Thank You, William Ward Watkin!

I had a very big day today.

I’m working on a project about the earliest history of the campus, which means we’re back in the pictures that supervising architect William Ward Watkin took to document the construction of the first buildings. These are extremely valuable images–I’ve posted many here over the years–but they can also be quite mysterious. Even after hours spent squinting at them it’s often not at all clear what we’re looking at or from what angle. I always knew that we had all the negatives in another box but negatives are much harder to work with so I paid little attention. Today, though, I was desperate enough to go look in there and I discovered that Watkin had made beautiful, meticulous little indices of these negatives. They’re so small that they were invisible tucked down among the envelopes. Here’s what they look like:

Watkin Papers Box 10 Index to Folio 1

Suddenly, exhilaratingly, everything makes sense. Here, for example, is Folio 1, number 71. It’s the sallyport, taken from the west on April 15, 1911:

Watkin Papers Box 10 1_71 Apr 15 1911 Sallyport from west

Almost as thrilling, there are a substantial number of negatives that I’d never seen before because we don’t have them as prints.

If we didn’t lock the doors at 5:00 I’d still be at work.

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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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