“A few timely comments from Mr. Wm. M. Rice,” 1938

I was looking for something in the Woodson vault the other day, and I mean I was really looking, trying to find something specific that wasn’t in any obvious place. I was looking so intently that I wedged myself into the back corner and got down on my hands and knees.  I was quite surprised when I peered into the dimness and saw this:

Yes, that’s a golf club and a it’s very old one.

The tag tied to the hickory shaft, in Miss Turnbull’s handwriting:

My mind reeled. I spent several minutes trying to conjure up any scenario in which William Marsh Rice would have golfed. I failed completely. I know a lot about William Marsh Rice and this is simply unimaginable. Never happened. Then I realized that the Houston Country Club didn’t even exist until 1908, at which point he’d already been dead for eight years.

So this must be Will Rice’s club, right?

And indeed a check of the 1938 anniversary booklet from the club reveals that not only was Will Rice a charter member he was also the first president. His member number, by the way, was 1.

Here’s what he had to say on this occasion, including an interesting reference to some real estate owned by the Rice Institute in 1903. I might be able to figure out precisely where it was:


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Rice Field, 1924

Last Saturday I was perusing, as is my custom, the posts on the Houston’s Aviation History facebook page. (If you’re on facebook this is one of the things that’s actually worth your time.) Much to my delight Story Sloane III had put up a couple of  spectacular images of an early Houston area air field. The administrator of the page, Michael Bludworth, immediately identified them as Rice Field. I’ve written about this airfield before, although it took me years to decide that it was a real thing, but I had long since given up hope of finding a photograph of it.

Here’s a view of the hangar and the landing strip looking northeast across the corner of campus:

And here you can see it from the vantage point of the Administration Building over on the other side of the treeline along Harris Gully:

I’ve spent a significant amount of time over the last several days staring at these images. I can’t begin to express my gratitude to both Story, for his efforts to preserve through photographs the history of Houston, and to Michael for making that history accessible. And as I looked at these pictures something began to rattle around in the back of my mind. It took a while but it eventually the memory rattled up to the front.

We have a pretty spectacular aeronautics collection in the Woodson, courtesy of Ben Anderson, which I’ve poked around in for many years. We also have a couple of copies of Charles Lindberg’s 1927 book We, which came out very quickly after his trans-Atlantic flight in 1927:

In one of the early chapters Lindberg relates the story of a barnstorming trip he took during the early spring of 1924. He and a companion left the snowy midwest in a plane called a Canuck, a variant of the Curtiss JN-4, the Flying Jenny. They headed south, hopping from airfield to airfield, constantly worried about a cracked gas tank that had them struggling to rig up ways to carry extra gas. It turns out that one of their stops was right here:

Bonus: Bookplate.

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Thanksgiving, 1956: “Help Hungary”

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.

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“the holiday spirit is creeping upon us,” 1932

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.

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“an invasion of bridge madness,” 1927

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.


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He Handles the Financials

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:

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The Blame Rests on the Tiny Shoulders of the Squirrels

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.

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A Mystery From the Vault

The mysterious dark doorway down at the end of this row is the entrance to the Woodson’s vault:

What’s in there is top secret, of course, so secret that sometimes even we don’t know what’s what. Here’s a current head scratcher, an artifact discovered just the other day in an unlabeled box:

A closer look:

I know one of you knows what this is. Tell, please.

Bonus: Death watch is on. The rest of them, I must say look remarkably good, as healthy as I’ve ever seen them. Fine work by the Rice arborist!



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“that morning on the Bosphorus,” 1902

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:

Bonus: All quiet.

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Friday Follies: “sadly ignorant of the ways of modern youth,” 1928

I’ve read a lot of Thresher editorials over the years (painful) but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such hard hitting commentary about underwear before. Truly, the mind reels:

Bonus: Nobody does holidays like those maniacs over in Circulation.

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