100 years’ anniversary: James Rogers McConnell

Some members of the fighter squadron N.124, “l’Escadrille Américaine,” in May 1916. Corporal James Rogers McConnell is at the right. (Courtesy Air Force Times)

Yesterday was a solemn anniversary of sorts, covered in the Cavalier Daily (Ceremony honors 100th anniversary of alumnus’s death in WW I) and UVA Today (UVA Honors Inspiration for “Winged Aviator” Statue, 100 Years After His Death). I’ve written about McConnell before, both as student and martyr. On this hundredth anniversary of his slaughter, it seems fitting to reflect on his legacy and what he represents.

First, McConnell was at once the last and first of his kind. First because he was the first UVA student to be killed in that awful war; last because he was the last American airman killed before the United States officially entered the war April 6, 1917, just 18 days after his death. He was also effectively the last American warrior-as-adventurer, in the model of Teddy Roosevelt or the other early 20th century military leaders who held greater fame in civilian life.

Indeed, his decision to head to France, and later join the Escadrille after serving as an ambulance driver, is best read through the lens of Roosevelt as a role model. As he is quoted in the introduction to his memoir Flying for France, “These Sand Hills will be here forever, but the war won’t; and so I’m going.” But later he was converted to the belief of the absolute rightness of the French cause, and so he entered his combat role.

He was last in another way too—probably the last prominent UVA student to partake so fully of UVA’s extracurricular offerings. As King of the Hot Feet he was part of the University’s tradition of revelry; as one of the earliest known members of the Seven Society he was a founder of the tradition of more sober and secretive organizations that focused on good works.

The UVa Library has a comprehensive exhibit on McConnell’s life online, showing not only his letters home and artifacts from his plane and personal effects, but a memoir from his frequent correspondent Mademoiselle Marcelle Gúerin. Reading the material is a sobering reminder of a time when causes were just and consequences were mortal.

Cocktail Friday: Midwinters 1951 recipes

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I’m still working my way through the February 1951 Virginia Spectator, which has some interesting treasures beyond the Pogo-related content we wrote about yesterday. In particular, here’s a set of cocktail recommendations for Midwinters drinking, proving that straight bourbon and beer didn’t always prevail (though certainly “Mad Men” style sexism did).

In fact, as one might expect from the mid-century period, there’s no bourbon in any of these cocktails, or any dark liquor at all (aside from a little rum). None of these cocktails is fancy, but they’re mostly true to their models—with the possible exception of the fruit salad on the Zombie. Enjoy!

Martini

  • 1 part French Vermouth
  • 4 parts Dry Gin

Stir with cracked ice, strain and serve with stuffed olive.

Zombie:

  • 3/4 oz lime juice
  • 3/4 oz pineapple juice
  • 1 tsp. syrup
  • 1 oz white rum
  • 1 oz gold rum
  • 1 oz Jamaica rum
  • 1/2 oz demerara rum
  • 1/2 oz apricot liqueur

Shake violently, strain into 14 oz zombie glass, 1/4 filled with ice. Float splash of demerara on top. Spike 1 green cherry, 1 small pineapple stick, 1 red cherry on a toothpick, insert into drink, decorate with mint sprig, dust with powdered sugar.

Absinthe Drip

Pour a jigger of Absinthe into a drip glass, then place a cube of sugar over the drop hole in the upper section, pack with cracked ice, and pour cold water to fill the dripper. When all the water has dripped through you’re ready to deteriorate.

Daiquiri

  • Juice 1/2 lime
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 oz rum

Shake well with cracked ice and strain.

Champagne Cocktail

  • 1 cube sugar
  • champagne
  • 1 dash angostura bitters

Place sugar in glass and saturate with bitters. Pour chilled champagne over and serve without stirring.

Virginia Spectator: “February Pogo issue”

Virginia Spectator, February 1951
Virginia Spectator, February 1951

As previously mentioned, I now have my copy of the February 1951 Virginia Spectator, the “Pogo issue” of the University of Virginia student magazine that started out as the literary magazine (jointly published by the Jefferson and Washington Societies) but was by the 1950s more a college humor magazine with the occasional short story thrown in.

Calling this the “Pogo issue” is based on the incredible Walt Kelly UVa-themed cover (above) which I’ve discussed once or twice before, plus the inclusion of two articles: a biography of Walt Kelly and a discussion of the characters in his most famous comic strip. “The Land of the Elephant-Squash,” of which the first three pages are reprinted below, was later reprinted in the Okefenokee Star fanzine and in Fantagraphics reprint collections. “What Makes Pogo Tick?” is less often reprinted. Reading both, there is nothing to tie them to Virginia, but this appears to be the first time both appeared in print.

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I’ve scanned several more of the pages in the issue into this Flickr album. Enjoy…

Evaluating Paul Goodloe McIntire

Following yesterday’s link regarding the possible fate of the Confederate war statues donated to the City of Charlottesville by Paul Goodloe McIntire, I thought it might be worthwhile to dig a little deeper. Was McIntire, a huge donor to both the city and the University of Virginia, a virulent racist like composer and white supremacist John Powell

It seems many have been asking the same question, and as you might expect the evidence of his intent is a little murky. 

