Thanksgiving in 1956 fell just after the rebellion in Hungary, begun as a student revolt, was crushed by the Soviet military. It was a somber time but American students rushed to raise relief funds, doing what they could to alleviate the suffering in any small way even as they gave thanks for their own blessings. Rabbi Schachtel was the speaker that year at the annual Rice Thanksgiving service, held across the street at Emanu El. I wish I knew what he said but we don’t seem to have any record of his remarks that day.
Bonus: Amidst all the sorrows of this strange year we are especially grateful for a new grandson. Forward we all go.
As we come to the end of one of the strangest semesters in Rice history, I find myself longing for a party–and I don’t even like parties. In 1932, they stayed up all the way until midnight (and don’t forget to tell your wife!)
Bonus: What can I say? The Circulation department is, as usual, way ahead of the rest of us.
I can no longer recall what began my immersion in 1927 but it’s sure a hard place to leave. The Roaring Twenties were really interesting, even at the little old Institute. The fads of the 1920s in particular were everything you hope for in a pointless craze. There was, of course, the great overalls fad of 1920, followed by the flopping galoshes a few years later. In 1927 bridge mania took over campus:
This is particularly interesting because unlike the short-lived rages for odd fashions the passion for bridge seems to have lasted, although in less virulent form, for many years. I can recall off the top of my head many photographs in the Woodson of students huddled around bridge tables, in the dorms, in the RMC, even in the library. Here’s one from the days when Sammy’s was in the basement of Fondren:
This one is even later, a familiar looking guy who seems to have drawn a bad hand:
I haven’t seen anyone playing bridge on campus for a long time but I really have no idea of what goes on inside the colleges. Maybe there are still holdouts somewhere.
Last week I spent some time digging around in old drawings looking for something I never found. But I also found something I never looked for–a drawing that had been heinously mislabeled. Normally it works out really well if you label the folder by looking down at the bottom right hand corner of the sketch and using the BIGGEST WORDS you find there. That was not the case here, though.
Here’s the label:
So I looked in there, expecting to see a sketch of a standing desk.
But it was no such thing. It’s sketch of an office partition with a long bronze grille that includes at bottom right a line showing the top level of an existing standing desk:
I’ve never seen so much as a hint of this space before. My best guess:
I mentioned last time how good–with one sorrowful exception–the Italian cypresses in the main quad are looking. All kidding aside, it’s really nice to see them apparently thriving. There’s another sad tree situation to report, though. The beautiful Chinese pistaches on the east side of the old Physics Building are coming to their own end. Here’s a photo I took of them in December of 2013:
About a month ago I turned that corner and was shocked to see the state they’re in now. I’m not a tree expert but this does not bode well:
So when I ran into a grounds guy a few days later I asked him about it. He didn’t know but in no time flat I got an email from Dawn Ehlinger, Rice’s chief arborist. I’m very grateful to her for taking the time to fill me in even though it’s bad news:
Good afternoon, Melissa. I’m Dawn Ehlinger, lead arborist here at Rice – we chatted a bit when I first got here back in 2019. Danny Kruse on our moving team says he ran into you and you asked about the very sad pistache trees. And they are very sad. And we know they’re very sad but unfortunately we can’t fix them.
They are a Texas Superstar plant – drought tolerant, put up with heavy clay, lovely fall color, just an all around good tree – and I routinely recommend them to people wanting to put a new tree in at their homes. One thing they can’t handle? Aggressive bark stripping by our campus squirrels. The squirrels like those trees in particular because they have “Goldilocks” bark that is neither too hard nor too soft. They nibble for a number of reasons…this tree produces a sugary sap that they appreciate, there is some thought that it may be territorial marking, and importantly their teeth continually grow and must be ground down. And our squirrels are – ahem – somewhat portly from people feeding them everything from bread to peanuts. That food is soft relative to their normal diet and it makes them need to knaw even more that they typically would. If it were just a little munching here and there the trees would shake it off. We have so many squirrels, though, and they follow each other. If one does it, others will too. All those wounds not only disrupt the vascular system of the tree, they are entry points for pathogens particularly fungus. Over time branches are girdled and fail, cankers develop all over, destructive insects move in, and eventually the trees will die.
There’s nothing really to be done to stop or prevent the squirrel damage that is the genesis of the decline spiral for the trees. It would be great if there was a repellant or something that made the tree taste bad, or a hawk or owl took up residence nearby, or someone quite bored who hung around there all the time with a pellet gun and pinged them in the butt every time they got caught in the pistaches until they stopped. In the absence of that, we just plan to keep removing dead bits until there’s basically nothing left. One of the three will probably come out this winter and we will just keep limping the others along for as long as we can.
Well, this is a bummer but remember, once upon a time there used to be big fat palm trees in the general area:
Bonus: Whenever those pistachio leaves turn yellow I always remember this picture from the winter 2004 issue of the Sallyport.
