To Sidney Burrus: Teacher, Friend, Colleague

When I heard last weekend that Sidney Burrus had died I felt simply heartsick, bogged down with grief. Sid was the person most responsible for me staying at Rice after I graduated. People are often surprised to learn that my first real job here was as a post-doc in the School of Engineering. This odd career trajectory says much more about Sidney than it does about me. His relentless curiosity and willingness to come at things from unexpected angles was one of his defining characteristics and it led him to think that having a historian around the Dean’s office might be of some value. I don’t know if that’s so but he remained always an enthusiastic supporter, friend, and resource. I won’t recite again the facts and figures of his brilliant career (you can find those here and here) but I do want to say a small bit about what he’s meant to Rice, and what Rice meant to him.

It was my great good fortune to be called on to help with the task of emptying his office in Abercrombie, itself about to meet its maker. And as soon as I was in there I began to feel better, rather cheerful again and filled with gratitude that I got to be on the Earth at the same time as Sid. Cleaning out someone’s office is always an education, no matter how well you knew the person, and this was no exception. Delightful discoveries were everywhere. There were drawers full of carefully organized files of his academic work dating back to graduate school, which beautifully revealed the evolution of his scholarly ideas. I also discovered that Sid didn’t read things online. He found things online, then printed them out and read them on paper. This paper was not so carefully organized–it seems to have just collected and the sheer scope of what he read is amazing. Yes, there was engineering and science and technology but also many pieces about the future of the American university, about religion, about social policy of all kinds. I even found some Foucault! And most unusual were his books. In the offices of retired faculty the books tend to be old and outdated, useless but dustily preserved by inertia. Sid’s books, in contrast, were quite current, a reflection of his constantly forward-looking mind.

And yet. There was single shelf’s worth of old volumes. It was there that I came upon something that seems to me very lovely. Because as deep as Sidney’s drive to move forward was even to the end of his life, he always carried something of the old Rice with him. I already knew this, gleaned from conversations over many years. But in this one object I found a tangible demonstration of the ties of respect and love that have been shared by successive generations of Rice students and faculty.

It was this book, published in 1960 by Paul Pfeiffer, ’38, who was one of Sid’s teachers here:

Inside, this note. Sidney Burrus, ’57, ’58, ’60 had only just graduated when it was written:

Then I turned the page once more to discover that Pfeiffer had dedicated the book to James Waters, ’17, professor of electrical engineering, who had been Paul Pfeiffer’s own teacher at Rice:

Sid Burrus, rest in peace.

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“to anticipate and plan for problems of the future” : Art Busch and The Birth of Environmental Studies at Rice

One of the more underused resources in the archives is the collection of Rice Institute Pamphlets, our own scholarly journal, which became Rice University Studies after we became Rice University in 1960. There’s a lot of miscellany in these volumes but if you read them in order you’ll wind up with a pretty good education in the intellectual history of the institution.  I’ve been doing just this over the past few weeks, rereading them without being in any particular hurry to answer some pressing question as I typically would have been in the past. One of the articles that I probably would have skipped over before was a 1967 piece by Professor Art Busch, part of a special issue on environmental studies. Busch arrived at Rice in 1955 as an assistant professor of Civil Engineering. Here he is in an undated image from around that time, which looks to have been taken in the old Engineering Annex that was replaced by Ryon Lab. Note the tantalizing but unhelpful calendar behind him:

Busch’s Rice University Studies article describes the genesis of environmental science and engineering at Rice and the shifts that had taken place in its institutional evolution up to that point. He also elucidates a pretty aggressive intellectual framework for the training of students in the field, which I find both clear and compelling. Here’s a pdf (click on it to read the whole thing):



Busch, deeply committed to the pursuit of solutions for real world environmental problems, stayed at Rice until 1971 when he was appointed a regional administrator of the EPA in Dallas. This was apparently a rather shocking development, described by one columnist as the equivalent of Ralph Nader joining the board of General Motors.

Here are a couple of items I found in his clipping file, one of the most interesting info files I’ve ever come across. He was a busy guy, and clearly a forthright one:

And the reaction from a local radio station, KXYZ (of which I had never heard–but which has a colorful history)

Here’s one more image of Busch, this one dated 1964, which I am inclined to believe. My question is, where is he? I’m guessing somewhere in Mech Lab.


