“I Like to Speak the Lingo of the Laity” – Celebrating the 70th anniversary of a Pat Neff Chapel Talk

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-2-42-44-pmOn Monday, December 16, 1946, Baylor University president Pat M. Neff delivered a speech to the students assembled for what would be the final Chapel gathering of the year. Students were scheduled to be released for the Christmas break at 5:00 PM on Thursday the 19th, and everyone was in a festive frame of mind, including President Neff. That spirit of good cheer probably accounts for why, as the needle dropped on a turntable that would record his speech for posterity, Neff chose to open his presentation with a joke.

I do not know what we’d do if we didn’t have the weather to talk about. And do you know why we talk about the weather? It’s because one person in Texas knows just as much about the weather as any other person. Therefore, we meet on a common platform and discuss the weather.

(I didn’t say it was a good joke, just that it was, technically a joke.)

And now, 70 years to the day after it was recorded live in Waco Hall, you can hear the speech in its entirety – and read a full transcript, if you’re so inclined – as part of the Baylor University Archives Digital Collection. [http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/bu-archive/id/1868]

Click play on the player above to listen to the entire speech in this browser window. NOTE: Due to size restrictions for MP3 files in WordPress, the quality of this audio has been reduced from the original audio that can be found at the link to our Digital Collections site.

We wanted to take the occasion of this major anniversary to examine President Neff’s message, to dive into its sentiments, to examine what was on the president’s mind at the close of what would be his penultimate year as Baylor’s chief executive … and, most importantly, to discuss something that caught all of us here a little off-guard: Pat Neff was actually pretty funny.


“Smilin'” Pat Neff

We jokingly refer to President Neff by the nickname “Smilin'” Pat Neff, mainly because we’ve never actually seen him smile. As evidence, here are his official portraits from the Round Up, our campus yearbook, from the 1940s.

neff_at_desk_1940s

That’s as big as his smiles get, folks.

And lest you think this was just a result of being a little more seasoned by life’s hardships, so to speak, observe this retrospective collage of Neff photos from the 1943 Round Up.

1943

Some people just want to watch the world react in an even-keeled way.

With all of this evidence to the contrary, you can forgive us for not expecting Neff to have much of a sense of humor. But that’s where we turned out to be very wrong.

It actually shouldn’t have been that big of a surprise, in retrospect. After all, Neff ran a successful campaign for statewide office – governor, no less – and was a successful fundraiser and member of Baylor’s Board of Trustees before assuming the BU presidency. With some notable exceptions – *coughCalvinCoolidgecough* – it’s incredibly difficult to become such a powerful person without possessing any personality at all. But you can forgive us for being surprised to find not one but numerous occasions throughout the December 16, 1946 chapel talk recording where Neff’s speech is interrupted by audience laughter. And not just polite, “Oh, our president is so humorous, let’s give him a chuckle” kind of laughter, but actual, “By gum, that’s funny!” laughter. In fact, the transcript is interrupted more than two dozen times with the phrase [audience laughter], indicating Neff not only knew his way around a desk but around a punchline as well.


The Man Speaks

1944

President Neff: statesman, president, world champion microphone staring contest winner

When the transcription disks containing Neff’s 1946 Chapel talk were digitized earlier this year, none of our staff in the Digital Projects Group had ever heard his voice. In fact, other than recognizing his stoic visage from an item we’d digitized several years earlier, no one other than myself had had much occasion to look at or think about materials related to Baylor’s former president. But I’d always been fascinated with Neff’s life and impact on the state of Texas. (Fun fact: as a proud Texas Tech Red Raider alumnus, Neff holds a special place in my heart as the governor who signed the bill, in 1923, establishing Texas Technological College in Lubbock.) So I was particularly excited to hear Neff’s voice for the first time when I first sat down to transcribe the five album sides containing the speech.

Neff’s voice on the recordings is strong and clear, with a distinct Texas drawl and a now-familiar cadence that I recognize as being inherent to public speakers who grew up learning to speak in public at the turn of the last century. He speaks a little on the slow side and with a seasoned speaker’s ability to pace his words to his audience’s reaction. This, after all, was a man accustomed to addressing crowds of well-wishers, nay-sayers, Congressmen, rodeos, student groups and classrooms; in short, he knows what he’s doing on a speaker’s rostrum.

After opening with his “Texas weather” joke – a safe topic for anyone who’s spent more than 10 seconds in our fair state – Neff launches into the meat of his presentation: what to talk about when you head home for Christmas and you’re stuck with your parents. Neff recognizes that many of these students are going home for the first time since arriving in the summer as freshmen, and he notes that the people back home might not recognize them anymore (because the women students in particular might have on “these little lampshade things they call a hat”). In addition, he thinks they might be interested to hear more about Baylor University and the life of the campus, so his thrust for the speech is to give the student body some interesting facts with which to regale the curious during the Christmastide.

One of his biggest laugh lines – and the source of the quote in this post’s title – is when Neff encourages the students to engage with everyone they meet back home. He notes that they may be shy to speak to these strange creatures known as college students, but that the Baylor Bears are to be “calm when you go to church, or their party, or their shindig” – at which point the audience breaks into laughter. Neff, in a bit of self-effacing humor after using such an up-to-date piece of slang, notes with mock humility that he likes “to speak the lingo of the laity.” This, of course, draws additional laughter.

