On May 22, 1896, the United States Congress approved the Disposition of Condemned Cannon, Etc., which provided the Secretaries of War and of the Navy the authority “to loan, or give to soldiers’ monumental associations, posts of the Grand Army of the Republic, and municipal corporations, condemned ordnance, guns, and cannon balls which may not be needed in the service of either of said Departments” (Annual Reports of the War Department, 1903). In December 1899, Notre Dame GAR Post 569 filed a petition with the Secretary of War to acquire two cannons for campus.
Commencement flag-raising ceremony on Main Quad with the two Civil War cannons, c1930. Hurley Hall is in the background.
With the help of Indiana Representative Abraham Brick, Notre Dame requested a ten-inch Columbiad cannon from Fort Winthrop in Massachusetts and a ten-inch seacoast mortar from Fort Morgan in Alabama. After about six months of back and forth, the Fort Morgan mortar became unavailable. It is unclear if the deal fell through because getting the mortar to Notre Dame would be too expensive or if they simply took too long figuring out the logistics. Consequently, the request was changed to an eight-inch seacoast howitzer from For McHenry in Maryland.
Statement of Guns, Howitzers, and Mortars on Hand at the Various Forts. F.H. Wurzer in the House of Representatives sent this list on 04/23/1900 to Brother Paul for him to pick out two cannons for Notre Dame.
General William Olmstead of Notre Dame GAR Post 569 inquired about the history of the gun at Fort Winthrop. Ordnance Sergeant Joseph R. Neaves responded that he didn’t think it had much of a history – it came to Fort Winthrop in the late 1850s or early 1860s and that it probably was never fired since it wasn’t mounted (UPEL 87/05).
The cannons arrived to Notre Dame sometime before September 22, 1900, when they are first mentioned in Scholastic. The article recounts how football manager John Eggeman went looking for his billy goat during a storm, and “[a]fter a long search, John discovered the goat trying to eat one of the cannons down near the post-office. Of course this was a bluff on the part of the goat” [Scholastic, 09/22/1900, page 59].
George T. Hanlon laying on a cannon on Main Quad, c1910s.
The cannons were located next to the flag pole, which then was just west of Hurley Hall. While they were a prominent part of the landscape, they didn’t garner much attention in the student publications. Due to their location, they stood as sentinels during flag-raising ceremonies. In later years, it became tradition for the graduating head cheerleader to lead one last college yell from atop one of the cannons during the flag-raising ceremony at Commencement.
Commencement – Graduating head cheerleader Al Perrine leads the traditional last yell from atop one of the cannons as the class flag is raised on Main Quad while clergy, faculty, and students are gathered around, 1941/0601.
In 1942, Notre Dame donated the cannons to a scrap drive to support the war effort of World War II, thus returning them back to the United States military and putting them back to work for a new war.
Scholastic issue October 16, 1942, page 11: Article featuring the Notre Dame donation of the Civil War cannons to the St. Joseph County scrap drive during World War II (WWII)
In October of 1932, dog breeder Charles Otis and his partner Thomas Bolton announced that they were going to donate an Irish Terrier to Notre Dame to serve as mascot for the football team. According to an advertisement in a 1934 football program, Otis had also presented Irish Terriers to celebrities such as Amelia Earhart and Will Rogers. This was at a time when Notre Dame didn’t have a consistent mascot. The Alumni Club of Toledo had presented two Irish Terriers both named Tipperary Terrence in 1924, but it doesn’t seem to be something Notre Dame pursued on its own.
Otis presented Brick Top Shaun Rhue to Football Coach Heartley “Hunk” Anderson during the Navy game, which was played in Otis’s hometown of Cleveland on November 19, 1932. Shaun Rhue (“Old Red”) traveled with the team for the last two remaining games of the season – to New York for the Army game and to Los Angeles for USC.
GATH 6/71: Irish terrier mascot dog Brick Top Shaun Rhue wearing a football helmet, c1932. Caption: “With affectionate regards to Shaun Rhu and the College of Notre Dame. Best hopes and wishes from Chas. A. Otis.”
Shaun Rhue was born on January 14, 1932, so he was still a bit of a pup when given the task of Notre Dame mascot. He stayed briefly with Hunk Anderson and then Athletic Trainer Eugene “Scrapiron” Young before moving to campus at the request of University President Rev. Charles O’Donnell: “I should like to have the dog on the campus and get acquainted with him. He quite won my heart in the few glimpses I have had of him thus far. As a mascot he made the Army mule look pretty sick last Saturday” [O’Donnell to Otis, 12/01/1932, UPCO 6/121]. O’Donnell continued in his next letter, “When the season is over, he will be installed on the campus as a regular member of the family, and have the freedom of the city, so to speak. The only danger that will ever threaten him is that he may be spoiled by kindness. Everybody loves him” [O’Donnell to Otis, 12/09/1932]. Otis was glad to hear Shaun Rhue was doing well, but warned O’Donnell not to overfeed the dog.
