Viewing the mysteries

Hot Feet crown, courtesy UVA Magazine.
Hot Feet crown, courtesy UVA Magazine.

Hyperallergic: Folk art relics from the Golden Age of America’s Secret Societies (via Boing Boing). Interesting exhibit of artifacts from the Freemasons and Odd Fellows.

It made me think of some of the few artifacts that have surfaced from the University of Virginia’s secret societies. Most of them have left behind only their rings or ribbons, but a few other items of stranger affect survive, particularly from the Hot Feet.

My favorite is the crown of the Hot Feet, pictured above and worn by James Rogers McConnell, among others. Though the crown was updated by the time that Lewis Crenshaw wore it, it is still a fascinating reminder of this intersection between UVA mythology, folk art and the American tendency toward the borrowed ritual image. It would be fascinating to see if any of the other … intriguing artifacts pictured below from 1906, showing the coronation of Charles S. McVeigh outside the East Range, survive.

Hot Feet coronation, 1906, courtesy UVA Magazine.
Hot Feet coronation, 1906, courtesy UVA Magazine.

Transmigrating

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Seven years ago today, I summed up the things that happened eight years ago before that: the small amount that I could write, stunned, on September 11, 2001; my more elaborate write-up from 2002 and, after singing in the Rolling Requiem, my detailed recollections from the day; my thoughts from 2003, on the brink of invasions; my thoughts from 2008, in which I assert that in spite of the attack, we’re still here.

All of which is to say I thought I had processed and finished my grieving for the victims of that bright fall day fifteen years ago.

Then, one night this week after rehearsing Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls, I attempted to describe Doug Ketcham to one of my TFC colleagues. And I could not speak. I was suddenly dumbstruck by the immense unfairness of what happened to him: twenty-seven years old, a rising star at Cantor Fitzgerald, who retained enough presence of mind to call his parents from underneath his desk after the first plane hit the towers to tell them that he loved them.

Doug was an acquaintance who I wish I had known well enough to call friend. Other UVa friends, like Tin Man, knew him much better. But he was a decent human being who never blinked an eye when I joined the crew that hung around with him. He made you feel less alone.

I spent some time thinking about him in our final rehearsal of Transmigration on Friday. I thought about the fact that I haven’t come to terms with his death after all these years. I thought about the fact that this anniversary still has the power to turn me somber and sour.

And then I thought about the structure of the piece. It opens with street sounds, footsteps, and then the words “missing… missing…” and the reading of names. The choir and orchestra slowly emerge from shifting tonalities to sing words, not of high poesy, but from the families of the victims, who posted them on fliers around the site of the Twin Towers in the weeks after the attack. Everyday words. “…he was tall, extremely good-looking, and girls never talked to me when he was around.” (Which could have been written about Doug.) Or the words of one woman: “I loved him from the start…. I wanted to dig him out. I know just where he is.”

It is at this moment that the orchestra gives a tremendous wrench, building in intensity and volume until at the top of the crescendo the chorus bursts into the moment of transfiguration: “Light! Light! Light!”

But after the transfiguration moment, the chorus drops away, the instrumentation drops back down, and you can hear that the voices and names are still speaking. And so it goes until the end of the work, with a final wordless tone cluster from the chorus yielding to a slendering thread of string sound, which after the thirty minutes of the piece finally resolves upward into a new major key—but not triumphantly, but so quietly it can almost not be heard.

And I think about this ending, and I think I finally understand what Adams was trying to get at. The dead are still with us after the transmigration because they always will be. It is we who must be transmigrated, who must allow ourselves to be changed, to not continue to stand, breath held, on the edge of that dreadful day. We who must resolve upward.

Bye-bye, Cavalier Inn?

UVA Today: More Green Space Planned for Ivy-Emmet Entrance Corridor. Buried in the discussion, as it was when an early version of the plans were discussed over the summer, is the proposed demolition of the Cavalier Inn.

It’s no Ritz-Carlton, or even Marriott, but I’ve long had a soft spot in my heart for the old Cavalier Inn, slightly mildewy though it may be. It’s often the most affordable, and available, place to stay near Grounds. And I find it ironic that the proposed renovations may eliminate one of the few places close enough to Grounds to comfortably walk without taking a car, in the name of “green space.”