Neff draws another big laugh out of a riff on what a privilege it is to be at Baylor in 1946. I’ll let the transcript tell it from here:

Sure, it’s a wonderful thing to be at an institution of learning like this. Sit down and talk to your folks about it. It won’t do you any harm and it’ll do them a whole lot of good. That’s what the girl said when her mother reprimanded her for letting the boys kiss her. She says, ‘Mother, it didn’t do me any harm and it did the boys a lot of good.'” [audience laughter] I don’t see anything funny about that! [laughs, audience laughter].

The “boys kissing the girl” joke plays off smoothly and strikes me as the kind of joke Neff probably told dozens of times at dozens of events during a long career as a public figure. But that doesn’t make the students’ genuinely amused response, or Neff’s laughing retort, any less delightful.

In between all the giggles and guffaws, however, there runs a serious streak. Neff takes the occasion of his Chapel talk to remind the assembled students that while the majority of students at Baylor were reported to be of the Baptist religious affiliation, other groups on campus were growing every year. The presence of Methodists, Lutherans, Church of Christ and Christian Church members may not be surprising on a large college campus in 1946, but the note that there were a total of 26 different denominations – including Quakers and Mormons – might be. Perhaps more surprising is Neff’s encouragement that the students “touch elbows and have comradeship and fellowship with somebody outside of your circle.” He continues, “If I were in your place, I’d make the acquaintance of these Mormons, and I’d make acquaintance of these Quakers … You might try them on and see what they have with their religion. If you can’t fortify yours and stand up with it and by it, perhaps it’ll do you good to listen to some of these others.”

That sets up one of Neff’s most effective lines in the entire speech, one that does what any good university-level speech ought to do to its audience: make them think.

I’ll tell you now, if you ever tie in to a Mormon, he can tell you why he’s a Mormon. I know why you’re a Baptist: because your parents were. He can tell you why he is. The faith that’s in him. Try one of them. See if you can.

At first, this reads as much as an insult as a joke, but after letting it sit with me for a few minutes, it struck me that what Neff was doing wasn’t an attempt to tear anyone down but to encourage members of all the various faiths present on campus to truly examine their beliefs, to do some (literal) soul searching and to know, inherently, why they identified as a particular religion, and not just for a surface reason like family tradition. He is encouraging the students to truly – to borrow a phrase – “know themselves.”

After a true master class in public speaking, Neff draws his speech to a close after twenty minutes of laughs, insight and homespun wisdom with this closing passage:

We just have to to through the world our one time, we go through just once. And when you go through these coming holiday seasons, you’ll pass through them no more. When this chapel has been adjourned, you’ll not be just as you are anymore; that’ll be in the past. The mill never grinds through the water that’s passed.

It’s an introspective, somewhat bittersweet dispensation of wisdom from a man who will pass from the Earth in a mere five years to a room full of the nation’s robust youth, fresh off the end of a devastating World War and awash in the promise of a better tomorrow, and it strikes me as pitch perfect for the occasion.

In lieu of a “benediction,” Neff closes the recording by kicking off an organ-accompanied rendition of That Good Old Baylor Line, as hundreds of youthful voices unite together to close out a semester of learning, fellowship and growth.

 


 

A Worthy Challenge

The entire 22 minute recording is well worth your listen, but if you have time for only a short excerpt, I encourage you to listen to this section of audio where Neff exhorts the students to remember the high privilege of being able to attend a university in a time when so many people in the country worked at backbreaking, manual labor and would never know the dream of an advanced education.

 


 

Bonus Audio!

On the b-side of the final disk of the Chapel talk recordings, an enterprising audiophile went into the clear cold morning of December 24, 1946 and recorded audio of the bells of Baylor campus playing two short Christmas songs: O Christmas Tree and Silent Night. We hope you enjoy these seasonally appropriate sounds of Baylor University as it was recorded live, 70 years ago this month.

“Modern, Functional and Beautiful” – Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Moody Memorial Library Groundbreaking

October 21, 1966 marked a major event in the history of Baylor University when students, trustees, faculty and supporters gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking of a “modern, functional and beautiful” new library. Named in honor of a generous gift from the Moody Foundation of Galveston, the Moody Memorial Library building was a much-needed expansion of Baylor’s physical plant and a crucial element in a long-range plan called Projection 68 that sought to grow the university’s physical footprint and enhance its reputation as an institution of higher education.

A Key Component of Projection 68

A new library facility was identified as one of three major components of Projection 68, an ambitious plan aimed at rejuvenating the aging infrastructure of Baylor’s campus. Parts of the campus built environment dated to the mid 1880s with buildings like Old Main and Burleson Hall, and the library facilities housed in the Carroll Library building were woefully inadequate for the swelling numbers of students enrolled in classes by the 1960s.

Tom Parrish, director of development and a participant in the Moody ceremony, called Projection 68 “a plan which when realized ‘will raise Baylor to a new plateau of service. We must think big and act big because the challenge is big at Baylor.'” In addition to the new library, Projection 68 called for construction of a new wing on Waco Hall for the School of Music; improvements to the auditorium at Waco Hall; and construction of a new science building.

Moody Memorial Library was slated for construction at the far end of what is known today as Fountain Mall, just across Third Street from the main campus. In 1966, the land across Third Street from campus was residential all the way to the Brazos River. This aerial photo by Windy Drum, from The Texas Collection Photographic Archive, shows the general area in the mid-1950s.

area_aerial_map

Click to enlarge. See the full photo in The Texas Collection Photographic Archive.

