Texas Engineers Know How to Party!

The Thanksgiving Eve Engineering Reception drew capacity crowds.

Above: The Engineering Building, today’s Gebauer Building.

It was the social event of the fall term. Everyone wanted to attend. For a decade on Thanksgiving Eve, students, faculty, staff, and alumni donned their finest attire, gathered on the Forty Acres, and headed straight for – of all places – the Engineering Building. There, they were dazzled by the electric lights, amazed at the science exhibits, laughed at the variety show, enjoyed the plentiful refreshments, sang along at the rooftop concert, and danced into the wee hours on the top floor.

Thanksgiving could wait. This was the Engineering Reception!


Starting in 1900, Dean of Engineering Thomas Taylor (photo at right) hosted an annual banquet for his students. Held at the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin, Taylor scheduled the event near Thanksgiving to ensure his engineers enjoyed a feast, as most wouldn’t make it home for the holiday. University students were inclined to remain in Austin for Thanksgiving. There was always a home football game scheduled that afternoon, usually against the A&M College of Texas. Besides, Friday was a class day, and there usually wasn’t enough time to make the trip to home and back.

By 1907, the engineers had exceeded the capacity of the Driskill. “On account of the marvelous growth of the engineering department,” announced The Texan newspaper, “the annual Engineers’ Banquet had to be abandoned this year.” The students met to discuss the issue, and “it was the unanimous choice of those present to hold a reception, smoker, roof garden party, and dance.” It was ambitious idea. The Engineering Building, newly opened in 1904, was to be transformed into the venue they needed, and they planned to invite the public to celebrate with them. Thanksgiving Eve was chosen as the date, as engineering alumni would be in town for the football game and could attend as well.

Above: The top floor of the Engineering Building was a drawing studio that would serve as the main dance hall. The desks were pushed together to create a stage for the band. Courtesy Alexander Architectural Archives, UT Buildings Collection, Box 249.5

As they began to plan, the students soon discovered that their Engineering Building, though full of classrooms, a library, and labs, would be a great place to host a party. The roof offered a grand view of the campus and the Texas Capitol to the south. The top floor, a single, well-lit open room, was the drawing studio, and was easily the best choice for a ballroom. A lecture hall along the east side of the second floor was a natural for a planned variety show and smoker, and other rooms in the building could be remade into lounges.

The reception opened at 7:30 p.m. and guests were treated to a building thoroughly transformed from basement to roof. The stairways and rooms were draped with holly, imported by train from East Texas, along with orange and white bunting and large Texas pennants. Newfangled electric lights of various colors, powered by a basement generator in the electrical engineering lab, were strung across the ceiling of the top floor ballroom.

Everyone received a printed program for the evening, which included a well-crafted welcome message:

For the first hour-and-a-half, the focus of the reception was in both the second floor classroom and on the roof. The classroom was the scene of a variety show, where the students performed skits – which often poked fun at the faculty or rival law students – sang songs, and led the audience in some UT yells. Upstairs, Besserer’s Orchestra, a popular Austin band, played a roof top concert of familiar tunes. The crowd was invited to sing along.

Above: It was standing room only to watch the skits, songs and yells of the variety show on the second floor. Click on an image to see a larger version.

At 9 p.m., the formal dance began on the top floor. The drawing tables had been shoved together in a corner on the west side as a makeshift stage, Besserer’s Orchestra descended from the roof, and everyone had dance cards inside their programs. Each dance for the evening was listed – a waltz, two-step, schottische, or others – with a blank where the name of the dance partner could be written. At the time, it was the usual social custom to reserve dances in advance. The reception’s earlier entertainment was, in part, intended to give the gentlemen time to ask the ladies for dances and fill in their respective cards.

Those who chose to sit out a dance would find refreshments on the east side of the top floor, and could either return to the roof to rest and talk, or join the post-variety show smoker on the second floor. Traditionally, smokers were for the men. (It was considered unladylike for a woman to smoke, especially in public.) Cigars were provided, and it was here that many of the engineering alumni settled to reminisce with their fellows and relay stories of their time on campus to the students who visited.

In addition to the roof top lounge, the four engineering classes – freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior – had each decorated a room in the building to serve as additional sitting rooms. A contest was declared, a committee of faculty obliged to be judges, and the junior class room was declared the best.

Above: The Junior Room was dubbed the best class-decorated sitting room at the reception. The walls were covered with hanging carpets, UT and other college pennants attached to the carpets, and the room outfitted with couches and pillows. 

