A Mystery Solved

For roughly the last year I’ve had two pictures stuck right next to each other on the desktop of my computer. About once a week I look at them intently and ponder. Here’s the first one, undated but found in the Bud Morehead collection which suggests early 1980s:


And the second, taken myself in July of 2015 while on a lovely tour of Autry House and Palmer Church with Patrick Hall and Michael LaRue:


That’s quite a photogenic little owl, isn’t it? And that’s exactly what I was aiming to capture. It was only when I got back and had a better look at all the pictures from that day that I noticed the Texas Historical Commission plaque. This is just the sort of niggling little detail that tends to drive me nuts but I never had enough spare time to track down when the thing went up. (Yes, I know that somewhere somehow there’s a simple way to find the answer but I have no interest whatsoever in simple answers.)

Then last week while searching for something else I stumbled upon the very thing that links the before and after pictures:


I wasn’t even surprised to see our own Stephen Fox and the late, lamented Ray Watkin Hoagland Strange mixed up in this affair. Now I can file those pictures away.

Bonus: For one of the more startling coincidences I’ve come across at the Rice History Corner take a look at this post about the predecessor to Autry House and in particular check out Reverend Hall’s comment.

Extra Bonus:



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Friday Follies: I’m Sure This Isn’t as Bad as It Looks

But yikes!

I’m guessing circa early 1960s.


Bonus: It’s the last day of classes for the semester and everybody’s dragging out the  Christmas decorations. The Circulation Department is always out of control.


Plus, it just wouldn’t be the holidays in the archives without the traditional “Christmas Tree in a Box”:


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A Letter from Vito Volterra, 1912

As I was looking through the Sharp Papers for yesterday’s post I came across something wonderful in a file labeled “Vito Volterra to WBS 1912.” What possible interaction could there be between a Texas oil executive and the great Italian mathematician, you say? (Click on that link for a pretty nice story of Volterra’s very eventful life.) In all honesty, I had a pretty good idea. Volterra had visited Houston in October of 1912 to attend and speak at the Formal Opening of the Rice Institute so it must have been somehow related to that. And indeed, when I opened the file the first of three pieces of paper in it was clearly a thank you note to Walter Sharp for his kindness during Volterra’s time at that event. Unfortunately and a bit surprisingly it was written in French, which I read badly, and in a bad hand on top of it:


But–gloriously–the very next piece of paper was an English translation:


“Huh,” I said to myself, “that looks like Griffith Evans’s handwriting.”

Then I turned over the last piece of paper and found this:


Walter Sharp seems to have been a fine and generous man. Sadly, he would be dead five weeks after this letter was sent.

Bonus: I was gently scolded for walking here. It made my day.


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The Sharps

Someone in the comments to yesterday’s post mentioned that you could spend a month talking about the families whose names encircle the border of the map. (Don’t be afraid, I’m not going to do that.) It did strike me as a possibly fruitful idea, though, to pick out a few of those families whose histories intertwine closely with Rice and say a bit about them. I’ll confess to some qualms about this project, mostly because the entanglements of these families with each other through marriages and business partnerships and with Rice sometimes create a web so dense you can barely see through it. But you know, what the heck. I’ll do my best to avoid getting bogged down.

I’ll start with the Sharp family based only on the fact that we have their papers in the Woodson and it’s as good a place to start as any. Here are Walter B. Sharp and his wife Estelle on vacation in Colorado, at a date uncertain but probably sometime in the first decade of the 1900s:


Sharp was an early Texas oilman and a phenomenally successful one. He started out as a driller, then expanded into trading leases. He worked closely with J.S. Cullinan in the Texas Company and also partnered with Howard Hughes Sr. to form the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company, which manufactured the legendary and extremely lucrative Sharp-Hughes Rock Bit in Houston. His life was eventful, but very short. He died at the age of 42 in November, 1912 leaving his widow Estelle and two sons, Walter Beford and Dudley. (Here’s a link to a short bio that gives a fuller picture of his time in the early years in the  Texas oilfields.)

Although Walter Sharp was involved with Rice from its beginning, it was Estelle Boughton Sharp who made the greatest impact on the university. After his death she sold the interest in Sharp-Hughes Tool back to Mr. Hughes and spent her time on a wide range of progressive civic and social organizations and charities. Her 1918 gift to Rice to endow the Sharp Lectureship in Civics and Philanthropy was the first major gift to the Institute after its opening. The inaugural lecture was given by Sir Henry Jones of Glasgow University, who had spoken at the Formal Opening as well, on “The Rights of the State and the Rights of Humanity”:


Mrs. Sharp continued to give generously to Rice over the years, most notably through the Sharp Research Fund. She died in 1965 at the age of 92.

Bonus: Here’s an example of what I mean by the tangled web of family connections. This is  from the “Related Materials” section of the Guide to the Sharp Family Papers. Note several  more names that appear on yesterday’s map.

Texas oil entrepreneurs and their families have held a special attraction for students of Texas history. It is not surprising, then, that there are collections in the state which include additional material on W.B. Sharp and his wife Estelle. Related materials at the Woodson Research Center, Rice University include: James Lockhart Autry Papers (MS 003); the William L. Clayton Papers (MS 007), the William H. Hamman Papers (MS 006), and the Judge Harris Masterson Papers (MS 468).

Autry and Cullinan were friends as well as business partners of the Sharps, and their papers have much to say about the business dealings of the Moonshine Oil Company, Producers Company, and the Texas Company. Because Autry and Cullinan served as advisers to Mrs. Sharp after her husband’s death in 1912, many estate matters are dealt with in their papers. Among these is the sale of Texas Company stock after Cullinan and Autry resigned from that company. John Hamman, William Hamman’s son, had some business dealings with W.B. Sharp in the Sour Lake oil fields. Judge Masterson invested in the Moonshine Oil Company, the Producers Company, and the Texas Company.

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Houston’s Cradle of Culture, 1932

Among the things that have arrived in the Woodson this week are some issues of a defunct Houston magazine called the Gargoyle. This publication was launched in 1928 as the first real Houston city magazine and it survived into the mid-1930s. It was quite sophisticated and looked at trends in dining, entertainment and business in addition to providing a good deal of local gossip. The back cover of almost every issue was an ad for real estate in the up and coming subdivision of River Oaks — more about this later.

The magazine is always worth the time spent on close perusal. Every issue I’ve ever read was full of interesting little Rice tidbits that I would never find anywhere else, making clear the central role the Institute played in Houston’s life. So I was expecting to find something — but I wasn’t expecting something as spectacular as this:


Click on it twice to zoom in and luxuriate in the minutiae. You’ll be glad you did. There’s a lot here that I will very carefully pick over in the next week or so.

Bonus: Be bold, y’all. Be bold.


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Friday Follies: Psychology, 1952

It’s labeled “Psychology, rat in maze, 1952”:


I know the feeling.

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“All the World is God’s Own Field,” 1954

For those of you in desperate search for fresh content on Thanksgiving Day, here is the program for November 23, 1954 at Temple Emanu El:



Bonus: Here’s where I sit.


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