Chapter XII

WIND FROM THE WEST

  On a January day in 1890, a big, strong, weathered man stood over a raw new grave at Longmont, Colorado. Nine miles away rose the front range of the Rockies, white with snow; beyond, dominating the skyline above Estes Park, the square tower of Long's Peak stood up timeless and enduring. The wind came cold from the mountains, but the big man did not feel it. A minister, he had many times read the ritual: "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, looking to the resurrection in the last day--" Now he had himself to console.
   He had come to Colorado in 1885 as minister of the Presbyterian Church in Longmont and president of the newly-founded Longmont College. Since then he had stood above three graves of his own. His first wife had died of tuberculosis in 1886, and an infant daughter had died four months later. Now a second wife had died, following the birth of her second son. When he walked back through the straggling streets of Longmont, William Oxley Thompson must have felt that his life was ended. He was thirty-five years old.
   Back in Ohio, young Will Thompson had been called the best farm hand in Muskingum County. During harvest or haying, said a neighbor, he would take one side of the wagon and two men would take the other. At Muskingum College he was a janitor, kindling fires before daylight, as well as scholar. In Illinois he husked corn in the fields while word went around that the new teacher had arrived and the Long Ridge school would open on a certain Monday morning. In northwest Iowa he preached to Sac County farmers and then drove across the prairie to repeat his sermon at the crossroads school. There his wife fell ill and the young minister asked for an assignment in the mountains of Colorado. After a summer of camping in Estes Park, Rebecca Allison Thompson seemed improved. But she died the next summer, in her twenty-fourth year. After a year he married a gifted young graduate of his college. Now, three and a half years later, Starr Brown Thompson was buried at the age of twenty-four.
   Years later, in an address in the depression--dark February of 1932, William Oxley Thompson said: "If I am not mistaken, the human race was intended to be a race of hope." A native vigor and hope soon revived the young minister at Longmont. While his sister cared for three small children, he drove across the plains to Greeley where his brother was publishing a paper; he traveled to Denver, Cheyenne and Laramie for church and college meetings; he preached in his own pulpit on Sunday mornings and then rattled up the road to Berthaud to preach in the afternoon. In the spring he broke this busy round to attend the Presbyterian general assembly at Detroit, and there he met some Miami trustees and alumni. Back in Longmont he announced his acceptance of the presidency of Miami University.
   When he arrived in Oxford, an imposing, windburned man in rumpled clothing, college was out for the summer. But the villagers recognized an educator wholly unlike President Warfield and his Eastern faculty. Robust, confident, hearty, Thompson came like a wind from the West, stirring up the drowsy village and filling the empty campus with expectation. He moved his sister and the three children into a house on Church Street. Then he was on the road, looking for students. The college roll listed sixty undergraduates and sixty-two preparatory and special students, including seventeen women. President Thompson wanted more.
   Nominally professor of political science and history, Thompson did little teaching during his eight years' tenure. His colleagues met the classes while he made the rounds of churches, county fairs, farmers' and teachers' institutes. Given a pass from C. H. and D. Railroad, he tirelessly traveled that territory. Ready to speak on many subjects, he always found room to stress the purpose and opportunity of Miami University. In 1892 with the Republican nomination of Benjamin Harrison and Whitelaw Reid, the only political ticket in history with both candidates from the same college, and with Calvin Brice proposed as a Democratic nominee for the presidency, Thompson could point to the eminence of Miami alumni. With his vigor and the luster of the college in years past, it is strange that he did not fill the halls and classrooms. He did attract some students; a lecture at the Preble County Teachers' Institute in 1893 brought Alfred H. Upham to Miami. But during eight years of tireless effort he never saw the enrollment reach one hundred fifty. In those years most Miami students came from nearby counties; Ohio had forty colleges and Miami's appeal was limited. Professor Roger Bruce Cash Johnson, the Princeton philosopher who had remained from Warfield's faculty, said that his students were "an intelligent and enthusiastic body of young men." But President Thompson confessed that while two thirds were average or above, another third was "helpless."
