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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Class of 1917 Letter

Louis Brockway

Delivered: June 1967

Fifty years ago the stereoptican lecture was a popular form of education and entertainment. One of the finest of such lectures that I ever experienced was given by the late Robert Benchly. It was titled “Thru the Alimentary Canal with Rod and Gun.” That is the inspiration for my attempt, with pictures and comment, to take you thru Hamilton College with Stryker and Saunders, (Slide #1 – Dr. Stryker and Dr. Saunders) the president and dean.

On September 23, 1913, according to Hamilton Life, the excellent weekly publication of our day, “Hamilton welcomed the largest freshman class in her existence of 102 years. Seventy-eight men were enrolled. One week later, Life ran an editorial titled, “Up Sophomores,” urging the sophomores to “do their plain duty in regard to the freshman class “because the freshmen wax fresher every day, deprived of their natural monitors and squelchers.”

(Slide #2 – Class picture) This is what fresh group looked like. There have been some changes since that time in the appearance of those of us left.

Many other aspects of the local scene have changed also. When we walked down the Hill to the Post Office, a favorite pastime of our day, there was a boardwalk most of the way, the road was dirt with several “thank you mams” so the farmer could rest their horses on the climb up. Going from here to the Post Office, you passed four saloons with a fifth just a few steps beyond the Presbyterian Church. They are all gone, casualties to the respectability of the cocktail party, which has made every man’s home not only his castle but his saloon, as well.

Other signs of change are all about us. On the Hill, there are three new fraternities housed in what were, in our day, the Stryker, Brand and Lewis houses. In another year, all three will, hopefully, be housed more adequately in a new three-winged building on the site of the old Squires home. The three down-hall fraternities, Deke, Psi U and Theta Delt, have moved up the Hill. The Emersonians have a new house replacing the old one destroyed by fire.

(Slide 2-A) This slide indicates another change — there are no longer any cannons on campus. The old gymnasium is now a dormitory. North dormitory has been renovated. Dunham Hall is a new building housing all the freshman class. The old library is the Minor Theatre. The new College buildings since our time include, in addition to Dunham, a new science building with an even newer addition, a new gymnasium, hockey rink with a 220-yard cinder track around it, an item of interest to any trackmen who ever ran the old 32-laps-to-a-mile wooden track in the old gym. Also an infirmary, an enlarged Commons, a restored Buttrick Hall, a new athletic field, a golf course and, finally, that much-needed and magnificent building, the Bristol Campus Center.

There are also many new faculty homes up the Hill beyond the campus to house some of the faculty, now four times as large as in our day. The president’s home is now the former Davenport property, a gift to the College by the Davenport family. You will note, too, that the bright red shale walks are gone from the campus. No longer are the floors and carpets brightened on rainy days with the beautiful red hematite as they were in days of yore.

Finally, the newest development of all is the establishment of Kirkland College, which will be located on the south side of College Hill Road. This will be a college for girls. We came here 50 years too soon.

And, while discussing the progress of the past 50 years, perhaps we should recall some customs that have disappeared.

(Slide #3 – The Row). The freshman-sophomore row, which followed the first 8:00 morning Chapel, is no more. Nor is the previous evening’s festivity, Paint Night. That wondrous and barbaric custom was great fun, as I recall, for a sophomore. It was easy to entice a freshman, who did not recognize a sophomore from a classmate, from the mob being soaked by a fire hose, take off his pants and cover his exposed portion with green paint. This painting process was our only course in appreciation of art.

On the subject of changes since our time, let me call your attention to that sociological source of information, the advertisements which appeared in Life, during our time.

Arrow collars, the stiff type such as Doctors Stryker and Saunders were wearing in the picture were two for 25 cents. Today, it would be difficult to find them at any price.

The Hotel Cumberland, Broadway and 54th Street, N.Y., offered rooms with bath, $2.50 and up.

Commons Hall had an 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. special — soup, choice of steaks, chops, ham, bacon and eggs, with dessert, coffee, tea or milk, 25 cents.

Smart Derbies and Soft Hats, $3 and $4.

Franklin Simon suits and topcoats, $25 and $50.

Frank Cordovan shoes, $10.