 

As part of a major redevelopment project called Urban Renewal – which radically transformed the landscape of Waco during the 1960s – the area between Third Street and the Brazos River was acquired and ceded to the university by the Baylor-Waco Foundation, and plans to expand campus toward the river began immediately.

A call for proposals for the library’s new design went out and the winning bid went to the Dallas architecture firm of Jarvis Putty Jarvis. An early rendering of the library – proposed to be situated on Burleson Quadrangle, not the area across Third Street where it would eventually be built — looked like this:

Architects' renderings of proposed new library for Baylor University, 1964.

Architects’ renderings of proposed new library for Baylor University, 1964. Image courtesy Baylor University, The Texas Collection, Waco, TX via The Texas Collection Photographic Archive.

 

Moving the library’s site to the new area across Third Street also allowed for changes to be made to the proposed elevation of the facility, and the more-or-less final design was available for presentation by Jarvis Putty Jarvis at a meeting on October 14, 1966.

Photo of Jarvis Putty Jarvis representatives with library building rendering from the October 14, 1966 Baylor Lariat.

Photo of Jarvis Putty Jarvis representatives with library building rendering from the October 14, 1966 Baylor Lariat.

 

The same rendering can be seen in this photo of Joe Allbritton and Abner V. McCall from around the same time.

Photo of Joe Allbritton and Abner V. McCall with library building rendering.

Photo of Joe Allbritton and Abner V. McCall with library building rendering. Image courtesy Baylor University, The Texas Collection, Waco, TX via The Texas Collection Photographic Archive.

 

Images of the Ceremony

The day of the ceremony dawned clear but breezy. As Baylor Lariat reporter Mike McKinney noted in his front-page coverage of the event, “Speakers held down their notes, women covered their blowing hair and most everyone had on sunglasses” during the festivities.

 

Mike McKinney's article on the ceremony, from the October 22, 1966 Baylor Lariat.

Mike McKinney’s article on the ceremony, from the October 22, 1966 Baylor Lariat.

 

Dignitaries took their places on the viewing stand for a program that included speeches from Joe Allbritton (chair of the Board of Trustees’ Library Committee), Baylor University librarian James Rogers and Baylor president Abner V. McCall. A brass ensemble provided musical accompaniment to the festivities, and the event concluded with the ceremonial first shovelful of dirt being turned by Mrs. Mary Moody Northen of the Moody family. To make things easier for all involved, McKinney notes that a pile of sand was trucked in for the ceremony by maintenance crews so as to “make digging a little easier.”

We also know that no university has achieved true greatness without excellent library facilities.”

– Joe Allbritton, from groundbreaking ceremony address

Scenes from the ceremony were captured by commercial photography Lavern “Windy” Drum. The originals are available as part of the photographic holdings of The Texas Collection, with digital surrogates viewable in the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections. Selections of those digital versions are presented here.

Ceremonial shovels await the beginning of festivities next to the speakers' platform.

Ceremonial shovels await the beginning of festivities next to the speakers’ platform. Photo by Windy Drum. Image courtesy Baylor University, The Texas Collection, Waco, TX via The Texas Collection Photographic Archive.

Mary Moody Northen turns the first shovel of dirt during the groundbreaking ceremony. Photo by Windy Drum. Image courtesy Baylor University, The Texas Collection, Waco, TX via The Texas Collection Photographic Archive.

Mary Moody Northen turns the first shovel of dirt during the groundbreaking ceremony. Photo by Windy Drum. Image courtesy Baylor University, The Texas Collection, Waco, TX via The Texas Collection Photographic Archive.

 

View from behind the speakers' platform at the groundbreaking ceremony. Note Pat Neff Hall in background and Marrs McLean Science building on right. Photo by Windy Drum. Image courtesy Baylor University, The Texas Collection, Waco, TX via The Texas Collection Photographic Archive.

View from behind the speakers’ platform at the groundbreaking ceremony. Note Pat Neff Hall in background and Marrs McLean Science building on right. Photo by Windy Drum. Image courtesy Baylor University, The Texas Collection, Waco, TX via The Texas Collection Photographic Archive.

 

Ceremony participants (from left) Joe Allbritton, Hilton Howell and Baylor University president Abner V. McCall with ceremonial shovel.

Ceremony participants (from left) Joe Allbritton, Hilton Howell and Baylor University president Abner V. McCall with ceremonial shovel. Photo by Windy Drum. Image courtesy Baylor University, The Texas Collection, Waco, TX via The Texas Collection Photographic Archive.

 

The speech delivered by committee chair Joe Allbritton was released as a press release after the ceremony, but it is reproduced here in non-ALL CAPS FORMAT for your review. Note that several sections of it are quoted directly in the coverage provided by the October 22 edition of the Baylor Lariat.


Text of Baylor trustees’ library committee chair Joe Allbritton’s speech at the Moody Memorial Library groundbreaking ceremony, Friday, October 21, 1966

There have been many momentous occasions in the 121-year history of Baylor University, but none excels the cause that brings us together this morning and none will mean more to the future greatness of our university.

I’m sure there are those who will disagree with that conclusion. Some may even contend that the winning of the Southwest Conference football championship in 1924 was a more auspicious achievement.

Suffice it to say we have somehow managed to survive on the gridiron for 42 years without another conference title and likewise we have progressed and grown into a respected and reputable institution of higher learning despite inadequate library facilities for at least that long a span of time.