Dancing continued until 1 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, when the guests, tired but happy, returned home. The affair was considered a complete success. Over the next decade, the Engineering Reception attracted capacity crowds, the decorations and planning became more elaborate, and a pre-reception Open House was added in the afternoon for visitors to explore the basement laboratories and enjoy science and engineering demonstrations. In 1917, with the onset of the First World War, the tradition was reluctantly discontinued.

Above: Program covers for the Engineering Reception were elaborate. From left, a Thanksgiving turkey on a survey, the entrance to the Engineering Building (now the Gebauer Building), and an image of the original Alec, patron saint of the Texas Engineers. Click on an image for a larger version.

Above: The farewell message from the last page of the Engineering Reception program.

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.

hen Texas engineers get hungry, they go digging.

In the 1950s, the University’s College of Engineering was sprawled about 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.


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.


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.


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 Wednesday, May 10, 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.

The Thrilling Adventures of Alec!

Or, How April 1st became a UT Holiday

The Texan.April 4 1908

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alec.Hi Ho Balls Music. - Processed

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

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

Old Engineering.Gebauer Building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The celebration for Alec also became an annual ritual, much to the chagrin of the rival law students, who had designs on the statue for their own purposes. (Read more on the origin of the UT engineering – law rivalry.)

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

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

Alec has been found.1913.

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

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

Alec Pardon.1917

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alec is safe, for now.

Alec Display.Torso

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

How to Rescue a Dean

Taylors Bandits.1913.

Dean Thomas Taylor (center), and the nine “Taylor’s Bandits” unmasked. Yes, each of those UT students is brandishing a six-shooter. Click on the image for a larger view.

Engineering Dean Thomas Taylor was in serious trouble.

It was a balmy spring evening, April 1, 1913, when the UT faculty gathered at 8 p.m. for their monthly dinner. A mostly-social event, it was held at the University Faculty Club in the YMCA building, next to campus on Guadalupe Street. The professors from each academic department took turns as hosts, and were responsible for the evening’s entertainment. It might include a musical performance or skit by the host faculty, a special lecture, or a debate. This particular evening, it was the law department’s turn, but the professors had devised something rather sinister: they hoped to hold a surprise kangaroo court against engineering dean Thomas Taylor.

Thomas Taylor and AlecApril 1st is a special day for UT engineers. Since 1908, the day has been reserved for tribute to Alexander Frederick Claire – or “Alec” for short – patron saint of Texas engineering students and alumni. Students “permanently borrowed” a wooden statue from a local beer garden, declared it to be the likeness of their beloved Alec, paraded the figure around the campus, swore allegiance on holy calculus books, and cut classes for the rest of the day. For over two decades, the ceremony was repeated. Today, the Cockrell School of Engineering continues to remember Alec on the first day of April, and the patron saint is on display in the engineering library.

Above left: Dean Thomas Taylor with engineering patron saint Alec.

The law and engineering departments were longtime, mostly-friendly rivals, and the 1913 law professors saw the date as a ripe opportunity. They planned to have the red-haired dean stand trial for some vagrancy (just being an engineer was a criminal offense, in the eyes of the law department), and once convicted, the “culprit” Taylor would be assessed a dinner for the law faculty at the dean’s expense. As bailiff, the lawyers recruited Dr. Charles Ramsdell, a first-year member of the history faculty from Columbia University, whose youth, height, size, and strength was thought to be sufficient to retain the dean, should he have any thoughts about leaving the proceedings early.

Just a few hours before dinnertime, Taylor was tipped-off to the dastardly plans, and quickly arranged for a group of nine trusted engineering students – later dubbed “Taylor’s Bandits” – to come to his rescue at the appropriate time.

As the dinner began, there was a general feeling of pleasant anticipation among the law faculty. But the grapevine had been busy. The engineering professors possessed a similar mood, but for an entirely different reason.

Just as the main courses had been finished and dessert was to be served, the kangaroo court was sprung, and the bailiff ordered to take Dean Taylor into custody. But a pre-arranged signal from Taylor brought his masked bandits screaming into the room from their hideout in the kitchen. All were armed with actual six-shooters (loaded with blanks!), and the “courtroom” was suddenly filled with yelling, the loud pops of gunfire, gun smoke, and utter confusion. Dean Taylor was hustled out of the dining room. Bailiff Ramsdell tried to retain his charge, but was no match for the rowdy bandits. Taylor was led out the back door, taken directly to the downtown train station at Third Street and Congress Avenue, and, taking no chances on his escape, was put on an evening train bound for San Antonio.

A few days later, Dean Taylor did indeed host a dinner at his expense, but it was for his faithful bandits. The chagrined law professors, their plans foiled, weren’t invited.