The BOV will take up the question of whether to proceed with the plan in December. Here’s hoping that enough data accompanies that discussion—like hotel vacancy rates and walkability options for visitors to the University—to set my mind at ease.

From the sublime to the picturesque

Virginia Historical Society’s Blog: What is a sublime landscape? What is a picturesque landscape? Where are they found in Virginia? Nice survey of 19th century painting conventions and landscapes, beginning with Jefferson’s assessment of Natural Bridge as “the most sublime of nature’s works … It is impossible for the emotions arising from the sublime to be felt beyond what they are here.”

Digital Yoknapatawpha

UVA Today: UVA spearheads efforts to digitally map Faulkner’s world. Stephen Railton and the fine folks at IATH are continuing their project to create an interactive way to access Faulkner’s writing. Some of the visualizations, like the Location-Character Graph, look like they have the potential to revolutionize study of his writings.

“A still better group of songs”

Today’s adventure into the musical past of the University of Virginia comes courtesy of my sense of curiosity. I had often seen the statement (starting with Virginius Dabney’s fine history of the University, Mr. Jefferson’s University) that “Virginia, Hail, All Hail” and “The Cavalier Song” were winners of a competition sponsored by the student newspaper, College Topics, for the best fight song and alma mater song. It occurred to me that I had repeated that claim in several places, including on Wikipedia, without actually checking the primary source.

I had a little downtime on Saturday and paged through copies of College Topics from early 1923—thanks, Google. What I found surprised and amused me a little.

Discovery one: The contest was not widely subscribed. On January 19, 1923, with twelve days left in the running, Topics ran the following article:

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 10.26.30 AM

So apparently, even in this more musical time, students and alumni were not pounding down the door to provide original songs.

Discovery two: The competition was not specifically to find an alma mater song or fight song; it was more generally about getting more original songs written about the University and was open to both students and alumni.

Discovery three: The organizers weren’t wild about the winners! On February 16, in announcing the winners, they said the following: “The Committee desires to thank those who submitted songs and to congratulate the winners. It is hoped that the contest will stimulate the student body and alumni to greater effort to give Virginia a still better group of songs with original music.” This attitude may explain why “Virginia, Hail” was not more widely adopted outside the Glee Club. Also of note: neither of the second place winners were Glee Club members, while two of the three first place winners were associated with the Club.

Here’s the article from that day, minus the texts of the winning songs:

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 10.28.51 AMScreen Shot 2016-08-22 at 10.29.33 AM

I still have one more piece of research to perform, since I haven’t seen the original announcement of the competition. Google News archives doesn’t have College Topics from December 1922, and I can’t find a copy of the December 1922 Alumni News on line either. But I’m a little closer to having good information than I was.

Slavery on the Lawn: follow up

Rendering of rear of Pavilion VI, JUEL project, University of Virginia
Rendering of rear of Pavilion VI, JUEL project, University of Virginia

A few follow ups to Monday’s post about slave quarters on the Lawn:

“Rooms beneath the student rooms on the East Lawn”: I couldn’t find a photograph, but the excellent rendering above shows how the sloping elevation of the ridge on which the Lawn is situated exposes access to a basement level beneath the student rooms on either side of Pavilion VI on the East Lawn. These are visible as you approach the Lawn via the alley between the gardens of Pavilions VI and VIII. I distinctly remember a conversation with other students (my memory is they were University Guides, but I could be mistaken) discussing the theory that these anonymous windowless doors were slave quarters, a theory which was dismissed at the time but which appears to be true.

“Even in the recent IATH project to create and render 3D models of the buildings, they appear to exist in a vacuum, without outbuildings”: I spoke hastily. The IATH project in question, the “Jefferson’s University: The Early Life” project, does include renderings of some pavilions in a standalone fashion. But as seen above, for some pavilions a more full representation is provided. Particularly noteworthy is the work that has been done on the Pavilion VI outbuildings, which provides renders and historical context for no fewer than five outbuildings, ranging from Gessner Harrison’s office to a privy to a smokehouse. Also see the page on the Crackerbox, which is described as a combination kitchen and slave residence.