I think it is reasonable, and certainly delectable, as we return to campus for homecoming, to speculate on the possibility of achieving both goals this year.

Of course, football fortunes come and go because they largely depend on the transitory nature of human elements — or translated into the Bridgers’ vernacular, manpower or personnel. School presidents, professors, even chairmen of library building committees are of but fleeting importance in the long-range scheme of building a great university.

But a library, and the wisdom and knowledge contained therein, is of a different nature.

Thomas Carlyle put it appropriately some 100 years ago when he said: “After all manner of professors have done their best for us, the place we are to get knowledge is in books. The true university of these days is a collection of books.” If true then, all the more is it true today. The explosion of knowledge since World War II, particularly in the physical sciences, makes it imperative that this relatively new knowledge be made readily accessible to the university student.

And certainly just as important as the new, mushrooming technology of the space age, are the truths, the opinions, and the philosophies of old — some of which, when brought into perspective can be of invaluable assistance in solving the social problems that still defy solution.

Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review, addressed himself to this phase of a library’s importance when he wrote: “… one of the unhappy characteristics of modern man is that he lives in a state of historical disconnection. He has not put his experience to work in coping with new dangers. He has tended to segregate himself from the wisdom so slowly and painfully built up over long centuries. He has made the mistake of thinking that because there is so much that is new in the nature of contemporary crisis the past has nothing of value to say to use …”

“it is in this sense,” Cousins continued, “that the library may be able to speak to the human condition in today’s world. For books serve as the natural bloodstream of human experience. They make it possible for the big thoughts of big minds to circulate in the body of history. They represent a point of contact between the past and future.”

As we break ground today for the magnificent Moody Memorial Library I feel that we are commencing a new era of academic achievement and excellence at Baylor University. Today marks the beginning of the end of Projection 68 which was designed in 1963 to provide the physical improvements so necessary to further the academic maturation of our University.

Already completed are the improvements to our School of Music and the Auditorium in Waco Hall, and the new science building is well under way.

We have known for years that the inadequacy of physical facilities stood as a barrier to our objectives and that the lack of a modern, efficient, and excellent library was the major obstacle in the path toward a truly great university.

Through the dedication and hard work of many — the administration, the trustees, the ex-students, and the many friends of Baylor — we have been successful in raising most of the funds necessary to bring Projection 68 into reality.

While we must continue our efforts to assure our fundraising goals, we can now at least begin to shift our major development emphasis from the physical to the academic. While our physical plan needs were critical, we all realize that architecture, brick, and stone merely provide the proper setting and environment for those who work in the academic community and allow them to perform their tasks and services at a higher level of inspiration and efficiency.

We also know that no university has achieved true greatness without excellent library facilities.

Paul Buck, the former director of libraries at Harvard University, has pointed out that the quality of a university’s library is “a major factor in determining the quality of the education that an institution can provide and the quality of the faculty it can recruit. Strong libraries are essential to the full exploitation of intellectual resources and to the maintenance of free access to ideas,” he concludes.

In the past few years Baylor has reached the crossroads of excellence in education. The university administrators and trustees could have taken the path of least resistance — we could have patched the roof and taken other temporary measures and in so doing still maintained and improved a good university.

Rather, we took the more difficult path toward excellence, because it is the most logical road for Baylor to travel toward maintaining and improving and excellence undergraduate program and expanding the graduate program to meet the increasing demands of our state and nation.

So today, Baylor University, the oldest university in continuous service in the State of Texas, looks to the future with confidence and great expectations.

Our goal is not bigness, for this is not the function of a private, religiously oriented university. Rather, our objective is quality.

We have made great strides toward this objective. But always, the lack of physical facilities — particularly inadequate library space — has caused concern and slowed the pace of progress.

The modern, functional and beautiful Moody Memorial Library will be the catalyst that will move the university toward realization of its true potential.

NOTE: The preceding text was edited slightly from the original to address typographical errors. Read the full address in its original typewritten form in the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.


A Final Look at Early Moody

The 1967 Baylor Round Up, the campus yearbook, shows how much progress was made by the time the official story of 1966 had been documented and told by Baylor’s student journalists.

Image from construction site of Moody Memorial Library toward Fountain Mall from 1967 "Baylor Round Up."

Image from construction site of Moody Memorial Library toward Fountain Mall from 1967 “Baylor Round Up.”

 

Today, we mark the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the building in which so many Baylor library staff, faculty and students have spent time – including those of us in the Digital Projects Group, whose offices are located on Moody’s Garden Level. We will be providing periodic updates to the construction and grand opening of Moody in advance of the 50th anniversary of its debut in 1968, so stay tuned to this blog for much more to come!

 

Still “Crush”-ing It 120 Years Later: Revisiting a Classic Post on a Big Anniversary

Today is the 120th anniversary of the “Crash at Crush,” a marketing stunt carried out by the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT or “Katy”) Railroad in a field just outside of Waco. Our friends at Waco History have a great post about the event on their website, and it used materials from our blog post below to help give a more in-depth look to a truly unique instance in Texas history.

Screenshot of Crash at Crush story from Waco History (http://wacohistory.org/items/show/70)

Screenshot of Crash at Crush story from Waco History (http://wacohistory.org/items/show/70)

In honor of the big day, we’re re-posting our look at the event, as well as the way Scott Joplin memorialized it in song. Enjoy!