Bonus: Speaking of Mech Lab, renovations are in full swing.

Extra Bonus: If a tree falls and there’s no one on campus does it make a sound?

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The Light Abruptly Dawns

A couple weekends ago I had to go to campus for a few minutes and I got Mr. Rice History Corner to drive me over there. As we were leaving through Gate 2, I blurted out “stop! back up quick!” Which he did, as he is a generally agreeable fellow. I jumped out, surprised, elated, and laughing, and took a bunch of pictures of this:

See it? It’s the definitive answer to this problem, noticed first at entrance 2 of the Main Gate in November, 2017:

What are these rectangles?

We had pretty well decided that there must have been poles in there to allow us to hang chains across the entrance but this seals it. I did have to poke around with my shoe to make sure there was concrete under the dirt at Gate 2 and indeed there is:

I leave by this gate with some frequency yet never noticed the poles before, I suppose because I was driving. It simply never occurred to me to go over there and look back in 2017.  I do note with some irony that only two weeks before I noticed the rectangles behind the Main Gate I wrote a long post about Gate 2, but I was completely focused on its front side, trying to explain this picture:

Bonus: I love this tiny little cypress, looking like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree out in the quad. I’m rooting for it! (I’m not completely sure, by the way, that it’s the same kind as the others. It looks the same but different, if you know what I mean.)



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“I am faithful only to love,” 1930

So this got started when I ran across a little snippet in the Houston Post about the 1918 Rice Institute garden party. I paid attention mostly because although I’ve seen many images of the annual garden parties given in honor of the graduating seniors I’d never before seen a detailed description of one. It’s quite interesting:

This prompted me to go look for anything else I could find about the party. My first stop was the folder holding materials on the 1918 commencement. There wasn’t anything helpful in there. I was genuinely startled, though, when this fell out from in between two programs:

Well, now. Although I am dubious about the sentiment I don’t hate this poem and have read many worse ones. There isn’t a hint of who wrote it and I don’t recognize the handwriting. My best guess is that it was someone from the class of 1918. These commencement files sometimes became repositories for odd bits and pieces, often acquired at reunions, and that might explain the 1930 date. So I think the author must have been one of these rascals–and if you’ve been paying attention you should recognize quite a few of the names. (I’ve got my eye on Camille Waggaman, for a couple of reasons. Go check the link and you’ll get an idea why I’m suspicious.)

By the way, I did find this photo that purports to have been taken at the 1918 garden party. That can’t be right, though, as the main subject, physicist Arthur Hughes, would have been doing anti-submarine work in England in June of that year. He returned to Rice in January, 1919 so it must have been taken that spring:

Hughes went on to a long, successful career at Washington University in St. Louis. Here’s a link to his biography at their Physics Department site but even better is this personal essay:



I’d say I wish we could have kept him but we probably didn’t have the resources to use him as effectively as Washington University did.

Bonus: They’re always cheerful over in Chemical Engineering.

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“Splendid Helpfulness in the Upbuilding of Texas,” 1912

In preparation for Rice’s formal opening in 1912, invitations were delivered to institutions of higher learning all over the world. Some of these schools sent representatives, others regretted their inability to attend but offered their best wishes and congratulations with elaborate certificates. There’s a big box of these in the Woodson and after watching it sit quietly on the shelf for the last thirty years I finally decided to open it up and see what’s in there.

There are a lot of them, from places far and near:

They aren’t really all that interesting, as there isn’t any variety in the messages. The best thing about them is how they look, which is varied and sometimes pretty cool. Here’s one from the Royal Academy of Sciences in Bologna–I was taken by the seal at the top, which you need to zoom in on to get a good look at. When I first saw it I thought it was a doorknob, but it’s not. “Mens agitat, ” I believe, means the mind moves:

Closer to home, the University of Texas sent their greetings on a simple and beautiful hand lettered piece of vellum:

The thing that caught my eye, though, came from an institution I’d never heard of, the Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning:

Dropsie College was itself a new institution, chartered in 1907 , and opening, like Rice, in 1912. Dedicated to graduate study and research in Jewish studies and related areas, it was not a theological school. It attracted quite a distinguished faculty and after a series of administrative changes it survives today as the Katz Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Bonus: Leave it to the French to send their congratulations in a silk lined leather case.