At home in The Mews

Pavilion III capitals and pediment, June 5, 2004
Pavilion III capitals and pediment, June 5, 2004

UVA Today: Beneath the Mews. As I noted on Facebook, this article covers a plethora of my interests. University of Virginia archaeologists, working underneath the floor of an outbuilding to Pavilion III, have discovered traces of an original Jeffersonian serpentine wall below where slaves were once housed—and where Virginia Glee Club conductor Harry Rogers Pratt and his wife Agnes Rothery once lived.

Pavilion III, currently undergoing a minor renovation, is said to be one of the few pavilions not to have suffered substantial exterior structural additions or alterations from its Jeffersonian incarnation. Apparently this extends to its mews, which an official Historic American Buildings Survey notes was “constructed between 1829–1830 [and] … is visible over the north garden wall.”

Which means, of course, that the Mews was the outbuilding that was visible from the rear window of my Lawn room when I lived in 3 West in 1993-94.

The other thing that’s striking about this recent announcement is the matter-of-fact inclusion of the following statement, which would have been highly controversial even when I was a student:

“In its early years, [The Mews] served as a quarters for enslaved people, and may also have served before 1865 as a washhouse and apparently, a chicken house,” said Kirt von Daacke, co-chair of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University. “The building is important because it is one of only a handful of extant structures where enslaved people lived and worked.”

So this fixture of the landscape was silently, unremarked-on, a remnant of the secret history of slavery at the University of Virginia. I say “secret” because it was absolutely never discussed when I was a student. The guides would deny that the rooms beneath the student rooms on the East Lawn housed slaves, when it was clear in retrospect that they must have. No one talked about the fact that much of the original Jeffersonian plant was built with slave labor. And yet it was all around us. If you want an example of how screwed up America’s relationship to reality and its own history is, that’s as good as any.

Aside: the photo at the top of the post is of the front façade of the Pavilion because apparently no one takes pictures of the rear garden. It is emblematic of the history of slavery at the University that this staggeringly well-photographed Jeffersonian residence has very few photographs published of its back gardens and outbuildings. Even in the recent IATH project to create and render 3D models of the buildings, they appear to exist in a vacuum, without outbuildings.

Living (building) history: flat roofs on Lawn rooms

West Lawn (Pavilions I and III with student rooms), University of Virginia
West Lawn (Pavilions I and III with student rooms), University of Virginia

UVA Today: Jeffersonian Roofs Restored Over Lawn Rooms. When I lived at 3 West Lawn, there were pitched slate roofs over all the student rooms on the Lawn at the University of Virginia. Turns out that those roofs post-dated Jefferson. His original idea? Flat roofs. And the design was ingenious: Cover a serrated wooden roof with decking. The rain water would run down through the decking and run out through the valleys of the wood roofs. Kind of like this:

= = = = = = = = = =
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Unfortunately, Jefferson’s vision outstripped his engineering. The wood sub-roof leaked, damaging the roof over the colonnade walkway. So in the 1830s the flat roofs were covered over with pitched slate roofs.

What I find so fascinating about the story is the fact that Jefferson’s original roofs were preserved under the slate for 180 years. I also like this tidbit:

“All the single-leaf doors were replaced in the 1990s with new half-leaf doors,” Kutney said. “We’ve more recently found evidence that the single-leaf was the original Jefferson condition, so we’re going back to the single-leaf.”

When I was a student, I had a discussion with the late J. Murray Howard about the ongoing renovations of the Lawn, including his dismay that students damaged the paint of the doors on their Lawn rooms by hanging signs on them advertising various student activities. He didn’t appreciate my observation that the students who occupied the Lawn were the living embodiment of Jefferson’s vision just as much as the buildings, and that part of the vitality of that vision was the presence of advertising for the student groups who had gotten them to the Lawn in the first place. Howard was responsible for adding the half-leaf doors. It’s petty of me, but I like the reminder that even experts can be wrong.

It’s a wonderful world

P.D. Gwaltney, Jr and the world's oldest ham
P.D. Gwaltney, Jr and the world’s oldest ham

Every time I think about how awful this world is, I stop and think, there must be something that’s wonderful out there for me to discover. Today, it’s the Isle of Wight County Museum, which features as its star exhibit the World’s Oldest Smithfield Ham. Cured in 1902 and forgotten, the ham was rediscovered in a packing house 20 years later by P.D. Gwaltney Jr.