(Original post from April 19, 2012 follows below.)


Scott Joplin’s “Great Crush Collision March” and
the Memorialization of a Marketing Spectacle

For most people, the name Scott Joplin brings up a common range of responses: ragtime music, the Maple Leaf Rag, and his opera Treemonisha. But you’d be hard pressed to find someone whose first reaction to hearing Joplin’s name would be, “Oh, he’s the guy who wrote the song about the staged train crash near Waco!” Strangely enough, that person would be just as correct as the rest of us.

While conducting contextual background research for the Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music, I came across a reference to the collection having been cited in the preface of a book entitled The Collected Works of Scott Joplin. I retrieved a copy from the Crouch Fine Arts Library holdings and began reading the preface, looking for a mention of the collection. In a section on Joplin’s early years, I read the following paragraphs:

In 1896 the Quartette toured Louisiana and Texas. In Temple, Texas, Joplin secured his first piano publications: Combination March and Harmony Club Waltz, both with the local imprint of Robert Smith; and The (Great) Crush Collision March, published by John R. Fuller.

The first two pieces are uneventful period pieces. Crush Collision March, however, is a period piece of a special sort. As much program music as a march, it is, strangely, ‘Dedicated to the M.K.&T. Ry.,” this being the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway, which runs through Temple and there crosses the tracks of another line. The march describes a train wreck that, quite possibly, had recently occurred (otherwise, why the dedication?). Could there have been a wreck at the crossing in Temple? And could Joplin have added sound-effects and descriptive narrative to a piece already written but unpublished? Or had he quickly composed a work to fit the situation?

It was quite a surprise to me to discover that Joplin, a Texas-born composer and son of an emancipated slave, had written a song commemorating a marketing gimmick concocted to sell tickets on a regional railroad with deep ties to Central Texas. Though the editors’ guesses were incorrect, the actual story behind the piece is something so brazen, so unique that it bears much closer examination.

Detail from “The Crash at Crush” by artist Robert Roswell Abernathy (1911-1981).

The Origins of the Crash

Beginning with the so-called Panic of 1893, the economy of the United States began a decade-long slide, with high unemployment, devalued currency, and the collapse of several major railroads epitomizing the dire situation. It was this last situation that indirectly led to the staging of the “Monster Crash” outside Waco.

As confidence in America’s railroad system eroded with the faltering economy, railroads began looking for ways to both boost their sagging bottom lines and provide some positive attention in an era when the over-extended growth of railroads was seen as a major cause of great personal financial insecurity. At the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad (known to many by its nickname, the Katy), a passenger agent named William George Crush had an idea: use a head-on collision between two locomotives to generate income (and newspaper headlines). Officials at the MK&T agreed, and planning was underway.

The event was staged on September 15, 1896 in a valley north of Waco. Crush and his crew of MK&T laborers built a temporary depot, bandstand, viewing stands, and a temporary length of track measuring 4 miles long. Two locomotives were placed at either end; one was painted bright green, the other bright red. Both had been toured around the state in the months leading up to the crash in order to generate publicity. Crush dubbed the location of the spectacle “Crush, Texas.”

Admission was free, and round-trip tickets to “Crush” cost only $2 per person. As a result, 40,000 people showed up for the event, making “Crush, Texas” the second-largest city in the state (if only for a day).  At 5:00 PM, the two trains were released under a full head of steam, speeding down the track at approximately 45 mph. The resulting collision caused both locomotives’ boilers to explode, sending shrapnel into the crowd that killed at least three people and wounded dozens of others.

The aftermath of the spectacle is almost unthinkable in modern times. Crush was immediately fired by the MK&T, but with officials seeing no widespread outrage in the media, was rehired the next day. The railroad paid settlements to the victims’ families of cash and lifetime rail passes, and the debris was cleaned up by MK&T crews and souvenir hunters. By the end of the day, “Crush, Texas” had ceased to exist. And within a few decades, the whole event would pass from the collective memory with the exception of railroad fans and Texas history buffs.

Click the image above to access a PDF of the complete score.

Joplin Immortalizes the “Crash” in Song

Fresh off a stint performing with his first band at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Scott Joplin was touring Texas in the late 1890s where he saw three of his compositions published in Temple. There was one waltz (Harmony Club Waltz) and two marches, the Combination March and the Great Crush Collision March. The latter of the two marches was dedicated to the “M.K.&T. Ry.,” which is of course the very railroad that had just staged the Crash at Crush. In fact, the work was copyrighted a mere 30 days after the spectacle, leading biographers to believe that Joplin had either witnessed the crash himself or heard about it from one of his acquaintances who worked as a porter on the Katy line.

While the particulars of how Joplin learned of the crash are unclear, what is known is his reaction as recorded in song. Joplin created something more than a standard march: he added instructions for creating “sound effects” for the last third of the piece that would depict the crash through music. Joplin’s notes on the piece include the following written below the staff:

The noise of the trains while running at the rate of sixty miles per hour
Whistling for the crossing
Noise of the trains
Whistle before the collision
The collision*

This approach brings to mind the kind of scoring that would become standard for Hollywood pictures in the decades following the Great Crush Collision March’s publication. It was an attempt to insert narrative flair into what was otherwise a fairly straightforward composition and was a foreshadowing of Joplin’s later work with dramatic compositions that would find their culmination in Treemonisha.

