A Campus Divided? The Historic Precedent for the “Bearlin Wall”

To the Baylor Campus Community,

As President Abraham Lincoln said during the dark days prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Those words may have slipped into the realm of cliche to those of us in the enlightened 21st century, but they hold truer than ever as we face the great struggle of our time: the Bearlin Wall.

The Wall

The Wall

Battle lines have been drawn. Entrenchments have been entrenched, forts have been fortified, provisions have been provided for: conflict is imminent. Passions are inflamed as loyalties are pledged to the King in the North (Art Briles) and the King in the South (Burt Burleson and/or Ken Starr – there appears to be a power struggle afoot).

But may we, your humble digital collections social media team, ask you all to cool your ardor for confrontation and consider that this divisive situation actually has historic precedent, as made evident by this surviving artifact of what became known as the 5th Street War of 1939*.

And this conflict featured a brick wall.

This hand drawn map, created by E.H. Ramirez, documents a time of division and turmoil that coincided with the general political unease felt around the world in the run-up to World War II. Here is the map in its entirety:

1939 map of campus by E.H. Ramirez (Click to enlarge)

1939 map of campus by E.H. Ramirez (Click to enlarge)

As you can see, the majority of campus development at the time was in the more industrialized, heavily settled South. The dividing line then, as now, was Fifth Street. While the North was largely rural at the time of the 5th Street War, it did house the Rena Marrs McLean Gymnasium, which meant the Northern forces had access to a swimming pool, so they had that going for them (which was nice).

But a closer look shows that even in the halcyon days of the late 1930s, there existed a structure whose very purpose was to divide, to exclude, to prevent the very kind of conflict we’re living through today: the Brick Wall.

inset-map-BU-1939

Inset of 1939 map. Click to enlarge.

Yes, in the days before the great edifice known as the Bill Daniel Student Center/the SUB was there to serve our every Dr Pepper Hour and last-minute Chik-fil-A craving, there stood an imposing barrier of brick and mortar, a stark delineation between the people South of the Wall and those North of It.

The Brick Wall’s ostensible purpose was to keep bystanders from wandering into the field of play while gridiron and baseball action was taking place on Carroll Field, but its real function became obvious in time: to keep the Others out.

No one knows who fired the first shots that eventually culminated in the 5th Street War of 1939. Perhaps it was a zealous Southerner, caught up in the unquenchable thirst for a dip in the pool. Or perhaps a nervous Northerner, long envious of the fine brick structures of the South, unloaded on a hapless Southerner after misunderstanding the punchline to a joke that was popular at that time. The historical record is silent on its cause, but the after effects of the 5th Street War of 1939 were stark. Consider:

  • In the years following the War, every structure shown on this map that lay to the North of 5th Street (except for Marrs McLean Gym) was destroyed. In its place today are structures like Morrison Hall, Fountain Mall, Sid Richardson Building and the Moody Memorial Library.
  • The South suffered loss as well: the Baylor Men’s Hospital, Little Theatre Work Shop, Baylor Beauty Shop and more were lost.
  • The presence of livestock near Waco Creek (represented on the map by a “contented” longhorn cow) was completely eliminated from the campus.

But despite the pain, loss and clutching of pearls that followed in the wake of the 5th Street War of 1939, the campus slowly mended its divisions in the ensuing decades and entered into a Golden Age of unity, presided over by the dual guiding lights of academic excellence and (eventually) football dominance.

Let us take our example from these previous generations and work to unite in the face of a potentially disastrous situation. We must embrace the things that make us all Baylor Bears, that transcend the temporary inconvenience of a few yards of construction barricade. After all, as the great Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie sang on their hit song “Black Sun,”

There is an answer in a question
And there is hope within despair
And there is beauty in a failure
And there are depths beyond compare
There is a role of a lifetime
And there’s a song yet to be sung
And there’s a dumpster in the driveway
Of all the plans that came undone

Let us choose the hope within despair, and let the dumpster in the driveway (5th Street) be hauled away, filled with the rubble born of aesthetic progress. If we can but hold firm for a few fleeting months, our fair Fountain Mall will once again bring forth sparkling waters from the fecund bosom of the Earth, as seen in this artist’s rendering.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 1.14.22 PMSo embrace your Northern kin, Southern Bear. Share a meal with one another, cavort on the mall, fling your green and gold afar, hand in hand as you go. The schism of today will be the fond memory of tomorrow, and we will live with the examples of both the 5th Street War of 1939 and the Great Unification of 2015 firmly in our hearts … together.