Otis sent Fr. O’Donnell Shaun Rhue’s papers, which are preserved in the University Archives. His Certificate of Pedigree lists his lineage back to his great, great grandparents. The Certificate of Entry into the American Kennel Club also transfers ownership to Notre Dame. Otis told O’Donnell that Shaun Rhue was a fine specimen of his breed and would likely win in dog shows. It is unknown, and probably unlikely, if Notre Dame showed Brick Top Shaun Rhue.
UPCO 8/01: Certified pedigree chart of Irish terrier mascot Brick Top Shaun Rhue, 1932.
UPCO 8/01: American Kennel Club Stud Book Certificate of Entry for Irish terrier mascot Brick Top Shaun Rhue, listing his history and lineage, 1932/1119.
UPCO 8/01: American Kennel Club Stud Book Certificate of Entry for Irish terrier mascot Brick Top Shaun Rhue, 1932/1119. Verso of the document transferring ownership from Thomas Bolton to Notre Dame.
Other than these few documents announcing the arrival of Brick Top Shaun Rhue to Notre Dame, there is unfortunately not much mention of him later in Scholastic or elsewhere. It is thought that he simply ran away from campus in the spring of 1933. If so, Shaun Rhue may have never graced the sidelines of Notre Dame Stadium, but the idea of Irish Terriers as Notre Dame’s mascot would persist. In the fall of 1935, William Butler presented Notre Dame with another Irish Terrier – Clashmore Mike, who would remain at Notre Dame for ten years and garner much publicity.
Football Coach Heartley “Hunk” Anderson with Irish Terrier mascot Brick Top Shaun Rhue, 1932
In the fall of 1936, Scholastic attempted to trace the history of Irish Terriers mascots at Notre Dame. Within the span of a short twelve years, Tipperary Terrence I and II were lost from the institutional memory altogether and there was only a vague recollection of Brick Top Shaun Rhue:
“Shaun was a likable dog in many ways, but also had a few bad traits. He, like many students, enjoyed nothing better than a little vacation in the form of a week-end. His week-ends, however, were without official permission and extended not only for the week-end, but for weeks, his latest ‘week-end’ extending from the spring of 1933 until now. His mental alertness was also of the questionable quality as he was often known to stand nonchalantly in the path of oncoming cars, only escaping injury and death because of the driver’s quick action with the brakes.
Official mascots prior to Shaun Rhue’s time were unknown, at least in the opinion of ‘old timers’ connected with the University. Many, on being questioned concerning the existence of mascots at the University, merely shrugged their shoulders in a dubious manner.” [Scholastic, October 23, 1936, page 19].
While Notre Dame would flourish in the 19th century, it was not an easy road. Most American educational institutions faced severe obstacles that often led to ruin. John Theodore Wack noted, “Of the fifty-one Catholic colleges which were chartered in all of the United States before 1861, only sixteen were still in existence in 1927. Students, faculty members, and administrators simply could not be found to fill and staff many of the new colleges. Funds were scarce, donors were disillusioned, and creditors were apprehensive; most of the colleges quietly disappeared, leaving an old stone building or two for the wonderment of the children of future generations” [Wack, Notre Dame: Foundations, 1842-1857]. The first few decades of Notre Dame’s history was filled with many of these same hardships.
For the first few academic years, enrollment at Notre Dame hovered around thirty students. Most were preparatory students and only a select few were at the collegiate level. The student body was also highly transient in the beginning, with barley half returning the following term. The faculty was comprised entirely of clergy, whose salary consisted solely of room and board. Most of the faculty were not qualified to teach at the collegiate level and language barriers of the French priests and brothers proved problematic. Tuition, often paid through barter or labor, was a necessity to keep the University running. Therefore, discipline tended to be rather lax in the early years, much to the chagrin of Brother Gatian, who was the outspoken secretary of the Council of Professors.
Sorin and the administration struggled to define the academic curriculum for Notre Dame. The initial plans modeled the French educational system, as that is what they knew. The nuances didn’t translate well into the American Midwest. Sorin then looked to other American Universities for guidance and settled on modeling a curriculum after that of St. Louis University. However, the American pioneer boys craved a more practical education and were not as drawn to the classics as their East Coast contemporaries may have been. While the classics were offered, most students took the “English Course,” which taught business skills such as bookkeeping, which the students found to be more pragmatic. It took a while to get the right combination and the appropriate faculty, but more and more students were returning to their studies at Notre Dame in the late 1840s and early 1850s.