Hotel Utica, then a four-year-old hotel — gentleman’s luncheon, 50 cents; Sunday evening, table d’hôte dinner, $1.25

Jones and Bill Bristol. You may remember that we played Syracuse University twice while we were in college. The scores consisted of the same numbers each year — the first year it was 1-8 or 18-0, and it second year it was 8-1 or 81-0. Need I remind you that Syracuse was the victor in both encounters?

You will recall the “smokers,” which used to be held in Commons on the night before the Union game. The theme of these affairs was always “fight.” Life said, “Fight is the word. Rip ’em up in the counter sign.” On one occasion, Dick Drummond of the Class of 1901 made a stirring speech on this theme ending with “The spirit of these hills breathes fight.”

The next day we lost to Union 27-6.

But all our football efforts did not result in defeats. (Slide 5) We played Columbia in what was supposed to be a practice game from their return to intercollegiate football and beat them. “Touch downs by Johnny Jones and a 40-yard run by Mooch Neola, with Addie Woolnough making interference provided the touchdowns.” The squad at that time consisted of 15 men. Bristol, the quarterback, weighed 137 pounds. The Columbia victory caused great excitement on the Hill as those two pictures of the welcome to the conquering heroes indicate.

Baseball was exciting during our freshman year when Steve Royce was setting world records for strike outs and big league scouts were standing by the back stop watching him pitch. We had pretty good baseball all during our tenure here and the most extensive southern training trip ever undertaken. (Slide #6) Here is a picture of the team in the spring of 1916. Gus Donoghue was the manager and you can see Joe Behan, the 1917 captain, Clif Whitman and Sub Donoghue on the squad.

The exploits of the track team of our time is a subject about which I could expatiate for hours but that I will mercifully spare you. Suffice to say, we did quite well especially when Fritz Lee was leading us and winning all the dashes and the broad jump for 20 points per meet. Here is the track team in 1915 (Slide #7). Members of 1917 in the front row are Shields and Byce; second row, Brockway and Dice; back row, Woolnough and Burritt.

Intramural sports had an important place in our College activities, especially basketball. The team of 1917 was the class champion for three successive years and here they are (Slide #8). Seated, Behan and Brockway; standing, Pendleton, Sub Donoghue, Gus Donohue. Two members of this team are alive and present and available to give any interested party complete details about our triumphs.

Another great sporting event, no longer extant, was held only once a year, after the last freshman examination (Slide #9). The first man out of the exam got a paddle and whacked the second man who, in turn, secured a paddle so they both could whack the third one, and so on until the later men exiting from Don Chase’s exam in physical culture had quite a gauntlet to run and finished by jumping into the fountain to cool their nether parts.

Another activity, which, while not exactly a sport, was the College Band (Slide #10). 1917 was well represented with two drummer boys, Weed and Woolnough. Also, Holden, Willis Jones, Norton, Naumer, Lewis and Dayton.

The next picture illustrates an activity that required less physical and more mental prowess. I particularly call your attention to the Arrow collars, two for 25 cents, on the members of the Chess Club (Slide #11). 1917 was represented by Griffith, Lyons, Willis Jones and Saunders. The ringer is Smith of 1916.

The debate team was another intellectual sport in which the Class of ’17 was represented by Young, Seaver, Patterson and Brockway. Patterson, Seaver and Brockway, along with the late Senator Ives, went to Bowdoin where we had the affirmative side on the proposition, “Resolved, that the United States could better protect the Western Hemisphere by an understanding with Great Britain than by the policy known as the Monroe Doctrine.” We were much better than Bowdoin but the local judges were prejudiced and gave a unanimous decision to Bowdoin. The home team with Cy Young, as anchorman, won. The judges here were local people also.

Social affairs were not neglected. The greatest social event was probably our Junior Prom. We had a great committee (Slide #12) consisting of Donohue, Weed, Dayton, Dise, Yule, Adams, Stackhouse and Miller.

Life commented: “Plans for the 1917 Junior Prom are now being shaped under the direction of Clayt Weed, chairman of the committee who has started correspondence with Zita, the well-known purveyor of “peppy” music. “Zita has a program of music that will ravish the soul of every Terpsichorean devotee.”

The prom came off successfully some months later and Life published this picture (Slide #13) with the caption “Sopher Gymnasium in fairy-like disguise.” Complete with Morris chairs, too.