– Your Friends in the Digital Projects Group


*Not an actual war. This whole piece is, of course, a work of satire, based around the opportunity to showcase a really cool (and very real) map of the campus drawn by a student in 1939. But you all knew that already – after all, you ARE smarter than the average bears.

The 1939 Map of Campus by E.H. Ramirez is from the holdings of The Texas Collection. See the map in our Digital Collections here.

 

Classic Post: In A Time Of Uncertainty, The Pursuit of Permanence Reinforced

The article below originally ran on April 18, 2013, one day after a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas destroyed the facility and caused 15 fatalities (mostly first responders) and millions of dollars in property damage. We are reposting the article on this, the two-year anniversary of the event.

The aftermath of an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, April 17, 2013. (Photo via BusinessInsider.com)

At the time of this writing, the campus of Baylor University is quiet, subdued under a twin burden thanks to the dismal weather (due to a cold front/rainstorm combo) and an event that occurred just twenty short miles up the road in West. As reports roll in documenting the destruction – physical, emotional, communal – wrought by an explosion at a fertilizer plant on the north side of town, the Baylor community is responding with a prayer vigil, offers of donations of materials and financial gifts, and the use of our collective expertise in helping the citizens of West find new hope in the rubble of last night’s wreckage.

As we try to come to grips with the scope of devastation, it comes at a time when the national mood is already unsettled due to the bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday. Add into the mix the fact that this, the third week in April, has seen traumatic national events in the past two decades (the Columbine High School massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing and the Branch Davidian standoff, chiefly) and you have a general sense of discomfort, a time of unwanted reflection on the darker side of human nature.

All of this may seen like a strange topic for a blog post focused on digital collections, but it reinforces an absolutely inarguable point: life is uncertain. We can build legal structures, steel-studded concrete walls, social norms and inner rationalizations to protect us from the things beyond our control, but they can only take us so far. For all of us will face an event in our lives that we cannot control, that is beyond our power to influence. And in the midst of that uncertainty, it helps to have reminders that our daily work to preserve the documented history of our campus, our community, our world is one way we can provide the tumultuous present with a concrete anchor to the past.

“The Preservers of History”

Chiseled into the stonework of the façade of Pat Neff Hall, Baylor’s main administration building, is a quote from former Baylor president (and two-term Texas governor) Pat Morris Neff. It reads, “The preservers of history are as heroic as its makers,” and I believe this sums up our role in the Digital Projects Group in a simple, profound way that paragraphs of explanatory text cannot. We are the preservers of history, yes, by the nature of our work to digitize physical history and preserve its digital surrogate for access by the future. But more important than simply scanning and archiving data, we are preserving the stories contained within those documents and we are ensuring that those stories will be accessible and available to people many years from now. On days like today, it seems particularly important to preserve the stories happening all around us, even if they aren’t as newsworthy as an explosion, a natural disaster, or a terrorist attack.

This is not a responsibility we take lightly, of course. For every artifact, archival resource, photograph, map or other item that comes through our doors, we know we are handling the “real stuff” of history and it is our job to take that one unique thing and give it a new life, a greater usefulness in the realm of academic scholarship and worldwide access. In a sense, we serve not so much as the preservers of history but as its spokesmen, the professional communicators tasked with taking something out of its phase box, Mylar sleeve or acid-free folder and putting it on an international stage via the Internet so its unique story can reach people on our campus, on our continent, on the other side of the world.

