The Star Machine

In the 1930s, the University built a one-of-a-kind planetarium.

Few could claim to have moved the heavens, but Ernest Keller was one of them.

At his command, 4,000 stars in dozens of constellations were kindled. Nine planets and 26 moons stirred, then raced along their orbital paths. Brilliant comets with their long tails careened through the Solar System. And all of it was sped up so that the events of a year could be viewed in a minute.

In the 1930s, under the guidance of Professor Keller, the University of Texas invented a planetarium not quite like anything yet seen.

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Astronomy at UT is as old as the University. The Board of Regents, at its inaugural meeting in November 1881, wanted an astronomy professor on the original faculty, but funding issues forced a delay. No matter. When the University opened two years later, Physics professor Alex McFarlane and math professor George Halstead, teaching in the west wing of the old Main Building (photo at left), incorporated some astronomy topics in their courses. A few students took more than a passing interest, including William H. P. Hunnicutt, who was awarded a special Certificate of Proficiency in Astronomy by the regents in 1887.

Above: Brackenridge’s telescope gift was recorded in the handwritten minutes of the Board of Regents’ April 1896 meeting: “To the School of Physics – An equatorial telescope, five inch object glass, mounted on a tripod.”

A decade later, in the spring of 1896, Regent George Brackenridge of San Antonio presented the UT physics school with a five-inch refracting telescope, mounted on a tripod. “Now that we are provided with the means for work, why not organize such a class?” urged the Alcalde, a student newspaper that preceded today’s Daily Texan (and not to be confused with the alumni magazine of the same name). The telescope was stored in the regents’ meeting room in Old Main, but without an astronomer on the faculty, nothing more could be done. A month later, the Alcalde prodded, “The telescope recently given to the University by Mr. Brackenridge is still reposing in the regents’ room.” It would repose another three years before it was finally put to use.

In 1899, Harry Benedict was hired as an instructor of applied mathematics and astronomy for an annual salary of $1,200. A University alumnus, he was already well-known on the Forty Acres. Benedict earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering at UT, but had also been bitten by the astronomy bug, and in 1894 left Austin to join the staff at the prestigious McCormick Observatory at the University of Virginia. After two years, friends urged him on to Harvard, where he completed a Ph.D. in mathematical astronomy in 1898.

“Dr. Harry Y. Benedict, Instructor in astronomy, has been at the University for the past month getting his work in hand for the next year,” reported the Austin Statesman in September 1899.” He has overhauled the handsome telescope of the University, and has it in good condition for making observations.”

Though he was officially on the faculty of applied mathematics, Benedict was, in effect, a one-man astronomy department. For the next quarter century, he taught a series of astronomy courses, gave public lectures (some illustrated by lantern slides), and was the go-to expert for the local press. Benedict often invited classes to his home just north of campus to view the night sky through the Brackenridge telescope, and sometimes hosted telescope parties on the campus. It wasn’t long before his branch of the faculty was renamed the Department of Applied Mathematics and Astronomy. Left: A 1910 announcement for a public astronomy lecture, held in the auditorium of Old Main.

Along with his teaching duties, Benedict proved to be an able administrator. He was promoted to full professor, served as the first Director of University Extension, then concurrently as the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the Dean of Men before the regents named Benedict to the post of University President in 1927, the first UT graduate to become its chief executive.

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Once Benedict moved into the president’s office – then located on the first floor of Sutton Hall, in what today is the architecture graduate student lounge – it quickly became apparent that there would be little time for astronomy. Instead, Ernest Keller (photo at right) was hired in 1928 to take the reins.

A newly minted Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, Keller was excited about teaching astronomy on the Forty Acres. For those potentially intimidated by mathematics, he added a nearly math-free, popular astronomy course which quickly filled with 200 students. The old Brackenridge telescope, though, was still the only one available, and it was clear that the University needed to upgrade.

In 1933, a new Physics Building – today’s Painter Hall – was opened along 24th Street. Located between the Biological Labs Building to the west and chemistry’s Welch Hall to the east, the three became known as UT’s “science row.” At the insistence of President Benedict, a three-room, $15,000 observatory was installed on the roof. Its centerpiece was a 12-foot long refracting telescope with a nine-inch objective lens, a significant improvement from Brackenridge’s 1896 donation. Keller was named Director of the Student Observatory, and the new instrument was a boon for his astronomy courses as enrollment continued to climb.

Above: The newly opened Physics Building – today’s Painter Hall – with its copper-domed observatory on the roof.

Left: The nine-inch telescope was produced by the Warner and Swasey Company from Cleveland, Ohio..

With new momentum behind the astronomy program, Keller went in search of a teaching tool to augment his classroom, something that would vividly illustrate the motion of the planets and their relation to the stars. A planetarium would be ideal.

The modern version of a planetarium, a domed theater where the night sky is optically projected on the ceiling, was invented in Germany in the early 1920s. It quickly became popular throughout Europe, and the following decade crossed the Atlantic to the United States. Keller took a keen interest in the opening of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago in 1930, and read about others being planned or under construction in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and New York.

Above: The Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

A planetarium for the University was unlikely. The funding troubles that had confronted the Board of Regents in 1881 were again an issue, though in the 1930s the source was the Great Depression. For two years, from 1933-1935, wages for all state employees, including UT faculty and staff, were reduced as the Texas Legislature struggled to balance the budget. Keller’s $3,000 salary was lowered to $2,100. A planetarium was considered a luxury.

No matter. Keller approached President Benedict with a proposal to build something less ambitious on a slim budget. The idea was really an elaborate “orrery,” a mechanical model of the Solar System (photo at right). Keller’s version would be vertically mounted on a large board, with the planets moving in their orbits along grooved tracks, but with the addition of thousands of stars, drilled into the board and illuminated from behind, of both the northern and southern constellations. From the front, he proposed projecting the images of comets to demonstrate how they passed through the solar system. (The term “orrery” comes from 18th-century Britain, when Charles Boyle, the Fourth Earl of Orrery, commissioned what is considered the modern version of the device.)

Benedict lent a sympathetic ear to Keller’s idea, and not simply because of the president’s own passion for astronomy. A few years earlier, Texas banker William McDonald left an unexpected $800,000 gift in his will for UT to build a formal observatory. Through a partnership with the University of Chicago, Keller’s Alma Mater, the upcoming McDonald Observatory was under construction on Mount Locke in West Texas. When completed, it would house the second-largest telescope in the world, and was certain to boost interest in astronomy on the Forty Acres.

At the same time, the University had been asked to participate in the upcoming Texas Centennial Celebration in 1936.  From June through December, the campus was to become an enormous exhibit hall, with detailed displays in various buildings on Texas culture, history, fine arts, and science. (Gregory Gym was transformed into a natural history museum, with a model of a dinosaur standing guard out front.) The planetarium, along with an exhibit on the McDonald Observatory, could be a major attraction, and further showcase UT’s efforts to become a world-class research university.

Benedict approved the project with a $1,500 budget. The planetarium was to be located in the reading room of the old Library – today’s Battle Hall.

Top: The planetarium was assembled in the old Library Building, today’s Battle Hall. Above: The Daily Texan headline isn’t quite correct. The planets, not the stars, would be in motion in the planetarium.

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Keller recruited mechanical engineering professor Alex Vallance to help with the design, and construction began on the chilly and cloudy Wednesday, January 23, 1935. Over the next eighteen months the project involved the University carpenter, painter, cabinet maker, physics department machine shop, several faculty members, and more than 20 students hired part-time through a Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) grant, one of the many New Deal programs created by President Franklin Roosevelt.

Above: The planetarium, still under construction, on the south end of the reading room. When completed, it was provided with a nicer base and framed by green curtains. The Greek statuary was relocated to the north end of the room.