“The Great Crush Collision” Revisited

My work on this blog post brought about an exciting opportunity to bring this piece back to life. Working with our sound engineer, Stephen Bolech, we arranged for graduate student in performance studies Eunhye Shin to perform the piece at First Baptist Church, where Stephen also serves as a sound engineer. The piece is included below, performed for the first time in more than a century, mere miles away from the site of the marketing spectacle it was created to commemorate.

 

*Note: The sound effects described above begin at the 2:04 mark with “The noise of the trains …” and end with the sustained note at 2:17 representing “the collision.”

Works Consulted

“The Crash at Crush” (artwork) by Robert Roswell Abernathy (ca. 1937). Original on display at the Texas Collection

King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era by Edward A. Berlin (1994)

The Life and Works of Scott Joplin by Addison Walker Reed (1973)

Dancing to a Black Man’s Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin by Susan Curtis (1994)

The Collected Works of Scott Joplin edited by Vera Brodsky Lawrence (1971)

Scott Joplin on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Joplin)

The Crash at Crush on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crash_at_Crush)

The Crash at Crush from the Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/llc01)

Visit the Texas Collection online at http://www.baylor.edu/lib/texas for more priceless Texana.

It Was There Before The Tree, Obviously: The Story of Mrs. Hubbard’s Hidden Flag Pole at the ABL

header_image

Pictured: The Struggle Between Nature and Tall, Metal Objects

An existential question for you on this Flag Day: Is a flag pole still a flag pole if it’s no longer flying a flag? (Short answer: yes, it’s just not living up to its potential.)

Here’s another, related, question: What’s up with the 50-foot flag pole currently hidden by a giant oak tree on the west side of the Armstrong Browning Library? (Short answer: it started with a donation, and some trees grow really tall.)

It All Started (For Me) With A Post-presentation Walk

One sunny spring day, after attending a presentation at the beautiful Armstrong Browning Library, I walked out the building’s side door and ran smack dab into a flag pole I’d never seen before, which was weird, because it was 50 feet tall and topped with an eagle; kinda hard to miss, right? Normally, you’d be right, but allow me to set the stage with a little photographic evidence of its camouflaged-ness.

pole_and_treeAnd, waaaay up top: the eagle.

eagle_atop_poleCurious, I drew nearer to the mystery pole and found at its base a plaque with some intriguing – if not completely illuminating – information on it. To wit:

flag_pole_plaqueThis of course lead to a whole series of questions: Who was Robert M. Hubbard? How was he connected to Baylor? Why would a flag pole dedicated to the “Founder of the Texas Highway System” be found outside the Armstrong Browning Library? Where the heck is New Boston, Texas? And so on.

To find the answers, I went digging into the archives at The Texas Collection, the Armstrong Browning Library and – of course – Google. The story has ties to former Texas governor (and Baylor president) Pat Neff; a man obsessed with the lives of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning; and a prominent location on the (then) frontier of the campus.

Who Was Robert M. Hubbard?

Robert M. Hubbard – Rob, to his family and friends – was born in Cooper and grew up in Paris, Texas. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1894 and went on to gain a law degree at the University of Texas, graduating in the same class as (drum roll, please) Pat Morris Neff. Later, he married Berta Lee Hart. He went on to serve two terms in the Texas state legislature from 1930-1931 and served as state highway commissioner under governors William P. Hobby and Neff. Hubbard would die on November 6, 1934.

Hubbard oversaw the transformation of the state’s roadways from a series of barely passable, poorly planned backroads and county highways to one of the most advanced, innovative state highway systems in the country, earning him the nickname – you guessed it – the Founder of the Texas Highway System.

Mrs. Hubbard’s Gift

While R.M. Hubbard was busy serving the state both in Congress and in the highway commissioner’s chair, the Baylor University campus had a monumental task of its own: creating a collection and, eventually, a library related to the lives of Victorian poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The idee fixe of English faculty member Dr. A.J. Armstrong, the development of an on-campus resource focused on Browningiana took hold in Armstrong’s mind after his participation in an auction of Browning materials held by Sotheby’s in 1913. Over the next several decades, Armstrong worked tirelessly to acquire Browning materials. In December 1951, his dream was realized with the dedication of the Armstrong Browning Library, a gala affair that drew a long list of attendees, including one Berta Hubbard.

Mrs. Hubbard and an acquaintance, a Mrs. Watley of Texarkana, attended the festivities and were greatly moved by what they saw. After some conversations with Baylor administrators, facilitated by D.K. “Dock” Martin and including Earl C. Hankamer and Dr. Armstrong, Mrs. Hubbard settled on making a gift to Baylor in her husband’s honor. In a letter to Martin dated January 23, 1952, Mrs. Hubbard wrote,

Three thousand dollars is a large gift for me at this time, but I feel that I would like to make a gift – and if the flag staff is the wise choice – I would like that. … Of course it would be in memory of Rob.”

Letter from Mrs. R.M. Hubbard to D.K. “Dock” Martin, January 23, 1952. From the W.R. White Papers at The Texas Collection. Emphases in original. $3,000 in 1953 translates to roughly $27,000 dollars in 2016.

Mrs. Hubbard’s check led to the design and manufacture of a 50-foot flag pole, topped with an eagle and featuring a memorial plaque, to be situated on the southwest side of the building. At the time, that represented the treeless boundary of the campus. In this photo from the dedication ceremony, you can see just how starkly it stood out against the 2-year-old building’s facade.