Broadside advertisement for Notre Dame featuring an engraving of the first Main Building, 1847.
Another continued sources of contention was the dynamics of personalities between Fr. Sorin, Vincennes’ Bishop Hailandière, and Superior General of the Congregation of Holy Cross Rev. Basil Moreau back in Le Mans, France. Sorin still envisioned Notre Dame being the epicenter of a national Catholic educational system. Hailandière was not happy that Sorin was looking to expand outside of the diocese. Moreau was not happy with Sorin’s lack of bookkeeping and, like many others, was concerned over the debts Notre Dame had accrued. Moreau also did not understand the American cultural differences Sorin faced and he was not a fan of the liberties Sorin was wont to take. The physical distance between them bred misunderstandings, and Sorin often acted impulsively on opportunities because he did not have time to get permission from France. Despite all of the conflict, Moreau never gave up on Sorin or the Notre Dame dream, although at times both parties were ready to throw in the towel.
Also in the mix of cantankerous personalities was the return of Rev. Stephen T. Badin to Notre Dame in 1845. Badin approached Sorin with some investment opportunities in exchange for a pension in his old age. Badin had some land in Kentucky, which he offered to Notre Dame to help with the financial struggles. However, when Sorin sold the land at a much lower price than what Badin thought they were worth, the feud between the two head-strong priests began. Badin began publicly criticizing Sorin and the administration at a time when the fledgling Notre Dame could ill-afford bad press. Sorin retorted to Badin, “In two words, no one has done more good for the institute than you, Monsieur, and no one has done it more harm” [Sorin to Badin, quoted in Wack].
Badin’s attacks and Moreau’s concerns weren’t without some founding, however Sorin often wished to state his case in person to eliminate further misinformation. Yet when Father Sorin left Notre Dame for months on end to attend to business in France, Vincennes, Indianapolis, Kentucky, or New Orleans, those left in charged at Notre Dame often floundered. “There should be no question: Father Sorin was the essential ingredient in Notre Dame du Lac. Without his yeast, there would have been no growth. Until some other person as capable as he could come forth, Father Sorin was necessary to the existence of the institution which he had founded” [Wack].
Sorin also was contending with outside forces in the heavily Protestant community in which the Catholic Notre Dame resided. Sorin felt that the outsiders regarded Notre Dame with an unsure and scrutinizing eye, looking for any excuse to tear down the new Catholic institution. In spite of the many crises he faced, Sorin maintained Notre Dame as best he could with a facade of success, stability, and permanence. Any rumblings in the town square of Notre Dame’s financial struggles or battles with disease could adversely effect enrollment and thus the future of Notre Dame. On the other hand, Sorin believed that “in America, one must attract public attention to achieve success” [Wack]. He worked hard to keep Notre Dame in the spotlight, even if it meant going further into debt. While the return on investment would be difficult to calculate for the time, Sorin splurged with such purchases as Dr. Cavalli’s museum collection in 1845 and America’s largest carillon in 1856.
Portrait of Rev. Edward Sorin sporting a neck beard, c1860s-1870s.
Notre Dame was not immune from natural disasters. Fires were relatively common and often disastrous. In 1849 the Manual Labor School was completely destroyed, convincing Sorin to take a gamble and send a company of brothers and a few townspeople to join the California gold rush. Their expedition was unsuccessful in finding gold, and sadly lead to the death of Brother Placidus and the desertion of George Campeau and Brothers Stephen and Gatian. The move also furthered the chasm between Moreau and Sorin, as Sorin acted without permission from the Motherhouse.
In 1855, the original log cabins near Old College, which were then being used as stables, burned and much of the farm equipment and storehouse were destroyed. Fortunately, the fire remained contained to that area and did not touch the rest of the campus buildings. It most likely would have been the end for Notre Dame if campus were destroyed at that point in history.
Disease was a such constant at Notre Dame with annual summer outbreaks of malaria and cholera that Sorin considered several times abandoning the site for less toxic land. Sorin and the administration figured the problem arose from the marshy lakes and stagnant water. They tried unsuccessfully to lower the water levels by digging trenches, but the real issue was a dam downstream near the St. Joseph River owned by Mr. Rush. Legal actions and attempts to buy the land from Mr. Rush were futile. He refused to budge. In 1854, an epidemic of typhoid fever ran through Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s Academy in Bertrand, claiming over twenty victims, mostly faculty and staff. To quell panic in the community, burials were held at night and information about the crisis was kept quiet.
In 1855, Rush finally conceded to sell his land to Notre Dame, but when he backed out at the last minute, Sorin sent a group of the strongest men at Notre Dame to go bust up the dam themselves. Rush then went through with the sale of his land. Notre Dame’s lakes receded and the disease dissipated.