The Way of All Flesh (and Data)

We are given only a short time on this Earth to do the work we were created to do. There will come a time when the words of this blog will be seen as a record of what one group of people thought was important in the early decades of the 21st century. They will read of a fertilizer plant explosion in a small, Czech community in central Texas and want to know more about how it spurred a library staff member at Baylor University to write about its relation to digital preservation.

To those future researchers –and to my 2013 contemporaries reading this post today – I can only say that as this week’s unexpected events have unfolded on the East coast and a half-hour drive from my front door, it drives home to me the frailty of life, the knowledge that the things we create today are not promised to exist tomorrow, and that the challenge for our field is to try to find some permanence in the world, to promise our grandchildren’s grandchildren that they will have access to the world we are living in today. And, more importantly than all of this, that they will have access to our stories.

If you would like to assist the people of West in their recovery and rebuilding efforts, please visit Baylor’s “Response for the City of West” web age or contact the Central Texas Red Cross. Photo from REUTERS photographer Mike Stone via Business Insider (www.businessinsider.com)

“Lord, Don’t Forget About Me” – Thoughts on Sustainability, Digital Collections and Museums

buffet_quote_imageThis week, I’ve been attending the Texas Association of Museums’ annual conference in Ft. Worth (a.k.a. Cowtown, a.k.a. Funkytown). Amid the usual offerings on how to engage preschool visitors, trends in collections management and how to navigate federal law as it relates to Native American ceremonial items, one of the recurring themes has been the idea of sustainability. Not in the environmentally friendly, pro-recycling sense of the term, but in something more stark: do struggling museums deserve to survive, and if so, what can we do to help? Are museums doomed to fail because they are in thrall to their habits – good and bad – and unable to undertake significant change?

Specifically, there was a major report funded by the Summerlee Foundation that examined the state of historic museums in Texas, and the findings were eye-opening. Many of the state’s history-focused institutions have entered into a mode that can charitably be described as “perpetuation.” In other words, they’ve grown past the initial fervor that brought them into being in the first place – saving a historic structure, for example – and have entered into a second or third generation of leadership whose focus is on maintaining the status quo, or, at worst, keeping the whole affair from closing altogether.

This is discomforting news for many of the state’s 1,000+ historic sites and museums, as it indicates a lack of strong leadership, compelling history, innovative business models and the other positive attributes identified by the Summerlee report that are key to an institution’s survival. Implicit in all of this discussion is a question many museum professionals are hesitant to ask: If an institution that has pledged itself to add permanence to an impermanent resource (i.e. a physical collection or structure) is now in jeopardy, at what point do we say, “enough is enough?” We don’t expect for-profit institutions and businesses to last in perpetuity; stores go out of business all the time. But we DO expect our museums to last forever because they serve a higher purpose, namely, holding cultural assets in the public trust.

So Where Do Digital Collections Enter Into The Discussion?

The crux of this conversation focuses on our brick-and-mortar (and lathe, and log, and millwork, and adobe) brethren, but there are lessons here for institutions like our Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections, too.

While we aren’t restricted by the requirement that we care for an aging, actively deteriorating physical structure, we do have built-in costs related to our work. Servers, digitizing equipment, staffing, storage for physical items: all of these costs are inherent in the work we do. Without a scanner, a server and people to run them both, we can’t create a digital surrogate of a rare black gospel 45, and we can’t put it online for the world to experience it.

Being part of a major university certainly makes our position more stable than many of our historic sites colleagues, but even we aren’t immune from the changing whims of researchers, students and the general public. So long as the requests keep coming in for access to 19th century sheet music, the works of women poets and back issues of our campus newspaper, we will see the obvious demand for the resources we are committed to creating and hosting into the future.

But if there comes a point where online access to collections is considered as quaint as handling an authentic butter churn – that is, something you do once on a vacation and not something that has relevance to your daily life – that’s when we’ll know we’ve moved from a cause to a burden. It’s at that crucial point where so many historic sites are caught today, and it’s something we are actively planning to avoid.