Flagpole Dedication 5For reference, here’s what that location looks like now, thanks to Google maps.

flag_pole_map
A (Lone) Star-studded Affair: Dedication Day

Planning for the flag pole’s dedication ceremony started small, with Dock Martin proposing a gathering of some 50 of Rob Hubbard’s closest friends to be held on Founders Day (February 1, 1953). However, at the encouragement of Baylor president W.R. White, the decision was made to “make a real Baylor occasion of it,” especially when former Texas governor William P. Hobby – under whom Hubbard had served as highway commissioner, you’ll recall – agreed to attend. The date was eventually changed to May 29, and Gov. Hobby served as the guest of honor.

Photos from that day show it to be a major ceremony indeed, including music, faculty in full cap-and-gown regalia, a contingent of U.S. military members and a sizable crowd present under a clear blue sky.

Flagpole Dedication 1

Gov. W.P. Hobby (left) with Mrs. R.M. Hubbard. From the archives of the Armstrong Browning Library.

 

Flagpole Dedication 3

Raising the Texas flag. Note the bugle player near the flag pole’s base; it is assumed he is playing “Reveille.” The presence of a piano also leads us to believe there was some form of special music presented for the occasion. From the photo archives of the Armstrong Browning Library.

 

Flagpole Dedication 6

The major players, from left: D.K. “Dock” Martin, Mrs. R.M. Hubbard, Gov. W.P. Hobby and Dr. W.R. White (Baylor University president)

The flag pole’s grand launch was a success, and its presence on the southern frontier of the ever-expanding campus was a daily reminder of the university’s inextricable link to the state it calls home. But over time, an innocuous bystander, present at the dedication, would grow to obscure and hide its legacy to all but the heartiest of campus visitors (or, as it turns out, curators out wandering the grounds after a presentation). I give you: The Obscurer!

Flagpole Dedication 3b

Dunt-dun-DUHHHHH!

Yes, this hopeful little sapling will grow over the next 60+ years to become a mighty oak, with massive limbs and a propensity to consume. And at the time, it seemed so insubstantial, so full of promise, a future source of respite for an outdoor-minded Victorian scholar, not the dominant shade provider it would actually become.

Though it no longer bears a flag aloft in the shimmering south campus skies, the flag pole dedicated in honor of R.M. Hubbard – the Founder of the Texas State System – is a unique, endearing lagniappe to the legacy of the stunning architectural gem sitting just a stone’s throw away.  And without the vision and passion of one member of the university’s faculty, who’s to say what might have occupied this now-vibrant corner of campus? Certainly nothing as interesting as an oak tree that eats flag poles, that much is certain.

Long May She Wave?

We have it on good authority – current director and long-time faculty member Rita Patteson, at that – that at one point there was an ABL flag that flew from the pole some years ago, and while I wasn’t able to track down an image of it, I took the liberty of creating an artist’s rendition featuring Dr. Armstrong’s face and what I imagine to have been his personal motto, which may or may not have been tattooed on his left bicep (unconfirmed).

ABL_speculative_flagOh, and One More Thing

This is where the heck New Boston is.

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 1.47.46 PM


We are thankful to Jennifer Borderud and Melvin Schuetz at the ABL for their help on this post, and to Benna Vaughan and the staff at The Texas Collection for their help with the W.R. White correspondence.

 

A Not-So-Innocent Abroad: Presenting at the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference

HEADERWhen I use the phrase “digital humanities,” what comes to mind? Humans using machines to analyze what makes us human? Machines pretending to be humans? A T-800 model Terminator quoting Shakespeare?

"It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves. Also, prepare to die, human scum!"

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”

Turns out, it’s a trick question, because no one really agrees on what “digital humanities” means for sure.

That’s a big takeaway I got from a three-day conference on digital humanities (DH) held at the University of Pennsylvania last week. But the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference wasn’t just an opportunity for me to refine my ambiguity detection skills; it was actually a great opportunity to present not once but twice to a room full of humanists, librarians, archivists, scholars and generally intelligent people.

For this particular trip – my first to Philadelphia, as it turns out – I decided to capture some of my thoughts and experiences on video and to share them here in this blog post. Yes, friends: I have crossed into VLOGGING. Can viral fame be far behind? (Spoiler alert: Yes, it can, and should be.)

My first video observation actually addresses something that happened while my plane was on the tarmac at DFW International Airport, and it involves one of the most divisive subjects of our time: selfie sticks.

 

I know I’m treading dangerously close to “old man yells at cloud” territory here, but for real? You need that many versions of three people sitting on a plane, seen from an elevated angle? Oh, and they took more selfies in front of the baggage carousel.

keystone_blog-01But it actually ties in with one of the recurring themes of the conference, as it would turn out: documenting our human experience and using digital tools to tell the story of who we are as human beings. Which begs the question: what are the digital humanities, anyway?

Oh, the (Digital) Humanities!

For a quick definition of DH, let’s turn to our good friend Wikipedia:

Digital humanities is an area of research and teaching at the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities. Developing from the fields of humanities computing, humanistic computing,[2] and digital humanities praxis ([3]) digital humanities embraces a variety of topics, from curating online collections to data mining large cultural data sets. Digital humanities (often abbreviated DH) currently incorporates both digitized and born-digital materials and combines the methodologies from traditional humanities disciplines (such as history, philosophy, linguistics, literature, art, archaeology, music, and cultural studies) and social sciences [4] with tools provided by computing (such as data visualisation, information retrieval, data mining, statistics, text mining, digital mapping), and digital publishing.