The planetarium was placed on a square vertical board, 20-feet on a side, and painted a deep blue. Just over 4,000 holes, from ¼ to 1/32 of an inch in diameter, were drilled into the board to display stars seen in both the northern and southern hemispheres. The holes were lit from behind by 62, 60-watt bulbs encased in light-tight containers. “The stars of the planetarium are not made by projecting beams of light onto an interior dome, as in the Adler Planetarium,” reported The Daily Texan, “but by projecting light through the plane of the system by reflecting it along glass tubes from a central source.” Divided into a dozen sections, all of the stars could be lit at once, or only those seen from the Earth on a particular night.  A revolving switch allowed the lit stars to vary by month once the planets were set in motion.

In the center of the board was the Sun, a bright, 500-watt bulb, around which nine planets (including Pluto) and 26 known moons both rotated on their own axes and revolved about the Sun on tracts. The planets were made to scale out of thin glass spheres coated with mercury, which better reflected the “sunlight” and could be easily seen. “The smallest spheres are clearly visible, when illuminated, at a distance of a hundred feet,” Keller wrote in a special article for Popular Astronomy magazine. The largest planet, Jupiter, was seven inches in diameter.

Right: The primary drive that powered the planets on their orbits around the Sun. 

Behind the scenes was a ¾ horsepower motor central drive, along with smaller motors to operate each planet and its moons. Dozens of brass and steel gears and sprockets, all custom made on campus, along with more than 400 feet chain were required. Larger rotating parts were mounted on rubber bases to reduce vibrations and potential noise. The planetarium had two speeds. A year could be made to pass in a minute, or at a faster pace, in 20 seconds.

From the front, Keller designed a “comet projector.” He described it as an optical device “which projects a portion of a lantern slide of a comet in such a manner that the tail of the comet extends outward from the miniature Sun as the comet traverses its orbit.”

Above: Still under construction, chalk was used to outline constellations before star positions were drilled into the board. In this photo, the smallest “ring” is the orbit of Jupiter, which can be seen in the upper left. Saturn is the next planet and easily visible at lower left. The inner planets – Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, are washed out in the photo by the 500-watt bulb acting as the Sun. 

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The planetarium was debuted to the University Science Club and faculty on May 3, 1936, before it publicly opened the following month with the campus-wide Texas Centennial Celebration. Three nights each week – on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday – two showings were held, at 8 and 9 p.m. “The lecture makes the heavens take on a new and brighter aspect,” reported the Austin Statesman. Much of the presentation was centered on the motions of the planets and comets over the previous century, from 1836, when Texas became an independent nation, to the 1936 centennial year.

Along with the planetarium, visitors were treated to an intricate, electrically powered, working model of the McDonald Observatory (photo at right). Built by the Warner and Swasey Company in Cleveland, Ohio, 4 ½ feet tall by 50-inches in diameter, it was shipped to Austin in four boxes with express instructions not to touch anything until a company representative arrived to unpack and assemble it. (Today, the model resides at the McDonald Observatory’s visitor center.)

Next to the observatory was a replica of Mount Locke, with the layout of the buildings, equipment, and roads planned for the observatory site. It was built by students in the School of Architecture, and funded with a National Youth Administration grant, another New Deal program.

Following the planetarium show, everyone was invited to stroll over to the Physics Building to look through the nine-inch telescope.  Jupiter, with its colored bands and four bright Galilean moons, was in the right place in the sky for easy viewing.

Above: A model of the McDonald Observatory on Mount Locke, created by students from the School of Architecture.

Keller’s planetarium was a great success. Crowds through the summer averaged 150 persons each night, and while public attendance tapered off once school began in the fall, it continued to be popular until the Texas Centennial exhibit closed in December. For the next several years, the planetarium was used for its intended purpose, as a teaching tool for astronomy classes.

Keller, though, didn’t remain at the University. In 1940, with the threat of the United States becoming involved in a second global conflict, he was hired as a consulting mathematician for the Curtiss-Wright Corporation, then the largest producer of military aircraft in the nation. With Keller’s departure, and with the University soon focused on World War II, the planetarium was neglected and fell into disrepair.

Years later, in 1946, a Texan reporter took note of the forgotten machine. “On the second floor of the old Library Building, surrounded by bulletin boards and diligent art students, rests a weird-looking object of yesterday’s fame – a planetarium.” Too large to relocate to the Physics Building, Keller’s creation was eventually dismantled. The heavens moved no more.

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Football Traditions a Century Ago

Above: The 1915 University of Texas football team poses at the north end of old Clark Field. The house behind them is now the site of the Patterson Labs Building.

October is here, and the fall semester is hitting its full stride. Mid-terms, papers, and lab reports. Concerts, plays, and intramural sports. The campus is bustling and humming well into the night.

For the Longhorn nation, fall brings with it the familiar sights and sounds of the stadium, from the “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign to the singing of the “Texas Fight!” song. There was a time, though, when hand signals and fight songs didn’t yet exist, when Alpha Phi Omega’s giant Texas flag or the Texas Cowboys’ “Smokey the Cannon” weren’t yet a part of Longhorn football games.

What were some of the University of Texas football traditions a century ago?

Football Rallies

Above: The old Main Building, where the UT Tower is today. A north wing in back housed a 1,700 seat auditorium, regularly used for campus football rallies. 

Football rallies were regularly held on the Friday evenings before games in the auditorium of the old Main Building. Following the social mores of the time, only the men were allowed to yell, and found seats on the main floor. It was considered “un-ladylike” for co-eds to get too rowdy; they watched from the second-floor balcony.

The program included rousing speeches by the head coach and team captains, UT president, and several deans. Students performed skits that often poked a little fun at the faculty, and the yell leaders directed the group (sorry, ladies – men only!) in cheers. “Texas Fight!” and “Go, Horns, Go!” were not among them. Instead, one of the most popular was the Rattle-de-Thrat Yell:

Listen to some of the old UT cheers recorded at the 2007 Big Yell.

To make sure everyone knew the words, pocket-size yell books were printed and distributed, especially to new students, at the start of the fall term.

Clark Field

Because much of the original Forty Acres was on a hillside, space was limited for outdoor sports. In the 1880s, baseball games were played on the relatively flat northwest corner, where the Texas Union stands today, and students waiting to bat rested under the trees now called the Battle Oaks.

By the 1890s, students were using a 3 ½ acre vacant lot just east of campus along 24th Street, but in 1899, the owner, a Mr. de Cordova, asked that the University either purchase the field or it would be divided and sold for private residences. A $3,000 price was negotiated. Students collected $1,300 among themselves, faculty donated $1,000, and the alumni contributed the rest. Intercollegiate football and baseball games were played there, along with informal intramural contests.

In 1906, at the students’ request, the Athletics Council formally named the field after the beloved James Clark (photo at right), who initially served as the University’s proctor, librarian, registrar, bursar, academic counselor, and groundskeeper, all at once. A friend to everyone, Clark was known to bring soup to students who were ill at home, and personally funded an annual Christmas banquet for those who were stuck in Austin for the holidays. A Clark Field still exists on the campus, just south of the San Jacinto Residence Hall.

The following year, 1907, students raised funds and constructed wooden bleachers in time for the annual football game with Texas A&M (see The One Week Stadium), then continued to add seats, roofing, and a press box over the next decade. By the late 1910s, Clark Field could accommodate about 20,000 fans, the largest in the South.

Above: A view of Clark Field from the east stands, with the Forty Acres across Speedway Street and up on the hill. Buildings from left: Law Building, B. Hall (men’s dorm), Old Main, the smokestack of the old power station, and the Engineering Building on the right (today’s Gebauer Building).

Kick-off

Above: A sunny kick-off for the Texas vs. Rice University game in 1916. Looking south across Clark Field, with the Texas Capitol in the distance.