Let’s start with the facts. McIntire, after having made his fortune on the New York Stock Exchange, returned home to Charlottesville and started giving away that fortune. In addition to the school of fine arts, the amphitheater, and other gifts to UVA, he donated land and money for parks in Charlottesville, including two white-only parks (Belmont Park and McIntire Park). At the same time he donated the land for McIntire Park, he also donated the land for the all-black Washington Park.

Was he on the side of white supremacy? Or was he simply endowing all Charlottesville’s citizens, black or white, within the scope of the prevailing legal framework of “separate but equal”?

It’s hard to say. An article in CVille Weekly notes that “he did invite the Confederate Veterans, Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy to plan the statue’s [Lee’s] unveiling.” But given the heavy concentration of Confederate veterans in Virginia, was this like inviting the Klan or only like inviting the Disabled American Veterans?

I don’t know if we will ever get a good answer on this, given that people like Ben Railton and Waldo Jaquith have been plumbing it since 2009. But it’s worth continuing to remind ourselves that many who have been held up as civic heroes were also products of their times. And, with Railton, to remember that we have many public spaces dedicated to the narrow Confederate view of history, and to call for more reminders of how life was on the other side. 

“The Seven Joys of Mary”

I continue to make my way through the carols in “Songs from the Hill Folk,” a medley in this year’s Boston Pops program (see my write-up about Jesus, Jesus, rest your head from a few days ago). If “Jesus, Jesus” found John Jacob Niles conflating the roles of song collector and songwriter—as he also famously did with “I Wonder as I Wander”—then “The Seven Joys of Mary” finds him more firmly in song collector territory.

I’ve written before about English ballads and ballad collectors, and “Seven Joys” (also called the “Seven Blessings of Mary”) is one of those. The tune that Niles found in Cherokee County, North Carolina in 1933 is quite unlike other tunes for the song, but hews closely to the traditions of the “number song.” There were many earlier known versions, including “The Ferste Joye, As I 3ou Telle” from the fifteenth century in England. Later versions included the African American teaching song “Sister Mary’s Twelve Blessings” (published in the Tuskegee Institute Collection in 1883).

Coming back to “The Ferste Joye,” I note two facts with some delight. The first is that it (and its fellow fifteenth century variant “The Ferste Joye as I Zu Telle” are both full-on Middle English carols. The second is that the Hymns and Carols of Christmas site, from which I drew some of this research, recommends using the Junicode font for optimal viewing of the text. That font is created by none other than University of Virginia professor Peter S. Baker, who taught me Old English, and helped me read through Beowulf, more than twenty years ago.

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.

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:

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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:

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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.

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.

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Remembering the fallen of UVA, summer of 1918

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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.

What’s old is new

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UVA Today: Renovated Rotunda returns as element of UVA graduation. As promised, the University’s yearslong renovation of the Rotunda is wrapping up in time for students to begin using the new spaces in the fall. I’m excited by the progress and eager to see an old friend renewed, but I’m also a little wistful.

The picture above is from the tour of the Rotunda that I took Reunions weekend 2014. The tour allowed alums an unusual amount of access to the building, even including normally off limits rooms like the north clock room. That was because the interior had already been emptied in preparation for the second phase of the Rotunda’s renovation, which included major overhauls of many interior spaces… including the dome room.

I’m not especially nostalgic for the acoustic tile shown on the Rotunda ceiling in the photograph above, but it makes me somewhat melancholic that it’s gone—along with some other familiar features of the interior, like the double-curved ground floor staircase (introduced in a post-Jefferson renovation, and a copy of the ones Jefferson did design on the second floor). The Rotunda will still be there—but it will be changed in a thousand small ways.

But… that’s the passage of time, and the story of the University of Virginia as a whole. We want to hold onto the familiar, not recognizing that doing so may hold back progress. I’m really looking forward to students using the space again, and only a little melancholic about the loss of aspects of the space that will now only exist in my memory.

Back story: Paul Saunier and the integration of UVA

Following up on Don Loach’s comment on my post about Edwin S. Williams, the Virginia Glee Club‘s first black member, I dug into some of the back story. It turns out the Glee Club wasn’t the only organization helped through the pains of integration by UVA president Edgar F. Shannon’s assistant Paul Saunier.

An article in UVA Today about Saunier from 2014 gives the highlights of his career. Arriving at the University to advise Shannon about public relations, his first advice was that race was, in the early 1960s as the Civil Rights movement unfolded, the biggest single public relations issue that the University faced—and it couldn’t be fixed by PR alone.

One of the first targets was life on the Corner, almost entirely segregated in 1962—until Saunier visited merchants one by one and pointed out that, given the international enrollment at UVA, they might unwittingly be refusing service to a prince, resulting in a PR nightmare. The Corner, with the shameful exception of the White Spot, was duly integrated two years before required by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. One imagines that the conversation with the Route 29 truck stops went similarly, only backed up by the force of the newly passed act.

There’s plenty more in the article about the real, pragmatic work done by Saunier to ensure that black students not only matriculated but graduated. It’s well worth a read, and a realization that the transition from the UVA of minstrels and blackface didn’t become the diverse place it is today without considerable work. We owe a debt of thanks to Saunier for helping the University enter the modern era.