We Must Sing In Full Voice

A big part of avoiding the “in perpetuation” mindset is to keep our voice fresh, to keep seeking new ways to engage with users of all stripes, and to spread the word about the uniqueness, usefulness and openness of our resources.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, wrote a number of rules for singing in his congregations. One of them was,

Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.

I think that advice is fitting for us as we work to create and promote our university’s unique cultural heritage assets via our digital collections. If we are engaged with the work, if we are focused and enthusiastic about what we do, that will show in our output, and people will carry the torch for us. But if we falter, if we give only a halfhearted effort, that, too, will show, and we’ll see an attendant downturn in interest.

But fear not, friends of our work: we have no plan to grow weary, to find our work a cross to bear rather than a song to sing, and we are fully committed to maintaining and expanding our collections “forever and ever, amen.” And the more you can help us by spreading the word to your friends and colleagues, the easier it will be to make sure our work is sustainable for generations to come.

One last note: if there’s a historic house museum, a county historical society or other history-related resource in your area, do all you can to support them. Pay them a visit, make a donation, volunteer to serve on their board of trustees, post something nice about them on Facebook; any help we can provide to our fellow culture preservers only benefits us as a society, and it keeps some really great people employed, too.

Unveiling the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project’s “Wall of Honor”

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 10.47.44 AMAny project as ambitious as our Black Gospel Music Restoration Project cannot happen in a vacuum, nor can it succeed without the willing hands and open hearts of a broad range of supporters, and after almost a decade’s worth of work toward preserving America’s black gospel heritage, we’ve made significant progress thanks to the support of literally dozens of people.

They are collectors, benefactors, private citizens with small collections to loan, major foundations with capital to invest in the equipment, talent and time it takes to advance the BGMRP from semester to semester. And we thought it’s high time they got some recognition on the project’s website. So, we’re happy to unveil the BGMRP Wall of Honor, a virtual listing of the backers big and small who’ve helped make it a success.

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 10.35.25 AM

Click on the image to view the entire Wall of Honor!

Each supporter’s name is placed on a label from a 45 rpm disk from the collection and the whole wall is organized alphabetically. The label associated with each supporter is randomly assigned, hence the quilt-like appearance to the entire Wall.

While it’s only a small token of our appreciation to these fine folks, we hope it helps drive home the importance of community support for projects like the BGMRP. And if you’d like to see your name on the wall – after you’ve loaned/donated materials or supported the project financially – we’ve got plenty of opportunities for you to show your support.

We hope to see the Wall continue to grow as the project continues to flourish, and with each news story, interview, public presentation or one-on-one conversation we have about the BGMRP, we’re seeing its importance and influence spread across the country. And the nice thing about a “virtual” donor wall vs. a physical wall? There’s literally no end to space we can use to feature anyone who shows their support!

The Black Gospel Music Restoration Project is an attempt to catalog, digitize, preserve and promote America’s black gospel music heritage, with a focus on the “Golden Age” of 1945-1975. Learn more about the project, including how you can support our goals, by visiting the project website.

The Freshmen (19)15: When Being Named “Fattest Boy” Was A Sign of Affection

Some people like to think that the proclivities of college students are a relatively recent occurrence. “They wear pajamas to class! They never look up from their cell phones! They give each other ridiculous nicknames! They have their laundry picked up by a service that washes and folds it before returning it to them!” And so on.

The corollary to this is that people also assume college students of a century ago were always serious, focused on academics, and learning how to become robber barons or doctors or famous theologians. (Also, the world was in black and white because color hadn’t been invented yet.)

If that’s been your mindset, prepare to clutch your pearls, because a look at a brief item from the March 18, 1915 Baylor Lariat reveals college students have been doing at least one of these – assigning ridiculous nicknames – since the days our great-grandparents roamed the campus.

This particular story was part of a “Freshman Edition” of the Lariat that was prominently stamped with the class’s graduating year:

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 3.48.15 PMThe fourth article featured above the fold is a two-paragraph story on a recent decision by the freshman class to memorialize itself in concrete.