   Before the end of the century the old classical curriculum, unworldly and aristocratic, had lost its appeal. The majority of Miami students did not take a degree–through the 1890's the senior class averaged ten–but chose subjects that would prepare them for the study of law or medicine or for the practice of business, and they departed short of graduation. President Warfield had tried to develop a more modern curriculum, but the conservative trustees were not persuaded. When he resigned he had a parting word: Miami should be stable, sturdy, and not over-hasty to rush into new paths, yet he believed that "once past the half-mile stone, the junior year should open up the whole sphere of modern progress." He urged upon the trustees and his success or the offering of a science curriculum along with the traditional course of study. President Thompson succeeded in establishing a B.S. degree in 1893. He had the industrious support of Professor Snyder, the busy lecturer and experimenter, whose annual reports always cited a popular demand for scientific training. A further step toward curricular freedom was the offering of alternative courses, with a choice of Greek or modern languages, leading to the A.B. degree. To stimulate scholarly effort honors work was introduced: a student could win departmental honors by maintaining a superior standing in his courses, passing a comprehensive examination based on collateral reading, and writing a thesis.
   For this small, provincial student body the college was providing new facilities. At the Commencement of 1892 Brice Hall was dedicated. Equipped with steam heat, a gas machine and an Edison three-kilowatt dynamo, it was as different from Old Egypt as electricity is from candle light. Chemistry and physics occupied the main floor, biology and geology the floor above. After sessions a lecture room fitted with charts, models, demonstration apparatus, display cabinets and a human skeleton, students could work at dissecting and experimental desks. Science had taken a giant stride since O. N. Stoddard gave his charming lectures in Old Egypt. Now Miami could begin the training of the men who would work in the laboratories, research institutes and experiment stations of the twentieth century.
   Though he had never seen a football before he came to Miami, President Thompson saw that the new sport was intrenched with town and gown alike. At the State Fair in Columbus in 1894 a featured "Football Tournament" promised competition between Ohio State, Akron, Denison, Wittenberg and Miami, with a grand prize for the highest-scoring team. At Miami Thompson appointed an athletic board of control and in Ohio at large he supported intercollegiate athletic association, a movement which attracted enough notice to be reported on October 21, 1896, in Harper's Weekly: "Later winter the Ohio Inter-Collegiate Association, composed of Denison, Miami, Cincinnati, Ohio State, Kenyon, Marietta, Oberlin, Otterbein and Wittenberg, drew up eligibility rules--

  1. Each player must attend at least eight hours of recitations per week.
  2. No student holding a degree is eligible.
  3. No student may receive any form of compensation for engaging in athletics.
  4. Managers, at least ten days before a game, must exchange lists of players certified . . . by the president of the college."
The account added: "Cincinnati and Miami had a football game scheduled for this month. In accordance with the rules, Miami substituted a certified list of players. Cincinnati's manager declined to do so, and on the day of the game, when appealed to by Miami . . . Cincinnati disclaimed membership in the association. The game was played with four ineligible men on Cincinnati team, but they were outclassed, nevertheless, and beaten by Miami."
   In 1895 Miami sports were moved from the upper campus to the present athletic field. For twenty dollars the trustees sub-leased four acres at the southeast corner of the Botanical Garden from a Mr. Griner who had rented the entire tract for pasturage. The field was cleared and drained; a couple of carpenters built an eight-foot fence with a High Street gate guarded by a shed-like ticket office. Professor Edward P. Thompson's surveying class laid off a half-mile track, a baseball diamond and a football playing field. Down dusty High Street trooped students, faculty and villagers to watch the contests on Miami Field. The old playground west of Stoddard Hall was planted to grass and shrubbery.
   When Brice Hall was completed (it comprised the eastern third of the present building) the trustees decided to convert Old Egypt into a gymnasium. A new floor was laid, some mats and apparatus were lugged in, but the students still regarded that dim old relic as belonging to the campus squirrels. Then in 1896, with increased revenues form the state, the trustees appropriated $25,000 for a new gymnasium building. While it was going up, President Thompson had a new talking point in advertising the college.
   The gymnasium, built on the site of present Ogden Hall, had a bicycle room in the basement; a reading room, assembly room, locker room and shower baths on the main floor, and a gymnasium floor above. Around the playing floor hung a running track--twenty-one laps to the mile. Officially named for John W. Herron, a trustee since 1860, it was generally called the Miami Gymnasium as Herron discouraged the use of his name. It was electric-lighted, the wiring again supplied by Professor Snyder and his students. Snyder complained of a lack of laboratory materials, saying that had it not been for the work on Brice and Herron halls he could not have kept his students busy.
