Author Archives: Jocelyn Wilk

In the Desert

Lou Little and CU Football Players at the El Conquistador Hotel in Tucson, Arizona.

On December 19, 1933, the Columbia Lion football players set out on a cross-country trip to Pasadena, California to play in the 1934 Rose Bowl against the heavily favored Stanford. Every player making the cross-country trip was insured for $5,000 to guard against possible injuries on the train ride to California and back. The Lions traveled by night and practiced by day with stops in St. Louis, Dallas and Tucson, Arizona, where they drilled for a full week in the desert sun.

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Cliff Montgomery

Ticket for 1934 Rose Bowl game between Columbia and Stanford.

In preparing the “Roar, Lion, Roar” Columbia football exhibition (on view at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s Chang Octagon through December 20), we found a great detail about the 1934 Rose Bowl game in the New York Times obituary for Cliff Montgomery, the quarterback and MVP of Columbia’s victory over Stanford. According to the Times, “Montgomery’s fake to Brominski was so good that Barabas, who was hiding the ball for what would be a naked reverse, added to the deception by standing for a few seconds and watching Brominski.” (23 April 2005) We had to use that in an exhibition label! However, what we found even more interesting is that back in December 1933, Columbia was considered such an underdog that the Times didn’t even send a reporter to cover the game. That’s how unlikely the upset seemed at the time.

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Football is Back!

The Columbia Jester, October 1915, cover artwork by G.W.T. Gillette, CC 1918. Call# CP1 C723

In the “Roar, Lion, Roar” exhibition on Columbia football (on view now at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library), we have a couple of documents on display illustrating “The Ban.” In November 1905, the University Committee on Student Organizations voted to abolish intercollegiate football at Columbia. Other colleges and universities similarly discontinued the sport following a season of repeated injuries and deaths. The Ban at Columbia lasted 10 years and when football returned in 1915, it was reestablished with a number of limitations (which teams Columbia could not play against, when the games would be scheduled, how many games, etc.) and on a probationary basis for the first five years.

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Jack Kerouac Played Football Here!

Jack Kerouac in Columbia Football uniform as a reserve player, 1942

Jack Kerouac came to Columbia in 1940 on a football scholarship. Unfortunately, the all-Massachusetts State player in high school suffered a broken leg in only his second game of his freshman year. In a memoir by C. Ogden Beresford (CC 1943) available at the University Archives, there is a first-person account of Kerouac after the tragic accident. Oggie, as he was known, recalled the freshman who shared a connecting room in Livingston Hall (now Wallach Hall) with his friend Jimmy Crump: Continue reading

Homecoming Ball 1948

Mamie and Dwight D. Eisenhower arriving for the October 16, 1948 Homecoming Ball

In addition to the great teams, coaches and players in the history of Columbia football featured in our exhibition “Roar, Lion, Roar“, on view at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, we wanted to show football from the fans’ point-of-view – the history of the experience of going to a game. In the exhibit we feature the different venues that have served as home fields for the Lions and also highlight the other traditions: the mascot, the school song, the cheerleaders and Homecoming. Continue reading

Play Ball! Columbia Football and the New York Yankees

With the New York Yankees about to begin another playoff run, we just had to take this opportunity to highlight some interesting intersections between Columbia Football and the Yankees.

Lou Gehrig playing football for Columbia, 1921-1922

In the current Columbia Football exhibition, “Roar, Lion, Roar,” we highlight former Columbia Lion Lou Gehrig (CC 1925). Gehrig played freshmen football in the fall of 1921 and joined the varsity squad in fall of 1922. After playing baseball in the spring of 1923, Gehrig signed with the New York Yankees in the summer of 1923.

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EVENT: Roar, Lion, Roar: Panel Discussion & Reception, Thursday 10/17, 6pm

To mark the official opening of “Roar, Lion Roar: A Celebration of Columbia Football,” an exhibit in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s Chang Octagon, a moderated panel will discuss the arc of Columbia football from its inception in 1870 to present day. The discussion is being held in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the establishment of College Football, and panelists will include former Columbia players and staff.

Organized by the University Archives, the event starts with the panel discussion in Butler 203 at 6pm and will end with a reception in the RBML on the Library’s sixth floor, where panelists and audience members can view the exhibit.

Registration is required and can be done by clicking here.

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ROAR, LION, ROAR: A CELEBRATION OF COLUMBIA FOOTBALL

Focusing on players, coaches, playing fields, and the games won and lost, this exhibition traces the arc of Columbia’s football program from its inception in 1870 to the present day. As one of the oldest college programs in the country, Columbia Football has a rich and fascinating history which the University Archives is delighted to share and celebrate through this display of historical materials from our collection.

A Narrative in the Documents: The Gibbs Affair

Interesting narratives that are interwoven into Columbia University’s history can unravel simply by creating an online inventory for a collection. Recently, a series of letters was discovered within the Columbia College Papers that elucidate past events involving administrative prejudice, academic politics, and the Civil War.

After James Renwick, Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy and Chemistry, retired from his professorship at Columbia College in 1853, Free Academy professor Oliver Wolcott Gibbs was nominated for the position in 1854. Gibbs, a Unitarian, faced the prejudice against the denomination that several Columbia College Trustees, unlike many New Yorkers at the time, held. Although there were some members of the Board of Trustees that supported Gibbs’ nomination the predominately Episcopalian board, which included six clergymen, chose to reject Gibbs based on his religious affiliation. The decision fueled bitterness amongst trustees and alumni that led to a postponement of centennial celebrations in what became known as the “Gibbs affair.”

One of the letters in this series of correspondence came from a special committee of the
United States Senate that was investigating whether or not Columbia’s Board of Trustees violated anti-discriminatory terms within the charter. The Senate committee asked a broad series of questions regarding the hiring practices of the Board of Trustees, one of which asked if the board has ever rejected a candidate “on account of his peculiar tenets in matters of religion?”.

Senate Questionnaire

The Board of Trustees invoked their Fifth Amendment rights for this question and the committee concluded that although individual board members may have violated charter’s terms, the Board of Trustees as a whole was not guilty.

Gibbs eventually became a distinguished researcher at Harvard following the affair, but the professor chosen instead of Gibbs, Richard Sears McCulloh, forged a very different reputation. On September 25, 1863, McCulloh submitted his letter of resignation to the Board of Trustees, stating “that one, born and reared a Southerner, prefers to cast his lot with that of the South.”

McCulloh Resignation Letter

McCulloh left New York for Richmond, Virginia where he became a consulting chemist for the Confederate Nitre and Mining Bureau.

The Board of Trustees initially acknowledged his resignation in correspondence with colleagues, but McCulloh’s decision to join the Confederacy prompted them to expel him from the faculty, as noted in the Board Minutes, rather than officially accepting the resignation. McCulloh went on to develop a lethal chemical gas for the Confederate Army, which was never used in combat. After his subsequent imprisonment he became a Professor of Mechanics and Thermodynamics at Washington College, where Robert E. Lee served as President, until 1878.

This rich story, spanning the course of a decade, was unearthed in a collection that holds countless narratives waiting to be told. An inventory of the Columbia College Papers will be made available online in the near future.

-Ian Post, Pratt SILS Intern