I did not. I’d never seen it before. I was, though, arrested by the image and felt compelled to figure it out. I therefore spent many happy hours on the internet over vacation, going down some odd and twisty paths, most of which I’ll spare you but some of which are essential.
The only thing I was reasonably sure of when I began was that the photo was taken in 1924, the year that Rice beat Texas 19-6. At first I wasn’t even completely sure the picture was made on the Rice campus, as I’d never seen that scoreboard before. So naturally I first fixated on that, which only drew me into a huge red herring. Zoom in and look at the scoreboard and you’ll see that it says as plain as day “Next Game: Sewanee.” The problem here is that Rice didn’t play Sewanee in 1924 or any other year in this era. (Sadly, I’m now an expert on Sewanee’s football program in the ’20s.) I was at a bit of a loss.
But then I realized that I did know one other fact for certain: the name of the elephant was Nellie. It says so right on her banner! It didn’t seem like much to go on, but it turned out that there is an on-line database of circus and zoo elephants and there she was–acquired by the Houston zoo from Ringling Brothers in October 1924. The zoo had only recently moved from downtown out to Hermann Park and it all caused quite a stir among the Rice students, who immediately adopted Nellie as something of a mascot. This excited explanation is from the October 10 edition of the Thresher (Hans Nagel was the zookeeper, which might not be totally clear amidst all the undergraduate nonsense):
Nellie seems to have attended several games that fall. I found several photos of her in the 1925 yearbook, although they are both blurry and very, very tiny (roughly an inch and a half) in the original. Just for the heck of it, here are a couple of them:
A movement arose among the students to raise money to acquire a mate for Nellie who would also become an official mascot, but someone in authority wisely put the kibosh on this. (A male elephant–named Hans after the keeper–was indeed soon acquired, but without organized Rice participation.) Also wisely, it seems to me, Nellie’s trips across Main Street to watch football games ceased after the 1924 season.
There’s a bit more I could say about this but I think I’ll save it for later. Only one troubling thing remains: Sewanee!
Bonus: The new roses over between Sewall and Lovett Hall have begun to bloom. They are extremely pretty.