   If President Thompson could not fill the classrooms, he kept the college treasury flourishing. A man of practical force and political shrewdness, he could talk about farming as readily as philosophy and he met the predominantly rural Legislature on common ground. Aided by Brice, a United States Senator during the early '90s, and Herron who was a member of the State Senate, he secured annual appropriations of some $15,000. The attitude of the state, he reported, was kind and cordial, and he believed the time was right for seeking firm and lasting support. It came in 1896, with passage of the Sleeper Bill which provided for a tax levy to support Ohio and Miami universities. On his return from Columbus with this accomplishment, he was met by the entire student body. In a carriage decked with flags and bunting they drew him through the village streets.
   The Sleeper Bill, which in its first year produced $22,000 for Miami, remained in force for ten years, and by 1906 the state's obligation to Miami University was fully established. The bill required the abolishing of tuition for residents of Ohio, but Thompson had already persuaded the trustees to reduce the former $45 tuition to a $10 matriculation fee.
   Along with his Miami labors President Thompson took a warm interest in the fortunes of Western College. He became a member of its board of trustees and in 1896 served as its presiding officer. He was also a warm friend of Oxford College dramatics teacher, Estelle Godfrey Clark. Then the three small Thompson children had a mother's comfort and concern.
   Somehow this busy president found time to write a weekly newspaper column for his brother's Greeley (Colorado) Sun--a wide-ranging comment on politics, labor, women suffrage, the silver question, the Chicago World's Fair, and the evils of college hazing. At home he put an end to the perilous ritual of painting the Old Miami tower; no more freshmen would hang aloft at midnight with a dripping pot and paint brush.
   In these years the West came to Oxford on the lecture platform. Alumnus Robert B. Stanton spoke from his own strenuous experience on "The Canyons of the Colorado." Elizabeth Bacon Custer talked of her life on the plains with her dashing husband before the fateful Battle of the Little Big Horn. Joaquin Miller in fringed pants and a beaded jacket read and lectured from the chapel platform, declaring "There is more poetry in the rust of a single railroad train across this continent than in all the gory story of burning Troy." The "Poet of the Sierras" had a special interest for the Miami audience; he was born just a few miles from Oxford in a covered wagon headed west, and some twenty-five years later in Idaho he was married to a girl who had grown up in Oxford.
   Even in quiet Oxford entertainment was growing. James Whitcomb Riley, William Dean Howells, James Lane Allen, George Washington Cable all came to the village in the nineties. A Wild West show with Texas steers and bucking horses raised dust in the public square on the Fourth of July in 1896. On another day a crowd of Miami students went to the Hamilton fair grounds to see Buffalo Bill's great spectacle of the vanishing West. College dramatics began with The Doctor of Alcantara staged in the Oxford Opera House and As You Like It on the banks of the Tallawanda. In the latter appeared Elizabeth Hamilton and Sarah Norris of Oxford College, who would be dean and assistant dean of Miami women in the years ahead. In a winter week of 1897, with the "Cinematascope" showing at the town hall, Oxford was introduced to motion pictures.
   As the end of the century approached, Dr. Thompson proposed a celebration. In 1899 it would be seventy-five years since the opening of the college. As part of a Diamond Anniversary observance, Thompson urged construction of the long-proposed east wing of the Main Building and the modernization of the entire building. Plans called for a new heating plant, a system of electric lighting, a second tower to match the one erected in 1869 and the lengthening by thirty feet of the west wing. This extension permitted enlargement of classrooms and the administrative offices on the main floor and the adding of a balcony to the chapel on the floor above.
   In this anniversary year the old dorms were provided with steam heat, electric light and modern bathrooms. Out came the old lamps and lanterns, the battered stoves and rusty stove-pipe. The last crumbs of sawdust were swept up in the dented hallways and all at once a student's cooking pot, his hatchet, ax and cross-cut saw were obsolete. After three-quarters of a century the old rugged dormitory life was over.
   Now there was a faculty of fifteen, twice the size of Bishop's faculty; there were two janitors and a librarian, W. J. McSurely, and a campus of five buildings–for a college considerably smaller than Miami at its peak years half a century before. But the world had changed, and in education as elsewhere the luxuries of one generation became necessities in the next. At the end of the century a college required laboratories, reading rooms, assembly rooms, gymnasium and athletic grounds–as in another half-century it would need social centers, an auditorium, a natatorium, a theater, projecting rooms, listening rooms, galleries and museums.