Class banquets were a social feature every year. The picture (Slide #13-A) indicates a moment of relaxation at our junior dinner. The face with the cigar belongs to Gus Donohue and the lap on which he is sitting to Tom Orr.

Shortly after this affair Billy Sunday, the evangelist, came to Syracuse. The Post Standard carried this caption. We came to close to tragedy in 1915 when the Sigma Phi House burned. (Slide 17) Four men, including Bill Bristol, had to jump out into the snow. Life reported, “Four suits of pajamas and a notebook in hygiene were the sole effects of survivors.” Presumably it was that book on hygiene that has kept Bristol looking so clean all these years.

My research for this opus included extensive reading of Hamilton Life. I recommend this to any who would like to be entertained, although you will be saddened, too, with the references to so many of our classmates who are no longer with us. But Life was a great college paper, lively, provocative and full of news (Slide #18). Here is the Life board when Jim Seaver was editor. Other members of our class are Truax and Moore. On his election, Editor Seaver said that humor would be especially emphasized. “It’s going to be a spicy affair, sez Jim.”

You will remember that we had a Hamilton Literary magazine, too. Here is the editorial board (Slide #19). Front row, Willis Jones, Gilbert Lyon, editor, Chauncey Truax and Louis Balmer. Most of the contributions were from undergraduates. Each issue was reviewed by a member of the faculty. I well remember the accurate comment by one reviewer about an article by your speaker, as follows: “The skit reveals cleverness and bad taste in equal degree.”

Here we have the board of our yearbook, The Hamiltonian (Slide #20). The back row — Griffith, Pendleton, Lewis, Pohl and Willis Jones. The front row, Dayton, Shields, Editor Seaver, Bristol and Leonard. Our Hamiltonian was a handsome affair, particularly because of the masculine beauty shining out from the pictures of the members of our class, commanded by Professors Carruth, Ristine and our own Tod Hamlin.

Here is the Battalion. (Slide 21) The United States entered the war just a few weeks before our graduation and now, 50 years later, there is some doubt that it is yet finished.

(Slide #22) Here we are a few months before our contemplated departure from the College. Guppy Lyon, our class president, is in the center of the front row. The sleds on which the front men are sitting are no more, and coasting down the Hill is a lost art.

Dr. Stryker had written at one time an article on the use of short words, from which I quote: “There are a few things that go so far to make style crisp and firm as the use of short words. They stab to the core.”

The influences of this piece on the editors of Life is illustrated in the following comment about his resignation: “A great character, shining in his righteous eminence and irradiating powerful energy of thought, is his **. A review of the College’s history suffices to indicate the splendid record of Prex’s achievements and prospection infuses in us the hope for a leader with the power for equivalent achievements.” Words that stab to the core.

Now, 50 years later, Hamilton is losing another great president, Dr. McEwen. During his tenure the College has made tremendous progress, academically and materially. His impress on the College will be long remembered with appreciation and gratitude. We wish him and his gracious wife good health and happiness for many years to come.

This rambling discourse has touched on many aspects of our College life without yet mentioning the reason why we came here in the first place. Presumably, we did not come here to play football, shoot baskets, run races or dance to the tunes of Underneath the Stars or Too Much Mustard. We came to get an education in the liberal arts, or, to define it more simply, to learn how to live.

No group could have been more fortunate than we in the men who were here to teach us how to live. If we were little influenced by our study of the Odyssey, the binomial theorem, Ostergorsky, Byron or the historical origins of the Bible, we cannot have failed to have been influenced by the integrity, the decency and the enthusiasm of the men who taught us.

So let us look quickly at some close-ups of those guides, mentors and friends.
(Slide #22-A) Dr. Fitch and Professor Chase
(Slide #22-B) Dr. Shepard and Dr. Brandt
(Slide #22-C) Dr. Squire and Professor Lewis
(Slide #22-D) Professors Cancetto and Brown)
(Slide #22-E) Dr. S.S. Saunders and Dr. Morrill
(Slide #22-F) Dr. Ristine and Professor Super
(Slide #22-G) Dr. Wood and Dr. Davenport

The Hamilton faculty of our day were great men. They were also great teachers. They enriched our lives both by what they taught and what they were.

So I would like to bring on my final picture with a few lines from a song of our day (Slide #23)

“Here they come,
Rub a dum dum
Looking as if they were on the bum,
The Faculty of Hamilton College, O”