“A custom which is never forgotten is cheering in the bleachers,” wrote UT student Rupert Robertson, who was a UT track letterman in the 1910s. “When the teams trot out upon the field, the rooters give ‘Rattle-de-Thrat,’ and as soon as the game begins, they sing ‘The Eyes of Texas are Upon You.’ So much noise is going on all through the game, you can hardly hear your ears.” As with the football rallies, yelling was generally limited to the men until the mid-1920s. Women were permitted to applaud, sing, and wave Texas pennants, but anything too raucous would bring a stern warning from the Dean of Women. Before the addition of a public address system, UT yell leaders, dressed in white to be easily seen, coordinated the cheering through hand signals that had been explained and rehearsed at the Friday evening football rally.

“Now and then a man on the opposing team gets through Varsity’s line for a few yards,” Robertson continued. “He generally receives applause, because we know that it takes a good man to break through Texas’ mighty wall of defense.”

Above right: The October 1916 cover of the student-published Longhorn Magazine displayed the latest in co-ed football fashion.

Halftime

Above: The 1916 version of the University of Texas Band (with a junior mascot).

While today’s halftime tradition is to enjoy a performance by the Longhorn Band, the custom a century ago was the reverse. The band, usually under thirty-members strong, remained in the stands and provided musical accompaniment as fans left their seats for a “snake dance,” and ran single file in a tortured course up, down, and the length of the field. It was meant to show enthusiasm and support for the team, and was a great source of amusement for the ladies who watched from their seats.

Above: A 1923 version of the halftime snake dance. Modern halftime performances of the Longhorn Band began soon after the opening of Texas Memorial Stadium in 1924.

The Longhorn Pen

 Above: The Longhorn Pen was located just inside the Speedway entry to Clark Field.

The first concession stand at Clark Field opened in 1916 as the “Longhorn Pen,” just past the main entrance to the field near Speedway Street. Managed by six UT students hired by the Athletics Council, lemonade, soft drinks, candy, peanuts, popcorn, and cigars were sold, and the profits helped pay the students’ college costs.  “The addition of this feature will remove the objections many have found with the concession holders of the past, “reported the Austin Statesman, “and will at the same time enable six worthy boys to pay their expenses at the University.”

Post-Game

Rupert Robertson’s favorite football tradition was at the end of the day. “When the game is over, the rooters tumble over the fence below the bleachers, grab the heros of the game, and carry them from the field upon their shoulders. They portray true Texas spirit here, because this is done whether we win or lose.”

“Of the customs this last one is best,” Robertson explained, “because the act within itself drives away all ill feeling that might have existed during the game.”

Above: The main gate to Clark Field, near the corner of Speedway and 23rd Streets.

One Hundred Thirty-Four

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 professors composed the Law Department. Salaries averaged $2,500 per year, a generous sum in the 1880s.

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. Prospective law students needed 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, and 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.

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.

“…what is a university? Like any living thing, an academic institution is comprehensible only in terms of its history.” – James Conant, President of Harvard, 1933 – 1953

Forty Years on Forty Acres

The Perry-Castaneda Library turns 40 years old.

Aside from the football stadium on game day, the library is the loudest place on the campus. No, seriously. Meander up and down the aisles of books, and if you listen closely, you’ll hear thousands of authors calling, demanding, and pleading that you read their works. (All right, that’s metaphorical, but you get the idea.)

For the Perry-Castaneda Library, or “PCL,” the authors number in the millions. And this month, the PCL celebrates its fortieth anniversary as UT’s first open-stack main library.

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The Perry-Castaneda Library is the fourth main library on the campus. The first was in the old Main Building (photo at left), poorly placed on the first floor of the north wing, where it was just below a two-story, 1,500 seat auditorium. When the auditorium was being used for a concert, play, or football rally, studying in the library was difficult at best. It was better used during quieter times, though men and women were required to sit at separate tables.

In 1911, the library moved into what today is Battle Hall (right), and was designed by architect Cass Gilbert, who was also responsible for the Woolworth Tower in New York and the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. The Mediterranean Renaissance style, with its limestone walls, red-tile roof, and broadly-arched windows, set the architectural style for much of the campus. Meanwhile, the space vacated in Old Main was renovated for the English Department. A new north hallway was created, with classrooms on one side and faculty offices on the other. The hallway itself was dubbed the “English Channel.”

By the 1930s, Battle Hall was overcrowded, and Old Main was razed to make room for a new Main Building that served as the central library. Grand reading rooms were installed on the lower levels, while the book stacks were housed in a 27-story Tower.

The Main Building, though, was a closed-stack library. Students weren’t allowed into the Tower to peruse the book shelves. Instead, they had to search a massive card catalog, fill out request slips with book titles and call numbers, and then present the slips to a librarian at the reference desk. The librarian sent the requests via pneumatic tube up to the correct floors of the Tower, where additional library staff – some of them in roller skates – pulled the books from the shelves and sent them down to the reference desk on a special elevator where the books could be checked out. As the library and UT’s enrollment grew, so did the time needed to fulfill requests. (And it’s worth noting that for its first eighteen years, the Main Building wasn’t air conditioned.)

Some relief was achieved in 1963 with the opening of the Undergraduate Library and Academic Center, today known as the Flawn Academic Center, where students had direct access to some books helpful for UT undergraduate courses. But the bulk of the library was still in the Tower, and the grumbling of long lines and slow service grew to a full-throated yell by 1970.

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“When I stand at the desk of the Main Library and have to wait 25 minutes for one book,” wrote Sue deNim in a 1971 op-ed for The Daily Texan, “when I am told that I can borrow only two or three books, when I am told that, although the catalogue doesn’t list a book, it is somewhere in the half-a-year list of books to be processed: on all of these occasions I am being deprived of needed resource material. No one is doing it deliberately, but it is being done.

“To recognize other projects as having higher priority than the library is to be misguided. No department of the University can function without the corresponding section of the library. Cripple the library and you have crippled education to a commensurate degree.”

With complaints mounting from both students and faculty, University President Bryce Jordan appointed a library planning committee, and by April 1972, the Board of Regents approved the committee’s recommendation of a new facility. The building was to serve three functions: to house the humanities and social science collections, along with business, education, and psychology; provide additional reader and study areas for campus users; and be the centralized acquisition and processing facility for all UT libraries. Head Librarian Fred Folmer was assigned the herculean task of overseeing the project, while Associate Head Librarian Harold Billings stepped up to run the current library’s daily operations.

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Six possible sites were studied, including the northeast corner of 26th Street, two locations along Speedway now occupied by the newer portion of Welch Hall and the Gates-Dell Computer Science Complex, the position of today’s Student Activity Center, a parking lot at the southwest corner of 21st Street and Speedway, and Clark Field. Suitability was based on the proximity to central campus, enough space for 100,000 square foot floors, potential for future expansion, and minimal destruction of existing buildings.

Clark Field was ruled out early as being too far out of the way, and as part of the field would remain for football and Longhorn Band practice – which would likely disturb library users – the UT administration was anxious not to repeat the mistake of the library location in Old Main.

In the end, the southwest corner of 21st and Speedway seemed best. The recently completed Jester Center Residence Hall to the east, a new Graduate School of Business Building across the street to the north, and a planned Education Building (today’s Sanchez Building) to the south, along with the proximity of the business school and Gregory Gym, meant the area would be a high traffic zone for students. There was ample room for five, expansive, 100,000 square foot floors, which Board of Regents chair Frank Erwin bragged was “bigger than five K-Marts,” and space to the west of the proposed library was reserved for expansion.

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The San Antonio architecture firm Bartlett Cocke and Associates, Inc. was appointed to design the building. Though a campus myth persists that the library’s shape is an abstract form of the state of Texas, the building was actually planned to ease pedestrian traffic around it. Instead of a traditional square or rectangular footprint, corners were trimmed to allow for diagonal pathways in front of and behind the building. Other parts were extended to make the best use of available area. The end result was actually meant to better resemble a pinwheel, not the Lone Star State. The Board of Regents approved the plans in March 1974, along with $17 million for construction.

