That’s how Arthur Benjamin Cohn signed everything.

I’ve mentioned him several times before, always in passing and always in connection with some odd thing that turned up in his papers, but he deserves more respectful treatment. As Rice’s first (and William Marsh Rice’s last) business manager and assistant secretary to the board, Mr. Cohn was one of the mainstays of the early Institute. Happily, the other day I ran across a draft of the memorial resolution passed by the board (almost certainly written by Dr. Lovett) after his death in 1938:

AB Cohn tribute 1

AB Cohn tribute 2


I’ve always regretted that we have no photograph of Mr. Cohn. But yesterday as I sorted through some early construction photos I suddenly realized that we do. Present at the very beginning, Cohn is on the far left in this image of the laying of the Administration Building’s cornerstone. I think he cuts quite a dashing figure:

Watkin laying Admin cornerstone March 1911






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The Overall Fad, 1920

I was out of town at the end of last week and when I got back I discovered that the Woodson had acquired a new scrapbook. For reasons that are too dull to go into I  don’t know right this minute who put it together (I’ll find out soon) but I believe it was made by Norman Hurd Ricker, ’16, ’17, ’20 when he was a Ph.D. student and an instructor in the Physics Department, roughly 1918 until 1920. In any event it clearly belonged to someone who was an instructor and it’s pulse-quickeningly good.

RI Scrapbook 20s cover

The images mostly record the campus in a careful documentary way but they also provide a wonderful glimpse into the activities of the youngest teachers on campus, the bachelor fellows and instructors who lived together in the Faculty Tower. Here’s a small taste, what looks to be quite a happy goof, the great Overall Fad of the Spring of 1920:

RI scrapbook overall fad


It might be time for an overall revival.

Much more to come.

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Where The Heck Is This?? (With Musicians)

One of my colleagues was recently working with some Campanile photos from the 1980s. I had a couple of good laughs (category: facial hair) but then was stopped in my tracks by two shots of the Shepherd School faculty. The first one, dated 1983, is in an unremarkable room, but there’s a small stage in it:

Shepherd School partial faculty 1983


I have no idea where that was — it could be absolutely anywhere but it kind of feels basement-ish to me. But the next one, taken in 1987 in what looks to be the same cramped room, only deepens my usual confusion. Windows! Are those really windows on the left?

Shepherd SChool 1987 unknown room


I’m not even going to try to figure this out myself.

Where is this?

And while we’re at it, does anyone know what became of the screen at the back?

Bonus: L1000508


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Friday Afternoon Follies: Out of Order?

I found this (undated, of course) buried amidst the massive amount of material that came over from the RMC recently. Are they trying to tell us that the elevator is broken?

RMC sign board 2 nd


There’s another one. This one makes me suspect that the inmates were running the asylum:

RMC sign board nd

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Father William Harmless, SJ, 1953-2014

Bill Harmless 1973 Campanile

My friend Bill Harmless (Baker, ’75) died suddenly the other night. He was a remarkable person, relentlessly curious, engaged and engaging. After graduating from Rice with a degree in English he joined the Peace Corps, then the Jesuits. I first met him when he arrived as a faculty member at my alma mater, Creighton University, and was lucky enough to spend hours in conversation with him about whatever caught our fancy. (Good heavens, he could talk! Seriously. There were no short conversations with Bill Harmless.) He loved his time at Rice, especially time spent with Dr. Charles Garside, who he grew to resemble in his impact on students. He was a gifted teacher and a gifted scholar and I will miss him terribly.

The best thing I’ve read about him is this blog post written by one of his colleagues at Creighton. Take a look.

William Harmless, SJ. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine on him.

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The Early History of Treason

A few weeks ago a little bird came in and told me where I might find a room full of very interesting books. I went and she was right. Many of these beautiful old books turned out to have belonged to the collection of Dr. Floyd Seward Lear, who taught in Rice’s history department from 1925 until his retirement in 1975. (The Woodson, happily, is home to his papers. You can find the guide along with a brief biography here.) For my purposes the best find was the typescript of Dr. Lear’s own 1925 Harvard dissertation, which has one of the best dissertation titles I’ve ever seen: The Early History of Treason. That, it seems to me, is a title that is just begging for a novel to be written around it.

Lear dissertation

It’s also fairly common in my line of work to discover that the most interesting thing about a bunch of books is what the owners have stashed inside them. Inside many of these were  receipts for their purchase, including many bought at the Rice campus store. Here, for example, is a volume he bought on September 24, 1960:

campus store receipt

And here’s the receipt—for $5.40.

campus store receipt 2


I very much enjoy the thought of Dr. Lear walking over to the RMC, maybe on a day late enough in September that it was beginning to cool off, and finding himself unable to resist yet another copy of the New Testament in Latin (this one with English on facing pages).

Bonus: I recently came across some pictures taken at Dr. Lear’s retirement reception in Cohen House. Here he is with his student, later his colleague, Katherine Fischer Drew:




I confess that I don’t know who the gentleman at left is, but to his right is historian Frank Vandiver, a woman I expect is Mrs. Lear, historian Andrew Forest Muir and Dr. Lear:



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The Mace

Digging around in a box of semi-centennial records I came across a short memo from Historian Sanford Higginbotham to the newly arrived President Pitzer. Apparently we had recently acquired a mace—the institution’s symbol of authority—but had not yet quite determined how to operate it:

Semicentennial mace


This made me curious enough to go look for more information and I was lucky enough to find this explanatory letter from Carl Macdowell, who served as assistant to more Rice presidents than anyone should have to:

Mace letter Carl McDowell 1985

Unlike Carl, I have picture of the mace, which is now kept in the reception area between the president’s office and the provost’s office under the watchful eye of both William Marsh Rice and Pauline Warren:

Mace 2014


Bonus: Here I am with Carl at a Glasscock School event in about 2003. Note my intent expression: I believe this is when he was telling me where the bodies are buried.

Me and Carl 2003 Glasscock School 35th

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