I try not to burden you all with too much Tsanoff correspondence but I never touch one of these letters without feeling almost overwhelming gratitude that they fell into my hands. Even though most of them are fairly mundane all are shot through with wide ranging intellectual curiosity, the warmth of commitment to family and colleagues, and even love and happiness. They are, in short, a blessing amidst the turmoil of our times. This letter below, though, is not mundane. It was written by Radoslav in the early fall of 1921 while his family was away in Colorado for an extended visit. He had moved in to what was then called the Faculty Tower just as the students were returning to campus. The sound of jazz (which he did not enjoy) drifting up to his room from the Commons triggered a memory of his own first day away from his family, fifteen years old and far from Bulgaria at the Robert School in Constantinople. His telling here captures beautifully the mingled emotions of leaving home and standing at the edge of something new and possibly great, a mingling that surely continues to this day:
Back in 2017 I wrote a quick and dirty post about this picture, memorable mostly for the discussion in the comments about the instrument sitting on its side in front of the banjo player, apparently a Chinese lute:
But then after all this time out of the blue last week came another comment from someone I didn’t know named Kevin Coffey:
I am pretty certain that this photo is NOT Lee’s Owls. That certainly is not Lee Chatham on trombone. There are several early photos of the group, in yearbooks and elsewhere (here is a photo of the band from a 1926 Valentine’s Dance https://scholarship.rice.edu/handle/1911/71448 ) and the personnel remained fairly consistent, with some non-Rice ringers and a few guys leaving upon graduation. The above photo appears to be from earlier than 1925 and I wonder if it might depict Eddie’s Syncopators, who are mentioned as predecessors of Lee’s Owls in the 1925 article quoted above (the article above misidentifies Joe Jarrett as a tuba player — he played trumpet).
This was quite surprising, especially considering what was written on the back of the picture:
Still, that comment had the unmistakable air of having been written by someone who knows what he’s talking about. So I wrote him back, and thus began a couple of happy days of working out the solution to the problem of who those guys are were. The credit all belongs to Mr. Coffey, an amateur historian of the best kind, meticulous, knowledgable, motivated by love and curiosity. It was a pleasure to give him what little help I could. Watch him working his way through it and learn a lot about Rice dance bands of the 1920s, an otherwise totally unexplored topic:
Have had a go at the photo. After cross referencing the names, including Heyck’s, with faces from yearbooks, etc., I’ve concluded that my initial feeling before I knew that the photo was in some way associated with Joseph Heyck, that it was earlier than the mid-20s was in fact correct — and that it’s not only not Lee’s Owls, but not the Rice Collegians or Eddie’s Syncopatrors, either. I’m not sure if Joe Heyck is even in the photo, which might be why his widow was glad to part with it. His brother Theo might be, but the one person I can ID for certain at this point is the pianist, who is Neal Dargan, a 1922 graduate of Rice who was apparently in the Engineering school with Theo Heyck. And I think the photo probably comes from around that time. WIll keep digging and let you know if anything interesting comes up.
I have the answer to the photo mystery. I was right about some things — that it preceded the Rice Collegians and that that is Neal Dargan at the piano — and wrong about others — Joe Heyck is in the photo and it’s from 1924 rather than earlier, as I had thought it might be after identifying Dargan.
Anyway, the photo and description shows up in The Thresher, May 3, 1924, page 3
The band is the Rice Troubadours, a recently organized dance orchestra which had even more recently been expanded from five to eight pieces.
They are, front row, L-R: George Wright, trombone; Joe Taylor, trumpet; Eddie Shearer, banjo; Joe Heyck, saxophone; Charles Pace, saxophone. Rear, L-R: R.T.T Wilbanks, brass bass; Wilmer Fischer, drums; Neal Dargan, piano.
I love it when things come together, when a mystery item can actually be fully documented.
I love it too. And we’re still not quite finished. This is me to him, October 26:
Just fyi, I was going about it in a completely different way. Looking at the picture I wasn’t sure where it was taken, but there were only a limited number of options in Houston in the mid-20s. I’m still not certain but in searching the venues I thought I might find who was playing in them. Based on Neal Dargan’s graduation date I started by going backwards. I didn’t find the Rice Troubadors but I did find something else—the Joy Spreaders!
And Mr. Coffey back to me, also on the 26th:
I did the same thing, also basing it on Neal Dargan’s graduation date. As always happens with any search engine, some important hits slipped through the search and it was only when I did an alternative search (I think the term I used was “dance orchestra”) and started looking a bit after Dargan’s graduation that I bumbled into finding the Troubadours photo in the Thresher. However, as I said, my initial search was similar to yours and I did find numerous references to the Joy Spreaders, from the fall of ’21 into 1924.
My search wasn’t exhaustive and I might have missed some blurbs that listed the personnel of the group, but the only one I found that directly mentioned band members was an early one that listed them as Humason, piano (presumably Lawrence Humason), Campbell on drums (presumably the ubiquitous J.I. Campbell), and Jarrett on saxophone. I didn’t do a cross-reference to find Jarrett’s first name, but I will. I’m assuming that the personnel changed over the next couple of years, with possibly Campbell as the unifying factor, but that’s just a guess. There were programs that the Joy Spreaders were on in 1923, for example, that also featured solo spots by Arthur (Slime) Zucht, piano and W.L. (Lindsey) Hale on saxophone and they may have become members of the Joy Spreaders in that period (both they and Campbell would graduate to subsequent Rice dance/jazz bands after the Joy Spreaders petered out of existence in the first half of 1924.
Did you find any listings for the Joy Spreaders that listed the musicians? It’d be great if a photo surfaced. I haven’t looked to see if any are in the yearbooks of 1922-24 period.
It was fun to see the occasional snide remark here and there about jazz music in the columns (there was a great reference, I think from very early — maybe 1920 — criticizing SMU for using a “third-rate jazz band” as their band at the football games while Rice already had a true marching band (I don’t think SMU got a bonafide and permanent marching band until Cy Barcus came along in about 1924). There was also an opinion piece that criticised the marching band for playing some jazz, saying there should be a clear demarcation and that the jazz should be left dance bands like the Joy Spreaders.
This is so fun.
Bonus: And while we’re talking about fun, I made Mr. Rice History Corner drive me over to see Placido Gomez’s house the other day. It’s tucked in a back corner of the neighborhood and didn’t look occupied but my heart sang when I saw the basketball hoop right in front of it. It’s actually out on the street.