Above: An architectural model of the PCL, illuminated from within. The diagonal shape allowed pedestrian traffic around the building to flow easier, and provided room for a plaza in front of the main entry.

Above: The west side of the PCL architectural model. The corner in the lower right has been trimmed to provide a shorter pathway between the PCL and the Education Building (now the Sanchez Building) just to the right. The footprint of the library is a bit like a distorted pinwheel.

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Through initial discussions between President Stephen Spurr and the UT System, and continued by Spurr’s successor, President Lorene Rogers, all agreed that naming the library was an opportunity to “express the University’s lasting commitment to educational opportunities for all Texans.” In 1975, Rogers formally asked the Board of Regents to name the building in honor of Ervin Perry, the first African American to be promoted to the academic rank of professor on the Forty Acres. Perry had earned masters and doctorate degrees in civil engineering at the University and had served as chair of the department before his untimely death in 1970.

Along with Perry, Rogers also requested the library be named for Carlos Castaneda. Having earned three degrees at UT, Castaneda began his career as the Latin American librarian in 1927, then rose through the academic ranks to be a famed professor of Latin American and Texas history, and author of a dozen books. The regents nuanimously approved the idea at their September 12th meeting, and the facility was officially called the Perry-Castaneda Library.

Above: At the dedication ceremony, UT President Lorene Rogers unveiled portraits of Dr. Ervin Perry (left) and Dr. Carlos Castaneda, for whom the library is named.

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Above: The library under construction early in 1976, as viewed from the Tower.

Construction of the PCL began in the summer of 1974 and required three full years. Over nine acres of carpeting were installed. Because the twelve-foot long, eight hundred pound rolls of carpet were too heavy for the elevators, a temporary hoist was mounted in the south stairwell and the rolls pulled up to each floor. Set on top of the carpet were seventy miles of shelves, about a third of which would initially be unused. When opened, the library would have two million volumes, but was designed to accommodate three-and-a-quarter million.

By late spring of 1977, the building was nearing completion, and it was time to move both books and the card catalog. The process was long and tedious. Each of the million-and-a-half books from the Main Building needed to be inspected, cleaned with a special vacuum (left), and placed on book mover dollies for transport. Damaged volumes were set aside for repair. The dollies were then loaded on to trucks and driven to the PCL loading dock where the books were re-cataloged, placed on the service elevator, and re-shelved on the appropriate floors.

At the height of summer, crews worked six days a week to transport more than 7,200 dolly loads of books across the campus. The humanities and social science collections came from the Main Building, the business library from the Business-Economics Building (which opened space for a growing business school), and the education and psychology collections from Battle Hall, which would be transformed into today’s architecture and planning library. With classes in session through the summer, the library still had to be operational. Requests from students who needed books that had already been moved were accommodated within a day.

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The Perry-Castaneda Library opened August 29, 1977 to rave reviews. “This magnificent structure is one of the largest and finest academic library buildings in North America,” President Rogers boasted at the dedication ceremonies. Regent (and future Texas governor) Allan Shivers called it “a warm and inviting place.” Its walls were built from textured Indiana limestone, and its large windows purposely inlaid to be well-shaded from the hot Texas sun. The live oak trees desired for landscaping were too large to be found at a traditional nursery, and were instead purchased and transplanted from ranches around Austin.

Inside was the University’s first open-stack main library, with seating for 3,200 patrons. Students still had to search through a card catalog (above left) – an online version wouldn’t be available until 1990 – and the low tech security at the entrance required the physical inspection of backpacks. Before the campus became smoke-free, designated smoking rooms were available on each floor.

Above: With more than nine acres of carpeting and seventy miles of shelves, the PCL provided spacious accommodations for a growing University.

Above: As part of the dedication ceremonies, the Longhorn Band spelled “PCL” at halftime of the Texas vs. Baylor game. 

Special thanks to Travis Willmann and use of the PCL archives.

Moonlight Prowl, September 1st

The fall Moonlight Prowl season begins Friday, September 1st at 8 p.m.

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

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How much does it cost? The Moonlight Prowl is free, though the charge is doubled for Oklahoma Sooners. 🙂

Do I need to RSVP? An RSVP is appreciated but not required. You can send me a quick email here, or RSVP via Facebook event.

Where do we meet? We’ll gather on the Main Mall in front of the UT Tower.

When does the tour begin? Traditionally, the Prowl begins at 8 p.m., when the UT Tower chimes have sounded their last for the day.

How long is the Prowl? The Prowl is a 1 1/2 – 2 hour walking tour with “sit-down” stops along the way.

Can anyone attend? Everyone is welcome. But parents who want to bring small children are cautioned that the wee ones generally get bored quickly, and want to either race down the South Mall or jump into Littlefield Fountain.

Is there a prerequisite? Lots of UT courses have prerequisites – why not the Prowl? To attend the tour, all Moonlight Prowlers must be able to point to the UT Tower and say, “That’s the UT Tower.”

What if it rains? If at all possible, the Prowl will go on rain or (moon)shine. Some of the best Prowls have taken place under a steady sprinkle. If it’s raining, bring umbrellas and we’ll adjust the tour stops to be mostly indoors. If there’s a severe storm at Prowltime, or one is imminent, we’ll look at rescheduling.

Do I need to bring a flashlight? Nope. I’ll bring the Official Prowl Flashlight, known around NASA as the “OPF.”

Is this an “official” UT program? No, the Moonlight Prowl is not sponsored by the University of Texas. Think of it as a hobby that’s gotten out of control. I enjoy learning about the University’s history and sharing what I’ve discovered, and conduct the tour as a volunteer.

Prowl Links:

Austin Chronicle.Best of Austin 2000This will be Moonlight Prowl number 662. A little history about the first tour in 1988 is here.

The Daily Texan covered the 500th Prowl here.

In 2000, the Moonlight Prowl was a “Best of Austin” choice in the Austin Chronicle here.

 

See you on September 1st!

Jim

Five Things every UT Freshman should Know

In just a few weeks, the freshman class of 2021 will arrive in Austin and become a part of the University of Texas. Before the fall semester begins and schedules get busy, here are five things every UT freshman ought to know.

1. Know Your Forty Acres

Above: The UT campus at 21st Street and Guadalupe in 1899.

The city of Austin was founded in 1839 as the capital of the Republic of Texas. Surveyors laid out a series of city blocks between Waller and Shoal Creeks, set aside land at the top of a hill for a “Capitol Square,” named east-west streets for Texas trees, and north-south roads for Texas rivers.

A year later, in 1840, additional land was surveyed to the north, and a square, forty-acre plot was informally labeled “College Hill,” (photo at left) bounded today by 21st and 24th Streets, Speedway to the east, and Guadalupe on the west. At the time, there were no firm plans to establish a university, and the people of Austin made no claims to the land. They built their homes and businesses around College Hill, and used the area as a favorite spot for weekend picnics. There is, in fact, no legal deed to the plot.

The Texas Legislature created the University in 1881 and Austin, by way of a controversial state-wide vote, won the main campus. Having waited decades, College Hill was at last put to use when UT was formally opened on September 15, 1883. Though the University grounds have expanded ten-fold, the campus is still known as the Forty Acres.

Above right: The Victorian-Gothic old Main Building, UT’s first campus structure, where the Tower stands today. (Explore the early UT campus here.)

2. Know Your Colors

It was a gloomy Tuesday morning, April 21, 1885, when UT’s first baseball team, along with most of the student body, arrived at the downtown Austin train station at Third Street and Congress Avenue. The group had chartered passenger cars bound for Georgetown, thirty miles north, where UT was to play its first-ever intercollegiate baseball game against Southwestern University. Just as the train was ready to depart, Miss Gussie Brown from (of all places) Orange, Texas, urgently announced the need for some ribbon to identify everyone as from the University of Texas.