   The anniversary year, with workmen swarming over the Main Building and President Thompson advertising the celebration to be held in June, was a year to remember. That summer Old Egypt stood dark and lifeless amid the waving bluegrass with a mossy water trough beside it for the use of birds, squirrels and the stray summer cattle. A broken window admitted jays, squirrels and chipmunks; nuts and acorns were hidden in the old laboratory shelves. Somehow on a summer night in 1898 the old ruin burned. The walls crumbled and fell, the charred bricks were hauled away, and there was nothing left of Old Miami's science building except the weathered pier stone where Professor Scott had set up his telescope in years long past.
   Early in September workmen began excavation for the new wing of the Main Building. A new professor of French appeared, a young Dr. Edgar Ewing Brandon, ready to teach students to think in French as well as English; soon he would have then reading French newspapers and magazines in the library. Students arrived for the term, moving into modernized lodgings and in the old halls. Then in the middle of the month, on the opening day of college, Professor Snyder was found dead in his Brice Hall laboratory, with a vial of fresh-mixed poison beside him.
   A nondescript small man with a bushy, dark mustache and his wife fluttering like a bedraggled, exotic moth beside him, Henry Snyder had been a campus character for fourteen years. His wife, Minnie, affected gypsy clothes and sang soprano. They lived vexatiously in South Hall, where the rowdies once interrupted Minnie's singing by throwing a stove down the stairs. Professor Snyder was patient, friendly, industrious, always ready to speak on the wonders of science or his summer travels, and every student in the college either derided or admired him. Scores of lectures he had given, wearing a Prince Albert and striped waistcoat above his baggy "teaching" trousers. As his assistant, running the stereoptican or holding the apparatus for demonstrations of electrical phenomena, he had the help of an Oxford townsman, William Pugh. Pugh also played the guitar, providing musical accompaniment for Minnie's solos. The South Hall rowdies had a rhyme about those programs:
Henry's goin' to lecture,
Minnie's goin' to sing,
Willie's goin' to play,
On the hi-lo-ding!
Sometime after the town stopped buzzing over the melancholy end of humorless, busy, uncomplaining Professor Snyder, his wife was married to William Pugh. They went to live in Columbus.
   To fill the vacancy in science President Thompson quickly brought to the campus Raymond M. Hughes, an honor graduate of 1893, who had done further study at the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At this time Professor Langsdorf, with his silky side-whiskers, Prince Albert and top hat, returned from a year abroad. During Langsdorf's leave the Latin and Greek had been taught by A. H. Upham, valedictorian of the class of '97. Now "Billie" Upham was appointed principal of the preparatory department. President Thompson took pride in is selection of young teachers. With Hughes, Upham and Brandon, he now had two future Miami presidents and a vice-president in his small faculty.
   In November the president and faculty of Western College entertained for Mrs. Calvin S. Brice, an alumna and benefactor; a month later came word of the sudden death of Senator Brice. His death cut off the career of an empire builder–-he was projecting a railroad system in China when he succumbed to pneumonia–-and a flow of benefaction to his college. He had chosen to preside at the Diamond Anniversary alumni reunion in the following June.
   On a winter night four students, returning from a trip to College Corner and, guilty of singing after ten o'clock, landed in the village jail. President Thompson paid out fifty-three dollars for their fines–later repaid by the Board of Trustees–-and sent them quietly to their rooms.
   On the first Saturday of May the Athletic Association held a field day. Professor Langsdorf, in silk hat and whiskers, leaned his Columbia bicycle against the fence and umpired a baseball game. Other members of the faculty kept time and score for the track and field events. The cheers of the spectators were answered by the screams of peacocks sunning themselves around the fountain of the Oxford Retreat–in happier years the Oxford Female College. Professor Johnson took on a series of students at tennis and then sat with them under a tree, telling of his student years in Germany and his visit to tranquil Königsberg where Immanuel Kant took his daily constitutional, eight times up and down the Philosopher's Walk, his old servant, umbrella under arm, trudging along behind him. Fardy Devine, passing with a scythe in his shoulder, observed that tennis was a waste of time and that college might better give him the ground to raise cabbage and potatoes.
