accordance to “General Order No. 1 as issued by President Robert Vinson,” classes were dismissed, and all students, faculty and staff assembled in military style in front of Old Main, where, for the first and only time, the service flag had been hung on the university’s flag pole.

Engineering dean Thomas Taylor acted as commanding officer. The names of University men and women who lost their lives were read, “Taps” was heard, and as the band played “The Star Spangled Banner,” the flag was slowly lowered, folded, and solemnly carried into the Library (now Battle Hall) to be stored in the archives.