Today, college fans show support for their teams by donning t-shirts, jackets, and caps. But in the 1880s, colored ribbons were worn on lapels. An enterprising male student often sported longer ribbons so he’d have extra to share with a pretty girl who had none.

Gussie’s two friends – Venable Proctor and Clarence Miller – always eager to impress the ladies, jumped off the train and sprinted north along Congress Avenue to the nearest general store. They asked the shopkeeper for three bolts of two colors of ribbon. “Which colors?” the merchant inquired. “Anything,” the students replied. After all, the train was leaving the station, and there was no time to be particular.

The shopkeeper gave them the colors he had the most in stock: white ribbon, which was popular for weddings and parties and was always in demand, and bright orange ribbon, because few bought the color, and the store had plenty to spare.

Right: The Austin railroad station at Third Street and Congress Avenue.

Loaded with supplies, Proctor and Miller ran back and boarded the moving train as it left for Georgetown. Along the way, the ribbon was divided and distributed to everyone except for a law student named Yancey Lewis, “who had evolved a barbaric scheme of individual adornment by utilizing the remnants.”

Unfortunately, it rained in the afternoon, the pitcher’s curve ball curved not, and Texas outfielders ran weary miles in a lost cause as they fell to an experienced Southwestern squad 21–6. The colors, though, had made their debut. There would be challengers, including gold and white, royal blue, and (most popular) orange and maroon, but a 1900 vote by students, faculty, and alumni settled the matter for orange and white.

Read the full story here: Orange and White

3. Know Your Mascot

University of Texas athletic teams have been known as the “Longhorns” since 1904, but in the mid-1910s, a growing number of UT alumni wanted to see if a live longhorn mascot might be able to attend football games. In the fall of 1916, Texas law grad Stephen Pinckney, working for the U.S. Attorney General’s office, discovered what he thought would be the perfect candidate in West Texas. With $1.00 donations from 125 alumni, Pinckney arranged to purchase the steer and have it transported to Austin in time for the Thanksgiving Day football game between the University and Texas A&M.

The longhorn made its debut at halftime and was presented to the students (photo above left), then taken to a South Austin stockyard for safe keeping and a formal portrait. He was named “Bevo,” thought to be derived from the word “beeve,” the plural for beef, and a slang term for a cow or steer. (Think of the name as “Beef-o.”)

The University community, though, wasn’t entirely sure what to do with their new addition. The gift had been made, but without any formal plans for feeding, caring, or transporting the steer. Besides, UT students already claimed to have a live mascot in Pig Bellmont, (right) a dog owned by Athletic Director Theo Bellmont. Pig lived on the Forty Acres, had a daily routine of greeting students in classrooms and in the library, and went to home and away football, baseball, and basketball games.

Texas had won the football game 21-7, and some students pushed to have the steer branded with the score. Others thought it was cruel. As the campus community debated, a group of Aggie pranksters visited Austin in the wee hours of Sunday, February 12, 1917, broke in to the South Austin stockyard and branded the steer “13-0,” the score of the 1915 football bout A&M had won in College Station the year before.

Above: Bevo was branded “13-0” in February 1917. 

A few days later, amid rumors that the Aggies planned to kidnap the animal outright, Bevo was safely transported to the Tom Iglehart ranch west of Austin. Six weeks later, the United States entered World War I, and the University transformed itself to support the war effort. Out of sight and off campus, the branded steer was all but forgotten until the end of the war in November 1918.

Since Bevo’s food and care cost the University sixty cents a day, and as the steer wasn’t believed to be tame enough to remain in the football stadium, it was fattened up and became the barbecued main course for the January 1920 football banquet. A delegation from A&M was invited to attend, “and the branding iron was buried and the resumption of athletic relations, after an unhappy period… duly celebrated.”

For the full story and more photos, see Bevo.

4. Know Your Hand Sign

Above: Harley Clark (right) and the 1955 UT cheerleaders.

Harley Clark was a head cheerleader in search of an idea. It was the second week of November, 1955, and the Texas Longhorn football team was getting ready to host sixth-ranked TCU in an important contest at Memorial Stadium. A torchlight parade across the Forty Acres and football rally in Gregory Gym had been scheduled for Friday night, November 11th, but Harley was looking for something to make it extra special and rouse a little more of the University of Texas spirit.

A few days before the rally, Harley was in the Texas Union (photo at right) when he saw fellow classmate Henry “HK” Pitts, who suggested that a hand sign with the index and little fingers extended looked a bit like a longhorn, and might be fun to do at rallies and football games. The Texas Aggies had their “Gig ‘em” thumbs-up sign, inspired while playing the TCU Horned Frogs. (“Gigging” is a term used to hunt small game – including frogs – with a muti-pronged spear.) With the TCU game coming up on Saturday, why can’t Texas fans have their own hand signal?

Harley liked the idea, and decided to introduce it at the Gregory Gym rally. He demonstrated the sign to the crowd and promptly declared, “This is the official hand sign of the University of Texas, to be used whenever and wherever Longhorns gather.” The students and cheerleaders tried it out, and Harley led a simple yell, “Hook ‘em Horns!” with hands raised. (In this case, a tradition has two founders. HK Pitts was in charge of “research and development,” and Harley Clark took on “marketing and sales.”)

Above: A tradition is born. The moment in Gregory Gym when the “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign was first introduced to UT students. Click on an image for a larger view.

Immediately after the rally, Harley was confronted by a furious Arno Nowotny, the Dean of Students. “How could you say the hand sign was official?” the dean wanted to know. “Has this been approved by the University administration?” Harley admitted that the idea hadn’t been approved first, but the cat was already out of the bag – or the longhorn was already loose in the pasture. At the football game, the student section practiced what they’d learned the night before, and the alumni were quick to follow. By the end of the game, the stadium was full of “Hook ‘em Horns” hand signs.

The full story is here: Hook ’em Horns

5. Know Your Tower

The Main Building, with its 307-foot Tower, is the definitive landmark of the University. For eighty years, it’s quietly watched over the campus bustle, breaking its silence every quarter hour to remind everyone of the passing of the day. Bathed in warm orange lights to announce honors and victories, crowned in fireworks at the climax of spring commencement ceremonies, it’s been a backdrop for freshman convocations, football rallies, concerts, and demonstrations. Architect Paul Cret intended it to be the “image carried in our memory when we think of the place,” though author and UT English instructor J. Frank Dobie, incensed that a state so rich in land would build something better suited to New York City, branded it a “toothpick in a pie.”

Opened in 1937, the Main Building was created to house the University’s central library. Along the east and west sides of the building, a pair of spacious reading rooms, labeled the “Hall of Texas” and the “Hall of Noble Words,” were connected to a great central reference room. Made with liberal use of oak and marble, the room was decorated with the six seals of Texas. (A life sciences library is still housed in the Main Building, and a visit to see these great halls is highly recommended. The Hall of Noble Words is a popular study place for students.)

Above: The ceiling of the Hall of Noble Words. 

Rising twenty-seven floors above the reading rooms, the Tower contained the library’s book stacks. Made of Indiana limestone, it was financed through a grant from the Progress Works Administration, a New Deal program created during the Great Depression. As a closed-stack library, its patrons searched an immense card catalog to identify their selections, and then requested books at the front desk. Orders were forwarded upstairs to one of the Tower librarians, who sometimes wore roller skates to better navigate the rows of bookshelves. Once found, books were sent downstairs in a special elevator to be checked out.

As both enrollment and the library’s holdings grew, the waiting time for a book extended to more than half an hour. The need for an open-stack library led to the construction of the Undergraduate Library and Academic Center in 1963 (now the Flawn Academic Center), and the Perry-Castaneda Library in 1977.