That’s a lot to wrap one’s head around! I think of it this way: we’re using computers and computerized data to mine, examine, interpret and provide access to centuries of human intellectual output. Per the definition above, we most fully “do” digital humanities at the Digital Projects Group (DPG) by providing access to large sets of data formatted as digital collections. For every project we put online, there are numerous avenues for scholars and humanists to take the collections, evaluate them, look for patterns and, perhaps, see something new and exciting in the process.

I’ll be honest at this point and say that there were some super intelligent – almost scary smart – people at this conference, and that made the whole “presenting on things you do for work” thing more intimidating than I had anticipated. I mean, these are people who use words like “legomenology” and “praxis” in casual conversation. What might they think about our Black Gospel Music Restoration Project or my work managing our social media a the DPG? Most of them have probably only ever heard of Baylor in terms of our famous president/amazing riverside stadium, right?

Those questions would be asked over the course of three days at the beautiful Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts on the Penn campus, housed in the Van Pelt Library. If you’re wondering how to find that library, just look for the giant broken button on the sidewalk outside. Behold!

Want a closer look at that button? Here ya go!

keystone_blog-02

Most of the sessions took place in a really cool space in the middle of the sixth floor. Some attendees likened it to being in a fishbowl, but I loved it.

keystone_blog-03During some down time on the second day, I went to a truly unique historic site: the Eastern State Penitentiary. It’s considered America’s first true “penitentiary,” in that it put all of its prisoners in solitary cells and did everything possible to make them feel repentant for what they did. This was opposed to the usual way of locking people up, which was basically throwing as many people into a cramped holding area as possible and hoping they didn’t murder each other before sunup. So, you know: progress!

The site was amazing. It has been kept as a “preserved ruin” for decades, with only minimal repairs made to show what it looked like in its original form. That’s not to say they haven’t made it really visitor friendly, though. There’s tons of great signage, and a wonderful audio tour narrated by Steve Buscemi. Folks, this thing was worth every nickel of the admission price. Oh, and if that’s not enough, there was a sign in an exhibit that gave the name of the group that got the whole thing started (which included Ben Franklin as a member, natch): The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons. My goal before I retire is to borrow that name and modify it for use as an official library committee name.

keystone_blog-04

In our next video clip, I give you a curator’s-eye-view of the inside of a cell, and I make a joke about working in a cube farm. Enjoy!


Don’t feel too bad for old Al, though. Given the fact that he was already famous when he stayed here, the powers that be saw to it that his accommodations were pretty far above the usual prisoner’s setup. To wit:

keystone_blog-05
Back to the idea of humanities, digital or otherwise: the museum used data about incarceration rates to make this cool infographic/sculpture in the prison yard. I thought it was a very effective and creative way of visualizing the data set.

keystone_blog-06Back at the conference, my first talk was a digital showcase on the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. I told the assembled crowd of attendees – which, because this was the sole presentation in that time slot for the day, was almost every person at the conference! – about the BGMRP, how it came into existence, and what kinds of research areas a digital humanist might find buried in the collection. Afterward, I got lots of nice feedback and some very interesting ideas about how to make the collection more useful to scholars. One idea that was proposed more than once was to provide transcriptions of the lyrics for songs in the collection, something that would allow DHers to run data analysis on recurring words, grammatical structure, use of metaphor/simile/allusion, etc. This could be a really cool Phase II or III for the project and I was definitely interested in hearing what folks from across the country had to say about one of our highest profile projects.

I was so jazzed about the presentation that I address it – and one of the big reasons to live in a city other than Waco – in this next video!


I mean, seriously: have you people ever HAD Dunkin’s iced coffee?

My next presentation was a long paper on “How to Keep the ‘Humanity’ in Digital Humanities Social Media.” I basically ran down some ideas about finding a voice for your collections, looking into the different social media platforms for the right fit, and then an overview of the ways we’re using social media to promote the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.  It was another successful presentation, IMHO, and prompted an appropriate amount of laughter when I told them we used this blog to promote our School of Music Programs by writing an open letter to an actor from “The Walking Dead.” My observations, in video form!


Oh, and my presentation took place in a room with this view:

keystone_blog-09
Not too shabby!

I’ll close this post by saying that attending this conference was enormously helpful from a content creator’s perspective because it gave me some great insights into how scholars, faculty and other users are utilizing the kinds of resources we put onto the web, and it gave me great ideas for how to further enhance our collections so that they’re as useful, findable and impactful as possible. And lastly, it gave me a great quote from keynote speaker Dr. Miriam Posner of UCLA, which I’ll present here as one of those “unrelated image/quote/speaker” memes, because I love them.

miriam_quoteAnd in case you’re thinking, after all that, that all I did in Philadelphia was eat cheesesteaks and visit museums, here’s pictorial evidence of me talking to a crowd, courtesy Amelia Longo, via Twitter:

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 4.06.11 PMOh, and for the record: Geno’s Cheesesteaks 4 life.


The Keystone Digital Humanities Conference website has a full list of the speakers and attendees for your consideration. To see all the Twitter backchatter, search for #keydh. The portrait of sassy Ben Franklin is from the collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a.k.a. the place with the Rocky steps.