Lions (And Pots) By Lassig (Now with Correction)

I spent a completely unjustifiable amount of time this afternoon digging through piles of bids, contracts, specs and change orders for the construction of the Mech Lab and power plant in 1910-11. I was down so far in the weeds I needed a machete to get out. Pointless? Probably. But life is short and I was enjoying myself. I’d only ever glanced at this material in the past and this time it made a lot more sense.

This was the find of the day:

Oswald Lassig order for cement vases


At first I was stumped by “tree vases” then I realized that these are the pots that I love so much. The square ones, like the one visible right next to the Physics Building, must have been just regular old tree vases:

1917 commencement section 2


And the fancy ones that people liked to pose with have to be the special tree vases:

1920 commencement pot

Two things about the order were arresting. First, Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson went to the trouble to design tree vases for the campus—that’s a pretty small detail but they went so far as to design a Rice automobile pennant, so probably not so surprising. Second, the contractor charged with executing the design was Oswald Lassig, the stone carver responsible for the decoration of the early buildings. (I realized today that I’ve never written about him here. I’ll remedy that as soon as I can.)

It reminded me of another photograph I scanned quite some time ago but never found a use for. This is the front of Wiess House, undated. On the back it says only “Lions by Lassig.” I wonder what happened to them.

Wiess House with lions by Lassig nd


Bonus: I don’t know what this is.


Corrections Are Issued: Thanks to the estimable Stephen Fox, I now know that that is not in fact Wiess House but rather the estate of Commodore Perry in Austin. (The lions are still by Lassig.) The Rice History Corner regrets, but is not particularly surprised by, the error.

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What Fueled The Power Plant?

I came across something interesting in Dr. Lovett’s papers today that makes me think it might have been oil. There are almost no photographs in this collection, with the exception of two folders of images submitted to him by Wilmer Waldo, the site engineer. I sort of vaguely knew they were there but hadn’t seen them in quite a while. When I looked today I saw them with new eyes.

A while back we had a discussion about the power plant, driven by this photo with a tanker  car visible behind the building at left:

Mech Lab 1912 with train car

I immediately thought of it again when I saw these two images, both taken on December 1, 1911. Both are clearly labeled. The first shows the interior of an oil tank under construction:

Oil tank interior December 1 1911 EOL papers 11


The next one shows the exterior forms:

Oil tank exterior form December 1 1911 EOL papers 11

There was also a water tank buried right next to it:

Water tank completed December 1 1911 EOL papers 11


This might explain the rather quick disappearance of the two towers at the left here. The taller one was gone before the opening and the shorter one lasted only a little longer:

Water tower November 1 1911 EOL papers 11


There’s a reasonably good chance that the original specs for the plant are around. I’ll go look for them when I have some time.

Bonus: More stairs.


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Olajuwon in The Physics Amphitheater

I’ve written before about the terrific utility of the physics amphitheater as the site for all kinds of lectures and other events in addition to regular classes but I was still startled by this:

Olajuwon Dimensions of Islam

All appearances to the contrary I don’t believe he was teaching physics. I think it was a talk for a Continuing Studies class on Islam. Looks like pretty good crowd turned out. I don’t know the date.

Olajuwon 1


Bonus: Stairs.


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Friday Afternoon Follies: M-I-C


Found this in a group of slides that were used for alumni road shows:

Mickey Mouse nd 70s slide collection

It’s undated and I’m hoping it’s not a dorm room. I do admire the insouciance though.

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Sammy Switcheroo, 1950s

I got a lot of emails asking for more Sammy, so since I usually (well, at least “often”) aim to please, here y’all go.

As I mentioned yesterday, while we have the basic outlines of the Sammy story and some great anecdotes, there are still some pieces that need to be filled in. For example, we are quite certain that for many decades Sammy was a thing rather than a person in an owl suit. What isn’t always clear is when or why that thing changed form. The most puzzling instance of this occurred in the mid to late 1950s, when two different Sammys seemed to exist at nearly the same time. Here’s one:

Sammy 6 ca 1960


And here’s the other (with Rice Librarian Hardin Craig, Jr., a good sport if I ever saw one):

Hardin Craig Jr with owl


I’d looked at these in the past but had never figured out a way to date them precisely. Then right before yesterday’s talk, I pulled out an old Owen Wister Literary Society scrapbook for an unrelated purpose and this almost leapt off the page:

Sammy Stolen fall 1955

Note that whoever took the trouble to clip this out and paste it into a book did not also make sure to date it. (Don’t do that!) Context tells me, though, that this was written in the fall of 1955. You can see that it’s the owl pictured with Hardin Craig, suggesting that that image was the earlier one.

I still don’t know the whole story (is this the same owl that was stolen by some Aggies and painted maroon and white?) but knowing this date will make it possible to figure more of it out.



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Sammy Through The Ages

Karen Rogers, ’68 and I gave a talk today about the history of Sammy. There’s a lot of material about Sammy spread across all kinds of collections and this was the first time we’d ever tried to pull even a little bit of it together. It all turned out to be pretty interesting, with lots of twists and turns, drama, tragic demises, a surprisingly large number of kidnappings and not a few loose ends and unanswered questions.

Here, for example, is a very odd sequence of negatives taken quite near the beginning of the “Sammy as a Person in a Costume” era, which began in 1970:

Sammy 70s sequence 1

Sammy 70s sequence 2

Sammy 70s sequence 3

One of the astute listeners at the talk suggested that it may have been homecoming and that the mysterious box in the first image could be a case of beer. Closer inspection reveals that to be exactly the case. But why the barefoot fellow dressed like a pregnant woman? Could be the Arkansas game, I suppose.

Bonus: Sammy actually showed up in person! I confess I enjoyed seeing everyone in the room line up to get their picture taken with him.


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Ruth Young, ’23

We made it home from vacation last night so–fair warning–I’m rested and ready to get back at it.

I’ve had happy occasion recently to revisit the 1923 Campanile. In my judgement it’s one of the very best ever produced, mainly because of the exceptionally fine illustrations. I’ve always enjoyed this witty black and white panel, which reveals a pretty sophisticated sense of humor for an undergraduate. The first time I saw it I laughed so hard I snorted:

1923 Campanile Administration

The color pages that were placed at the beginning of each section are even richer. Here’s just one striking example:

1923 Campanile Ruth Young illustration

As I looked through these again I began to wonder about the person who drew them. A quick look was all it took to find that it was a young woman, Ruth Young. When I turned to her senior picture I became even more curious. Do you see why?

1923 Campanile Ruth Young

1923 Campanile Ruth Young bio

Ruth Young was the first woman to graduate with an architecture degree from Rice. It turns out that we have a collection of her professional drawings in the Woodson, and oddly enough I had unknowingly put my hands on them only the week before.

Here’s a link to a wonderful article about her in the Handbook of Texas Online by our own Stephen Fox. Take a look. It’s a nice story.

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