Gwaltney fashioned a brass collar for the ham and took it to shows and expos to exhibit the preservative powers of his smoking method. The ham was featured in Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” in 1929, 1932 and 2003.

The county museum web site, of course, features a Ham Cam. And there’s a contest to take the picture of Gwaltney and his ham to unusual places this summer: the Pan Ham.

House dressing, please

For people who eat sandwiches and who’ve spent time in Williamsburg or Charlottesville, two words are apt to cause rhapsodies of gastric nostalgia: “house dressing.” The Cheese Shop in Williamsburg and Take It Away in Charlottesville, both started by Tom and Mary Ellen Power (who were also responsible for the Cheese Shop in Hidenwood that I remember growing up), both feature deceptively simple sandwiches (home baked bread, meat, cheese, limited vegetables including sprouts, cucumbers, and recently, sundried tomatoes), and both feature the also-deceptively-named house dressing.

I’ve tried to create a version of this over the years (as have others), and came up with something I liked rather a lot based on a recipe posted on Food.com (which itself credits Epicurious, so who knows?):

  • 1 cup mayonnaise (use the good stuff)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon turbinado sugar (2 packets of Sugar-in-the-Raw)
  • fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds

Place mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, sugar and pepper in a blender or food processor. Start at a low speed and graduate up to a higher speed. You may need to turn off the blender once or twice and press out air the bubbles with a spatula to get it all blended well. Transfer the mix to a bowl. Stir in the 1 teaspoon of mustard seed. Put in a covered container and store in refrigerator overnight, to let flavors marry. After 24 hours, the spread is ready to use. Use as spread or dip for sandwiches. Enjoy!

The taste is quite good, especially on turkey sandwiches at Thanksgiving, but it’s not quite right.  I didn’t realize the disconnect until  I was able to visit Take It Away again a few times for reunions and grab another taste.

Fortunately, the point is rendered moot by the new availability of House Dressing in the jar, over the Internet. I’ll wait until cooler weather to order it and check it out, but maybe our long nightmare is over!

The mysterious history of Wafna

Wafna-tshirt

One of the most beloved traditions of the Virginia Glee Club is its mascot, the pink lawn flamingo affectionately named Wafna. She has been a tradition for “living memory,” meaning since before I was a member from 1990 to 1994. But how did such a rare and unusual bird become the mascot of a 145-year-old men’s chorus? The answer, surprisingly, is a little shrouded in mystery.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: yes, Wafna is named after the utterance of the drunken, angry, naked victim of the Abbot of Cockaigne in the “In taverna” part of Orff’s Carmina Burana:

…et qui mane me quaesierit in taberna
post vesperam nudus egredietur,
et sic denudatus veste clamabit:
Wafna, wafna! quid fecisti, Sors turpissima?
nostrae vitae gaudia
abstulisti omnia!

But how did the name get to be attached to a pink lawn flamingo? And when? The “why” is probably the association of the members of the Glee Club with naked drinking in taverns.

As to when: on March 1, 1987, the Glee Club performed Orff’s Carmina Burana together with the University Singers, the Virginia Women’s Chorus, and the Charlottesville University and Community Symphony Orchestra. By the fall of 1987, there was a pink flamingo named Wafna who hung out at 5 West Lawn. Who acquired the flamingo and who did the naming are lost to history, but it seems pretty certain to have happened between those dates.

What is not lost is Wafna’s continued role in Glee Club lore. Her most dramatic moment was the colonization of the Lawn with more than a dozen Wafna-alikes a few years ago, but she also lives on in tour tshirts (like the one at the top), cocktail glasses, bottle openers, and of course as a pink lawn flamingo, who appeared at events at the 145th anniversary reunion weekend to lift our spirits.

1953 “Christmas Carols”: “Advice to All Those Who Think That Being a Civil Engineer is the Greatest Form of Life”

1953-spectator-rudolph

In a follow up to the post about the 1953 Virginia Spectator and its booklet of ersatz carols, here’s one titled “Advice to All Those Who Think That Being a Civil Engineer is the Greatest Form of Life, or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Wahoo.” Just goes to show that the fine art of taunting the toolies—er, I mean, engineering students—is not new.

A few lyric references:

Slide rule: Precursor of the computer and electric calculator. Ask your dad.