Symbolically, architect Paul Cret intended the Tower to be the University’s iconic building, and sought to give it an “appropriate architectural treatment for a depository of human knowledge.” The ornamentation on the building was meant to convey its purpose as a library as well as to the mission and aspirations of the University. Names of literary giants – Plato, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain, among them –  were carved in limestone under the tall windows along the east and west sides. Displayed in gold leaf on the north side of the Tower were letters (or cartouches) from five dialects that contributed to the development of English language: Egyptian, Phoenician, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The biblical quote inscribed above the south entrance, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” was selected by the Faculty Building Committee as suitable for those who came to use the library. “The injunction to seek truth as a means to freedom is as splendid a call to youth as we can make,” explained committee chair William Battle. (See: The Inscription.)

Placed alongside the literary images were familiar Classical symbols. The lamp of learning, the face of Athena as the goddess of wisdom, and rows of scallop shells – associated with Venus as the goddess of truth and beauty – were all added to the south façade, carved in place by Italian stone masons. Learning, wisdom, truth, and beauty: values long associated with the purpose of higher education.

The most colorful decorations were hung along the east and west sides of the building, just below the broad eaves, where artful representations of a dozen university seals (above right) were meant to convey a history of higher education, as well as proclaim UT’s own aspirations to be a “University of the first class.”

At night, the Tower takes on a different symbolic meaning when it glows orange to announce an athletic victory or an academic achievement. In the case of a national championship, a number “1” is displayed in the windows – a favorite sight for every Longhorn fan.

Above: An orange Tower with a “1” on all four sides for a national championship.

For more reading and photos: How to Build a Tower, The Main Building Seals, and UT Tower Lighting Configurations

Also see: Advice for UT Freshmen

Why is it “Commencement?”

For the University of Texas, it’s the most important event of the year, the signature public affirmation of the University’s academic enterprise. Greater than any other college tradition, spring commencement is more than simply a rite. As is so often said about Texas, commencement is a state of mind. For two days in May, it casts a wide spell and seems to have a hold on everyone.

Right: Steven Hardt, a 2007 communication graduate, arrives on the Main Mall with an orange Tower perched on his mortar board.

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Above: The Academic class of 1894.

First held in June, 1884, the University’s earliest graduation ceremonies were modest affairs, staged in the un-air conditioned Millett Opera House downtown. They were scheduled either in the morning or later in the evening to beat the early summer heat. Gentlemen arrived in three-piece suits, Ascot ties, and bowlers, while the ladies sported colorful bustle dresses and fashionable bonnets. Graduates were identified by the black- tasseled mortar boards on their heads.

Along with the presentation of diplomas, the ceremony was augmented by a pair of speeches delivered by members of UT’s two literary societies, the Rusk and Athenaeum. In 1885, Thomas Watt Gregory’s (left) half hour address made quite an impression as he optimistically described the march of social and scientific progress through the nineteenth century. “His speech from the beginning to the close was a grand and masterly one,” reported the Austin Statesman, “eschewing from his discourse the tinseled vaporings which generally characterize commencement efforts.”

When the auditorium in the old Main Building was completed in 1890, commencement moved to campus, and over the next decade grew into a week long celebration. Parties, dances, picnics, luncheons, and, occasionally, a symbolic textbook burning in front of Old Main all preceded the diploma ceremony. The alumni association held its annual meeting at the same time, elected officers for the next year, and organized class reunions.

In 1901, the senior Academic students – what today might be considered arts and sciences – voted to wear traditional caps and gowns to commencement for the first time. The law students, though, had been left out of the discussion, and, unhappy that they weren’t consulted, refused to conform to the new dress code.  After UT President William Prather insisted that the law graduates wear some type of distinctive insignia, they opted to don light-colored suits with wild Texas sunflowers pinned to their lapels. Plentiful in the open fields around Austin, the sunflowers were at their peak in mid-June. A Daily Texan editor added some meaning to the choice: “As the sunflower always keeps its face to the sun, the lawyer turns to the light of justice.” A tradition was born. Today, UT law graduates still wear sunflowers.

Commencement moved outdoors in 1917. The state’s fire codes had recently been upgraded, and the auditorium was unexpectedly forced to close because of too few proper exits. Held on the warm and humid Tuesday morning of June 12th, just over 350 degree recipients – UT’s largest graduating class to date – gathered in front of the ivy-draped, Victorian Gothic old Main Building. The ceremony started bright and early at 8:30 a.m., before the Texas sun became unbearable.

Among the graduates were UT’s first nine recipients of the Bachelor of Business Administration degree. As with their law school counterparts, the business students decided to shun the cap and gown, and instead sported white linen suits with sweet peas as lapel flowers. (The McCombs School celebrated the 100th anniversary of the BBA program this year; 2017 is the 101st BBA class.)

Above: 1937 Spring Commencement in Gregory Gym.

Over the next few decades, commencement roamed about the Forty Acres. It was held in the Texas Memorial Stadium in the 1920s, moved to Gregory Gym when that facility opened in 1930, and then returned to the front of the new Main Building and Tower in the late 1940s, when returning World War II veterans nearly doubled UT’s enrollment in just a few years.

In 1995, UT President Bob Berdahl asked that the University-wide commencement ceremony be re-invented. While participation was still strong for the college and school events, attendance for the Main Mall graduation had suffered, in part, because the emphasis on hooding the Ph.D. candidates seemed to leave out the undergraduates. A separate ceremony was created for the Graduate School, and the University-wide event was refashioned to better include everyone, with more pomp and pageantry, and with the notable addition of fireworks. Within a few years, more than twenty thousand graduates and spectators annually converged on the Main and South Malls.

Above left: The 1980 Spring Commencement.

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To the undergraduates, for whom their own commencement is often the first one to be witnessed, the modern ritual can pass as a blur of color, music, oratory, and pyrotechnics. The tops of mortar boards are decorated with UT icons, messages of future aspirations, or heartfelt thanks to parents. Deans brag with abandon about their schools and colleges. “If you have to go to a hospital,” chides the Dean of the School of Nursing, “you should hope that you’re being treated by a UT nurse!” “Our degree programs are ranked in the top ten in the country!” boasts the business school dean. All of it is loudly approved by the graduates. Throughout the night, the Main Building and Tower is bathed in a variety of special lighting effects until it bursts with color in the long-anticipated fireworks finale.

Much of the ceremony will seem deliberately out of touch with the twenty-first century, a purposeful nod to the medieval European ancestry of the modern university. Today’s caps and gowns are holdovers from the cappa clausa, the required academic dress centuries ago at Bologna, Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge. The tassels hanging from mortar boards and stoes draped over gowns are different colors, set by an agreed-upon international standard, to designate various fields of study. White is used by liberal arts, scarlet for communication, green for geosciences, citron for social work. Faculty members, most of whom earned their Ph.D. degrees from other universities, don the academic garb of their Alma Maters.

College maces, symbols of authority that were first used in the thirteenth century graduation processions of Oxford and Cambridge, are still carried at UT commencement. For each school and college, a pair of faculty marshals with maces conveys a single-file line of graduates up to the Main Mall at the start of the ceremony. Made from oak and brass, most of the University’s maces were created in the 1960s, and each bears images and emblems connected with a particular college. A mortar and pestle sits atop the College of Pharmacy mace, teaching certificates adorn the one used by the College of Education, and Alec, patron saint of the Texas Engineers, proudly stands on the mace for the Cockrell School.

Prominently hanging above the entrance to the Main Building is a large color rendition of the University of Texas seal, itself a longstanding tradition, when medieval universities needed official seals in order to conduct legal affairs. (The seals of a dozen other universities are permanently displayed on the Main Building.) Its Latin motto, Disciplina Praesidium Civitatis, comes from an 1838 speech by Mirabeau Lamar, a president of the Republic of Texas, who declared that a “cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy.” The use of Latin is a reminder of when the language was studied and spoken by university students in the Middle Ages.