   In June the scaffolding came down and a twin-towered Old Main was ready for the anniversary. Fifteen hundred flags decorated High Street and the campus was freshly mowed and trimmed. For five days, beginning with a Baccalaureate service in the enlarged Bishop Chapel (newly named for Professor Bishop) and ending with Commencement under the trees, crowds filled the campus. The Buckeye State Band played a medley of airs between the scheduled events–class day exercises, oratorical contests, reunions of the Literary Halls with the veterans recounting memories of fierce debates and glowing declamations, fraternity banquets and receptions. The program included the Golden Jubilee of Phi Delta Theta which had grown "from six at first" to ten thousand members of sixty-four chapters from Maine to California; its founders were memorialized on a granite tablet set into the wall of North Hall. At the gala alumni meeting General Ben Runkle read a formidable Miami poem, calling the roll of Old Miami faculty and paying rhymed tribute to a long list of noted alumni. At the anniversary Commencement, John R. Simpson, president of the graduating class and a later benefactor of the college, delivered "A Plea for Diplomacy," and two other seniors orated on America n democracy. The Honorable Whitelaw Reid, recently a member of the commission to negotiate peace with Spain, spoke of "Our New Duties"–measuring America's new stature and responsibility in world affairs. After a reception in the new library room of Old Main, visitors streamed up High Street to the public square. A band concert, a display of fireworks, and the celebration was over. In the fervor of the anniversary, some talked about a Miami enrollment of two hundred in the twentieth century.
   Two weeks later with Oxford settling into its summer somnolence, President Thompson resigned. He had accepted the presidency of The Ohio State University.
   That fall Reverend David Stanton Tappan, honor graduate of the class of 1864, moved into the president's office and settled his wife and eight children in a house on High Street across from the "slanting path." A short, square man with level eyes and a determined mouth, Dr. Tappan had no innovations to propose. During his first year he advertised the college in forty-four neighboring newspapers; in the following term the enrollment increased by four. One of the added students was his daughter Julia, who met her future in Dr. Langsdorf's Latin class. She was married to Professor Langsdorf in the summer of 1900. A year and a half later they went to Hiroshima, a Japanese city that would come to the world's attention forty-four years later, where Langsdorf served as a missionary and religious editor.
   During the quiet and brief regime of President Tappan the fraternities flourished despite his indifference and the Literary Halls declined despite his encouragement. The football seasons brought a long string of defeats– which may have been the cause, or the effect, of Coach Greenleaf's habits. According to the record Greenleaf "was intoxicated so often that his duty was not satisfactorily performed." Though he had no enthusiasm for coeducation, President Tappan handed diplomas to the first women graduates–three members of the class of 1900.
   That summer a water closet was installed in the west wind of the Main Building, but not a hundred feet from the college well. A few months later came an epidemic, forty cases of typhoid fever the college and a hundred cases among the townspeople who had prized the cold sweet water of the college well. The well was closed, and the South Hall became a hospital. Two students died and there were other deaths in the village. The youngest victim was Lucy Tappan, the president's favorite daughter. In April, 1902, Dr. Tappan resigned, to return to the Presbyterian ministry.
   In Columbus, close to the State legislature, President Thompson directed the growth of The Ohio State University with its burgeoning graduate and professional schools. In the late winter of 1906, to assure that university's claim upon the state, he argued for the Lybarger Bill, which called for full development of Ohio State while supporting only the Normal Colleges at Miami and Ohio universities; the act would have reduced the two century-old colleges to teacher-training schools. There were immediate protests in both Oxford and Athens, and both universities rallied their supporters in Columbus. For two long weeks President Benton and his trustees fought for Miami's future.
   The bill was defeated, and in its place the Legislature passed the Eagleson Bill, which defined the scope of the three institutions and provided for their support. It fixed "for all time" a policy directing Ohio State to develop field of technical and professional training, while Miami and Ohio would remain essentially colleges without technical or graduate instruction beyond the work for the Master's degree. This act assured Miami of a future consistent with its past. On a glowing October day twenty-two years later, when the long procession filed into Benton Hall for the Upham inauguration, William Oxley Thompson was there, big, bald, and beaming as though he had never questioned Miami's future.
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