The men of Rugby Road: Then as now, the center of fraternity parties. Presumably “first base” referred to socializing with women at fraternity parties, rather than “getting to first base” WITH a fraternity member; but you never know.

Thornton Hall: UVA engineering building.

“Punch”: UVA humor magazine of the 1940s and 1950s, sometimes appearing in the pages of the Spectator.

Rudolph the red-nosed wahoo,
Was a scroungy first-year man.
Oh how his slide rule hung out,
And oh how his nostrils ran.

He never got to first base
With the men of Rugby Road.
He settled for the worst place:
And at Thornton Hall he glowed.

Then one dreary Christmas eve
F. Scott’s ghost appeared:
“Rudolph with your nose so drippy
Try to act a bit more Chippy.”

Now he’s an English major,
He’s no longer out to lunch,
Sipping his dry martini,
And reading his last week’s “Punch.”

Christmas in June: the December 1953 Virginia Spectator

 

Cover, 1953 Virginia Spectator
Cover, 1953 Virginia Spectator

In the 1940s and 1950s, the former Virginia University Magazine / University of Virginia Magazine, the literary magazine at the University founded by the Washington and Jefferson Literary Societies, had become a men’s magazine in the mold of Esquire. Jokes, dating advice, and parodies ruled. But I’m not sure they ever exceeded the conceptual brilliance of the December 1953 issue (volume 115, number 4), also known as “The Misplaced Mistletoe Issue.” Featuring woodcuts (which we’ll look at another time), a Christmas story, and a suggestive cocktail themed cover, the whole package provides a humorous, if sexist, dose of holiday mirth.

The best bit of all is the eight page carol book, “A Treasury of Yuletide Song,” stapled into the center. Featuring such titles as “Lament of a Reindeer at Christmas Time,” “Advice to All Those Who Think That Being a Civil Engineer is the Greatest Form of Life, or Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Wahoo,” and “Sexual Misbehavior of a Female Reindeer, or I Saw Donner Kissing Santa Claus,” the apex (or nadir, depending) is “Wreck the Halls, Carouse, and Volley,” which ends with the admonition “Neck with molls and fraus of folly … Don’t forget to use protection / Oui-oui-oui, oui-oui-oui, oui-oui-oui! / Or you’ll get a bad infection, / V.D.D.D.D.D.D.D.D.” Besides making “Rugby Road” look tame, the songbook confirms that the early 1950s at Virginia were a different time.

Below is a relatively presentable excerpt from the songbook, showing that bourbon was not always the exclusive tipple of the Cavalier. Enjoy.

1953-spectator-verymerrygentleman

Remembering the fallen of UVA, summer of 1918

wheatley
Plaque given to the memory of Eugene Russell Wheatley, slain aviator and UVa student, as shown in the September 25, 1918 University of Virginia Alumni News

This Memorial Day, I found myself thinking about those who came before, and the ways in which they gave their lives to protect our country. As I went through my archives, one name that came out from the pages of a 1918 issue of the Alumni News was Eugene Russell Wheatley.

“Bus” Wheatley had the misfortune to be the first UVA engineering student to die in the First World War. Like his more well known predecessor James Rogers McConnell, he was an aviator. Unlike McConnell, who flew for the Lafayette Escadrille, Wheatley was a cadet in the Royal Flying Corps, the predecessor to the RAF. Both died for the war effort before the United States officially entered, in April 1917. In fact, Wheatley perished nine days short of a year after McConnell, on March 10, 1918, in the most ironic of accidents: while flying a training mission, his plane caught fire. T.J. Michie Jr. relays what happened next: “Rus managed to sideslip the machine down safely, but landed on a railroad track and was run over by a train, which I think is the worst luck I have heard of in the war.”

But where McConnell is famously memorialized in the Gutzon Borglum statue The Aviator, little save the plaque above brings Wheatley to our remembrance. Perhaps it is a difference in their respective statures at the University; where McConnell was King of the Hot Feet (and, apparently, a Seven), Wheatley was an engineering student, a member of Theta Delta Chi, who otherwise apparently kept to himself. That we remember McConnell is inevitable; we should spare a thought for Wheatley and others like him, who though less sweeping in their heroic gestures still made the ultimate sacrifice.