Why is graduation called “commencement?” The word reflects the meaning of the Latin inceptio – a “beginning” – and was the name given to the initiation ceremony for scholars in medieval Europe. The original college degree certified that the bearer could instruct others in a given academic discipline. As part of the graduation ritual, which usually included a feast given by the graduate as a thank you to his professors and friends, the newly-minted scholar delivered his first lecture as a legitimate teacher. Commencement, then, means “commencing to teach.”

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It’s a relatively straightforward task to describe the tangible features of the day: the colorful procession, the advice dispensed, and the cheers that accompany the fireworks launched from a bright orange Tower. But as mentioned before, commencement also casts a less definable spell. For the graduates, there is the excitement of a goal well-achieved, balanced with nostalgia as they become alumni. For the parents, it’s a joyous time with an undercurrent of relief. For the faculty and staff, the satisfaction of a job well-done, seen in the confident eyes of their former students who are about to go out into the world. All at once, it seems, youthful exuberance meets the sentiment of age.

And for everyone, surrounded by the symbols and traditions of ages past, there is a sense, if only fleeting, of sharing in the timeless succession of learning. From the ancient schools in China, India, and the Middle East, to the famed Library of Alexandria along the northern coast of Africa, to Plato’s Academy, and then on to the more modern progression of Bologna, Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge, across the Atlantic to Harvard, and finally, on to  Austin.

Perhaps the true meaning of commencement, so deeply rooted in history, is that it still carries with it an eternal promise of new beginnings.

Note: Some of the images from recent UT commencement ceremonies are courtesy of the UT Austin account on Flickr and were photographed by Marsha Miller.

Operation Gopher

In the 1950s, UT engineering students dug a basement for a study lounge.

Above: UT engineers gather around Patrick “Digger” O’Dell, the live mascot of Operation Gopher. Patrick was renamed Christine when the students discovered their mistake.


W
hen Texas engineers get hungry, they go digging.

In the 1950s, the University’s College of Engineering was sprawled around the East Mall. The petroleum and chemical engineering buildings – opened in 1942 and today are the Rappaport and Schoch Buildings – were placed along either side of the mall at Speedway Street. The petroleum building (image at left) was of particular pride; UT was first in the nation to offer a petroleum engineering degree, as well as devote an entire facility to the subject.

Just to the north was Engineering Building, later named Taylor Hall for Thomas Taylor, the college’s founder and first dean. It housed the mechanical, civil, aeronautical, and architectural engineering departments, research labs, administrative offices, and a newly expanded library on the second floor.

Above: Two views of Taylor Hall. Opened in 1934 as the headquarters for the College of Engineering, it has since been replaced by the Dell-Gates Computer Sciences Complex.

While the structures were modern, they didn’t include a study lounge for students or, more important, a place to eat. The nearest dining facilities were at the Texas Union on the other side of campus. Hungry engineers, or those just looking for a cup of coffee, had to hike up the hill, go past the Tower, and then down the West Mall to the Union’s commons. When time was limited, the trek was a lengthy and inconvenient one. More than a few students opted to bring lunches and coffee from home.

Above: A 1938 image of the UT campus. Engineering students in Taylor Hall (upper right) had to walk to the Texas Union (far left) for the nearest food service.

As the fall 1952 semester began, five engineering students – Charlie Anderson, Dick Bailey, Tommy Fairey, Jerry Garrett, and Charlie Mills – approached Professors Leonardt Kreisle and Carl Eckhardt with two proposals.

The first was to establish a governing body for the engineers, one that would both represent the interests of students and bring the professional and honor societies under a single umbrella. The result was the founding of the Student Engineering Council (SEC), separately incorporated by the State of Texas. Charlie Anderson was selected as its first chair, and Kreisle and Eckhardt volunteered as faculty advisors.

The second was to create a study lounge and snack bar, which the SEC chose as its initial project. As Anderson explained to The Daily Texan, “We don’t have a place to meet. It is so bad that even our library has turned into a bull session room.”

Finding a place for a lounge was tricky, as all of the engineering buildings were well occupied. There simply wasn’t a means to shift or combine offices and classrooms to provide enough space, and there certainly weren’t funds for a separate facility. The SEC then offered a novel solution: why not create a basement underneath Taylor Hall? Kreisle and Eckhardt studied the idea and found that it was structurally possible. The support piers for the building were deep, and a basement could be safely installed with the piers left in place.

There were numerous hurdles to overcome. University monies wouldn’t be available, and the estimated cost for the project was $48,000. Alumni might help with fundraising, but what would the students contribute? Anderson suggested that the students provide the labor to excavate the basement, which would save $20,000, and that engineering alumni be asked to donate the construction cost.

Plans were drawn. Dubbed “Taylor’s T Room” in honor of the first dean, the basement would be 174 feet long by 43 feet wide, and dug to a depth of eight feet. It would include meeting spaces for student groups, a lounge and recreation area, and a small cafeteria managed by the University’s Housing and Food Service. The T Room would be available to the entire University community. “Our purpose is to bring engineering students in contact with other students,” said Anderson.

Left: Thomas Taylor, first engineering dean.

Above: The layout of Taylor’s T Room. Click on the image for a larger view. From left, meeting rooms for the SEC and other engineering groups, a study lounge with sofas, a dining area with tables, chairs, and booths (blue seats with white tables), and a kitchen (white counter tops with tan floor tile) that would provide lunches, snacks, and beverages. The black squares are support piers for the building.

With patience, the students acquired the approval of the engineering faculty building committee, Dean W. R. Woolrich, Dean of Students Arno Nowotny, the University’s Development Board, and Acting UT President James Dolley.

Initially, there was some pushback from the Texas Union, when concerns were raised over how the T Room might affect business in the Union’s commons. Director Jitter Nolan met with the SEC and was convinced that any loss of customers would be slight. He applauded the engineers for their initiative. The Union’s Board voted to support the project, and donated $75 to help with mailing costs for alumni solicitations.

Above: Dean W. R. Woolrich addresses the crowd at the groundbreaking ceremony.

G-Day, or Groundbreaking Day, or, to some, “Gopher Day,” was slated for Thursday evening, December 11, 1952. More than 500 attended the ceremony, heard talks by Dean Woolrich and Professor Emeritus Ed Bantel, saw the first shovel of dirt preserved for posterity, and sang “Hi Ho Balls”, a favorite tune among UT engineers in the 1900s . (The song’s main character, Alexander Frederic Claire, became the patron saint of College of Engineering.) “A Hole lot of time and effort went into it, but Operation Gopher is ready for groundbreaking,” announced the Texan, “Engineers won’t be able to tell their new lounge from a hole in the ground.”

The students boasted they would have the basement completed by the end of the academic year, in June 1953, but soon discovered that removing almost 60,000 cubic feet of soil, rocks, and solid Austin chalk – an estimated 600 truck loads – would require significantly more time.

Shovels, pick axes, jackhammers, wheelbarrows, and a conveyor belt were all loaned by local construction companies, while students organized themselves into work crews of 25 volunteers each. In order not to disturb classes, digging was scheduled from 7 – 10 p.m. in the evenings on weekdays, and at various times on weekends. To remove the material, an access tunnel – the “gopher hole” – was dug just outside Taylor Hall and then sideways into the basement. At least once a week, a dump truck and a loader, also donated for the cause, dropped by to pick up what the students had excavated.

To help pass the time, a transistor radio was employed to play the latest tunes by Dean Martin, Patti Page, Perry Como, and a popular new song by Hank Williams: “My Cheatin’ Heart.” The Engineering Wives Club (yes, there was one, but that’s a different story), along with UT sororities, often dropped by to boost morale with coffee and soft drinks.

Right: Members of the Chi Omega sorority bring cold drinks to engineers working on Operation Gopher.