1915-03-18In these two short paragraphs are revealed several insights into life on Baylor’s campus early in the last century. First off, the lead paragraph tells us that the class of 1918, like its contemporary classes of the era, was interested in leaving its mark on campus in the form of a permanent structure. (The other practice of painting one’s graduation year on the towers of Old Main was a splashier but less enduring option.) The proposed fountain for the class of 1918 was to be “an ornamental design with the class emblem in relief,” according to the story’s opening paragraph.

The second paragraph reveals the quirky sense of humor on display by these early twentieth century Baylorites. A full list of “officers” and their “offices” includes:

T.P. Barron – future president
Hull Youngblood – Arch’s successor
Guy Crosslin – most timid boy
Carolyn Franks – fattest girl
Hazel Gorman – Quakeress
E.T. Gwaltney – class giant
H.C. Morrow – biggest liar
Roy Sanderford – biggest hobo
Lorene Patty – most reserved girl;
Doyle Thrailkill – leading suffragette
O.M. Webb – professional “vag” (vagabond)
Horace W. Williams – fattest boy

Some of these are pretty straightforward, if seemingly offensive to modern sensitivities. “Fattest girl,” “fattest boy” and “biggest hobo” are self-explanatory, but if you do a little digging you’ll find they’re much more likely to be satirical than true-to-life. For example, here’s a photo of “fattest boy” Horace W. Williams from the 1916 Round Up:

williams_1916-RUAnd “biggest hobo” Roy Sanderford? He wound up serving in the Army in World War I and was listed as an honored alum in the 1918 Round Up. “Most timid boy” Guy Crosslin also served in the army (as a Lieutenant) and “class giant” E.T. Gwaltney was active in athletics, playing both basketball and tennis.

Finally, “most reserved girl” Lorene Patty would go on to serve as secretary of the sophomore class in 1916.

Patty_1916-RUIn that capacity, she would write the class’s history for the 1916 Round Up, concluding with these words:

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 3.27.13 PMWorthy of Further Examination

But the two most interesting for my money are “Arch’s successor” Hull Youngblood and “leading suffragette” Doyle Thrailkill. One would be part of a long-running tradition among the freshmen classes of the early 1900s and the other would propose an idea that became one of Baylor’s most recognized and longest-running icons.

First, Hull Youngblood, pictured here in all his cravat-ly glory in the 1915 Round Up:

youngblood_1915_RUHis title of “Arch’s successor” has to do with the story of a long-serving “handyman” on campus and one of Baylor’s earliest African American notables, Arch Long, pictured here in the 1932 Round Up:

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 10.52.27 AMLong began his 45 years of service to Baylor in 1892, working alongside his brother William. Long delivered coal, made repairs and generally served as a prototypical maintenance and facilities expert, all while exhibiting a great sense of humor and morals that were praised by Baylor president Pat Neff upon Long’s retirement in 1938. Long would die in 1952, his long service to the university earning him the status of “legend,” according to an article in the September 24, 1952 Lariat.

For a number of years, during the first freshman class meeting each year, Arch’s name was put forward as a possible candidate for president, along with “candidates” like G.B. Hall (the name of a women’s dormitory) and Carroll Field (the athletic field on campus), the joke being that many of the freshmen wouldn’t know the latter two weren’t actually people, let alone members of the class. Ergo, Youngblood’s status as “Arch’s successor” seems to indicate he was likely to be put forward as a potential candidate for president of the class of 1918 at some point.

Doyle Thrailkill’s contribution to Baylor history is her putting forward the bear as Baylor’s official mascot. Replying to an appeal from Kit Roseborough in 1914, Thrailkill’s suggest of a bear won an overwhelming majority of the votes and would, of course, go on to become the official mascot. This process is best summed up by a brief recap in the 1928 Round Up:

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 11.31.21 AMSo the next time you think something a college student does is indicative of a modern trend toward dissolution, or you get the urge to shout, “Get off my lawn!” at a 20-year-old wearing earbuds and a fedora, remember that these same young people may go on to affect the history of your campus, your city or your nation in the years to come.

And if nothing else, you can rest easy in knowing that none of them will earn the title of “Quakeress,” so at least there’s that.