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I Could Have Saved Myself A Lot of Trouble

I’m actually out of town on a ski trip–just got some sweet new cross country gear–but apparently I should have just stayed home:

Many thanks to loyal reader and intrepid photographer Owlcop for this morning’s pictures of a cold, snowy campus. My favorite is this one of Reckling Field, which looked so gloriously spring-like just last week:

Bonus: Here’s Anne Marie Smith ’38, sporting after a big snowfall that spring. She was Phi Beta Kappa, by the way, and graduated with Honors in History.

Also notice that they didn’t cancel classes.



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“Looking N.W. From Main Ent. 2-10-13”

I’ve been browsing through some old images this morning and noticed that this photograph was taken precisely 108 years ago:

This was the state of affairs four months after the formal opening. Yikes. And it looks to have been exactly the same kind of sodden day as it is today.

Bonus: It was beautiful, though, last week when I came in to campus for my covid test. (It was negative.) I had to go out to the Roost to get it done and Reckling looked just immaculate. There’s always something heartening about a baseball field.



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R Formation, 1927

With the Woodson closed I’ve been digging around in my laptop quite a bit and I keep being surprised by what’s in there. This image of the band, dated 1927, stopped me in my tracks just now:

Those uniforms were really spectacular and I bet they allowed a relatively small band make a big impression, as here on a visit up to A&M:

But what caught my attention was something else altogether. See where they are? It’s here, just to the left of this little rarely photographed spot I was worrying about last summer. Where they’re standing is just out of this frame to the left:

Yeah, I know it’s not much but it kind of made my afternoon. Go here for the original post about what else we can see across Main Street in this 1918 image right above.

Bonus: What was I doing on February 1, 2017? It appears I was nosing around in Abercrombie, checking on some renovations. I don’t remember this but it certainly seems right.

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Scouting Report, 1929

So I’m idly leafing through someone’s scrapbook, thusly:

And suddenly here appears a guy, ninety-one years ago, just hanging out with his boys, relaxing with a little with a nice game of leap frog and the next thing you know he’s grabbed by the track coach and dragooned into competition:

It doesn’t look like it stuck for long, though. Manuel isn’t listed as a member of the track team after this but he was a pretty big deal in other ways. He belonged to the Rally Club (which might explain the leapfrog) and was president of the band and a saxophonist in Lee’s Owls. I think he’s fourth from left:

Lee’s Owl Band, popular dance band started by Lee Chatham, Rice Institute

He also turns up in this image from Homecoming in 1951, where he organized a Lee’s Owls reunion:

Lee’s Owls performing during Homecoming sign-up, Rice Institute 1951

Bonus: Here’s the sharp-eyed and sharp dressed Coach Hjertberg, circa 1929.

Coach Ernie Hjertberg, Rice Institute

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Glee Club, 1954

I can’t remember where I first came across this 1954 photograph of Rice’s Glee club but I certainly do recall why I bothered to scan it–those wonky light fixtures instantly caught my eye. So before I thought about who is in the picture I was wondering where it was taken, something I’m still not sure about:

The picture would have been taken just after Arthur Hall (at the piano) arrived on campus to inaugurate a school of music. He set right to work, teaching a class in music appreciation and starting glee clubs for both girls and boys. Hall also took over direction of the annual faculty Gilbert and Sullivan production, which was a pretty big undertaking. Rather than have me recite Hall’s accomplishments, take a look at this article written at the time of his retirement from Rice in 1974. He sounds like a wonderful man, and I can’t help but notice that he somehow seems younger in 1974 than he did in 1954, which I suspect says something very positive about his character:

I’ve mentioned Hall here before, in connection with the organ in the chapel, but I didn’t realize until today the we have his papers in the Woodson. They look awfully interesting and I pledge to investigate as soon as we open up for business again.

Bonus: Anybody know where that top picture was taken? It has to be somewhere they kept  a piano lying around, maybe the basement of Fondren?

Extra Bonus: I was just now leafing through the 1954 Campanile for clues to that room location and I stopped to look at the page for the Rice Hillel chapter. Here are the officers:

I mention this because I happen to know one thing about Morton Rudberg off the top of my head: he had the measles in 1951. Check out this 2018 post for the explanation. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve completely wasted my life.



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