A live gopher mascot was obtained from the zoology department. Named Patrick “Digger” O’Dell, engineers had to change the name to Christine when they discovered their error. Kept in a cage, Digger was present for every work session until she was gopher-napped in early March 1953. Law students, longtime campus rivals of the engineers, claimed responsibility, but the real culprits turned out to be some prankster zoology students. A rescue party was quickly organized, and Digger soon resumed her duties

For the next two years, until January 1955, the SEC continued to organize volunteers and slowly dig out the basement. The effort required nearly 3,000 students and faculty.

In the meantime, the UT Development Board took on the task of soliciting engineering alumni for the estimated $28,000 needed to install the floor, walls, utilities, kitchen, and furniture. The alumni responded generously, and the fundraising campaign was completed ahead of schedule. Once the basement was ready, construction began immediately.

On Monday evening, May 13, 1957, nearly five years after its inception, Taylor’s T Room was formally dedicated. Governor Price Daniel (photo at left) addressed an assembly of 350 persons, “As Governor of Texas, I offer my congratulations to you engineers for your valuable contribution,” and credited University of Texas engineering alumni for much of the technical development of the state. “Taylor’s T Room will ever have a great claim to permanence for its dedicated use as envisioned by the Student Engineering Council in 1952,” Dean Woolrich wrote later. Most of the volunteers graduated before they were able to use the lounge. “It was a gift to engineering posterity, to the student generations to come.”

Hermes in the House!

Above: The image of Hermes, patron saint of the business school, is displayed on the west side of the Texas Union building, along with the patron saints of law and engineering.

 Choosing a patron saint can be complicated. Just ask the business school.

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Business classes were first offered on the Forty Acres in 1912, initially organized as a department under what was then the College of Arts and Sciences. But after a decade of rapid and prosperous growth, it was time for the department to leave the nest and fly on its own. In early April 1922, department chair Spurgeon Bell learned that UT President Robert Vinson planned to recommend a separate School of Business Administration to the Board of Regents. The regents’ approval was assured at their upcoming July meeting, and Bell would be named the school’s first dean.

Bell shared the exciting news with his students, who quickly set about planning a celebration. With Bell’s encouragement, the business students met Friday, April 7th in the auditorium of the old Law Building (where, perhaps appropriately, the Graduate School of Business Building stands today). A committee was appointed to organize the first annual business administration banquet, to be held in early May. A second committee addressed the issue of a business school identity.

Above right: The old Law Building, near the corner of 21st and Speedway Streets, where the Graduate School of Business Building stands today. The houses in the upper right have been replaced by the Perry-Castaneda Library, and the field in the upper left is now the Jester Center Residence Hall.

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By 1922, the University’s engineering and law schools had mascots – “patron saints” – around whom their respective students and alumni had developed a healthy espirit de corps. The law school’s Peregrinus, or “Perry,” (image at left) was invented on a chilly afternoon in December 1900, during a class in equity. The professor was lecturing on Ancient Rome and the praetor peregrinus, a traveling magistrate who administered justice in the less populated regions of the Roman Empire. An unprepared student in the class was quizzed on the subject. “I don’t know,” he mumbled. “The peregrinus was probably some kind of animal.” The class burst out in laughter, but fellow student Russell Savage, sitting in the back of the room next to a chalk board, doodled a likeness of the imaginary creature that was later adopted as the law school mascot.

With four legs, a bushy tail, and a long beak, “Perry” was meant to symbolize the prowess of lawyers in their chosen profession. A wooden likeness of the Peregrinus was commissioned, and fashioned by local woodcarving master Peter Mansbendel. Kept secure, it made special appearances and attended the law banquets where it was ceremoniously passed from the graduating seniors to the juniors.

Above: Senior law students carry the Peregrinus at spring commencement. 

Meanwhile, the engineers have claimed Alexander Frederick Claire, or simply “Alec”. Once a character in a popular song, Alec took on physical form in 1908. A group of engineering students visited a local beer garden, discovered a five-foot tall wooden statue of a medieval Falstaff, and decided to permanently “borrow” him. (See: The Thrilling Adventures of Alec!)

The patron saints of engineering and law had storied histories, helped to fuel an ongoing campus rivalry between the two schools – both mascots had been kidnapped by the “enemy” – but most important, they provided a symbol of pride and common loyalty. The business students wanted to join the fun, and sought an icon they could call their own.

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Initially, the mascot committee considered using the shark. “Because of the prevalence of calling students in the [business] department sharks,” explained The Daily Texan, “it was suggested that an insignia of a shark be used to denote the department.” It was an obvious choice, as much of the campus had nicknamed business students “sharks” for years. But it provided no central character around which the school could rally, and, quite frankly, the label wasn’t always a positive one. Professor Bell urged his students to try again, and look for a mascot that represented the best in business endeavors. For the next several weeks, the committee agonized over the decision.

On the evening of Monday, May 8, 1922, business students and faculty gathered at the Stephen F. Austin Hotel for their first annual banquet. As part of the proceedings, the mascot committee revealed their final recommendation: Hermes, the Ancient Greek god of commerce, who was noted for his eloquence, speed, shrewdness, and wisdom. The idea met with the instant approval of everyone, and a framed “rough copy” of the new patron saint was placed on the head table.

Over the summer, as expected, the Board of Regents officially created the School of Business Administration. “Mr. and Mrs. Texas University announce the arrival of a new son, B. A. School,” reported the Texan. “The rapid development of the business training classes has been phenomenal. With the creation of a separate school, this division of the University will have greater opportunities for growth and improvement.”

In October, as the academic year began, business students pursued a better representation of their new patron saint. They contacted Peter Mansbendel, the same master woodworker who had helped the law school with the Peregrinus.

Several designs were considered, including one of Hermes sitting on a pot of gold, but the most popular was a standing Hermes with an American Bald Eagle at his feet. Mansbendel fashioned a miniature prototype out of clay that was officially approved and accepted at a business school assembly on November 28th. Fundraising for the final version began in earnest with the spring, but the needed monies weren’t acquired in time for Mansbendel to complete the project for the 1923 banquet. Instead, Hermes was readied over the summer, and then spent many months safely locked in a vault owned by the American National Bank in the Littlefield Building downtown. He finally made his debut at the May 12, 1924 business banquet, and was the star of the show.

Above right: The original clay rendering of Hermes.

Thirty-eight inches tall and made from pine, Mansbendel’s Hermes wears winged sandals as a symbol of his swiftness. With his left hand near his heart he holds a caduceus, a staff with two entwined snakes that was a symbol of commerce to the Ancient Greeks, and declares Hermes the authority of strategic negotiations. In his right hand he carries a bag of gold, a trophy of his successful commercial transactions. An eagle sits at his feet, evidence that the business school’s Hermes is “one hundred percent American” despite his distant origins. For UT business students, their patron saint is a symbol of strength, success, innovation, and efficiency in the commercial enterprise.

Above: Peter Mansbendel’s rendering of Hermes.

While Hermes was kept safely out-of-sight for most of the year, other schools, perhaps jealous, schemed to capture the patron saint for themselves. At the1927 business banquet, a contingent of law and engineering students conspired together, and rushed the banquet floor with the intent to steal Hermes away for their own evil purposes. A brief but raucous wrestling match ensued, and the unified business students managed to repel the invasion force. Since then, no one has dared to attempt a patron saint-napping.

For another two decades, Hermes was a regular guest at the annual business banquet, but after World War II, when a wave of returning veterans nearly doubled UT’s enrollment in just a few years, the event became impractical. Instead, Hermes was placed on display in Dean J. Anderson Fitgerald’s office in Waggener Hall. Through the 1950s, the patron saint could be seen on the senior rings of business students (photo at left).

Today, Hermes is still a proud tradition of the McCombs School of Business. He stands in the undergraduate student office, surveying his dominion, and inspires business students to be their best in leadership, innovation, ethics, and entrepreneurship.

Above: Pals forever. Business Dean J. Anderson Fitzgerald and Hermes in 1947.