Engraving of Second Main Building from the program for the Annual Festival of St. Edward, patronal feast of Very Rev. Edward Sorin (Founder’s Day), 1867/1012. Someone later added hand-drawn festoons and flags in pencil.
While Sorin and Notre Dame faced many hardships, they also garnered much success. Notre Dame greatly benefited from the Catholic networks in American and in France. While some opportunities turned contentious, Sorin’s reputation as successful “college-builder” opened many doors. In 1856, Bishop O’Regan of Chicago struck a deal with Sorin that all Chicago parochial schools would be under the direction of the Congregation of Holy Cross.
The purchase of Mr. Rush’s land near the St. Joseph River in 1855 enabled Sorin to move the Holy Cross Sisters from Mishawaka and Saint Mary’s Academy in Bertrand closer to Notre Dame. Around the same time, an incredibly generous donation from William Phelan of his land near Notre Dame helped to keep the institution afloat financially.
The 1850s brought an influx of immigrants to the United States, primarily people from Ireland and Germany who were fleeing famine and civil war in their homelands. Many of those immigrants were Catholic and were settling in the Midwest. The advent of the railroad through South Bend at this time would greatly help Notre Dame to grow its enrollment. Greater enrollment necessitated expansion of Main Building in 1865-1866. Amid typical Notre Dame pomp and circumstance, Notre Dame was consecrated on August 15, 1866, and newspaper reported that “the ceremony will eclipse everything of the kind which has ever taken place in the United States.”
The foundations that Fr. Sorin established in the 1840s and 1850s enabled Notre Dame to persevere through inevitable crises. Like most other American institutions, Notre Dame struggled during the Civil War. Many members of the Congregation of Holy Cross served as chaplains, notably Rev. William Corby, who was attached to the Irish Brigade, and Rev. Joseph Carrier, who was at the deathbed of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s son Willie.
At any earlier point in history, the Great Fire of 1879 may well have been the end for Notre Dame. However, just days after the fire, with most of campus destroyed, Scholastic writers reported, “we feel that there is no reason to give way to discouragement. No, we cannot bring ourselves to believe that the sun of Notre Dame has set. Let the thousands of loving children whom she has sent into the world within the past quarter of a century — let the devoted friends whom she counts in all parts of the country but rally to her relief, and we have every reason to feel confident that the good work which she has been doing in the past will be continued in the not distant future” [Scholastic, April 26, 1879 issue, page 536].
Father Sorin’s vision, faith, and determination was infectious. In an 1852 circular letter, Sorin reminisces about the first time he saw Notre Dame ten years earlier. His passion for Notre Dame, which he saw as divinely guided, and his dogged determination in its success is palpable:
“At that moment, one most memorable to me, a special consecration was made to the Blessed Mother of Jesus, not only of the land that was to be called by her very name, but also of the Institution that was to be founded there; –an humble offering was presented to her of its modest origin and its destiny, of its future trials and labors, its successes arid its joys. With my five Brothers and myself, I presented to the Blessed Virgin all those generous souls whom Heaven should be pleased to call around me on this spot, or who should come after me. From that moment I remember not a single instance of a serious doubt in my mind as to the final result of our exertions, unless, by our unfaithfulness, we should change the mercy from above into anger; and upon this consecration, which I thought accepted, I have rested ever since, firm and unshaken, as one surrounded on all sides by the furious waves of a stormy sea, but who feels himself planted immovably upon the motionless rock. Numerous as have been the dangers of all sorts to which we have been exposed, the obstacles and difficulties we have had to meet and overcome, the sufferings and crosses we have had to undergo, the various assaults and the persevering efforts of hell to destroy the Community in its infancy; though often annoyed by the ill-will of open foes without, and more than once betrayed by false friends within, I say it with a sentiment of deep gratitude, of every one of these trying occasions our Blessed Mother has invariably availed herself to show us her tender and powerful assistance.” [Sorin Circular letter, 12/08/1852]
On June 21, 1964, Soldier Field in Chicago played host to the Illinois Rally for Civil Rights. The principle speakers were Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., President and Founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, President of the University of Notre Dame.
The rally, whose operating costs reached $25,000, opened with two hours of jazz and gospel music and entertainment, including a 5000-voice choir led by gospel signer Mahalia Jackson. General admission was free, but priority seating was available for $2-5. Nearly 150 various organizations promoted the event, distributing 1.5 million flyers in Chicago, and brought their members to the rally by the bus-full. A crowd estimated of between 57,000-75,000 people of diverse walks of life, races, and faiths endured early rain and later sweltering heat in Soldier Field, standing in solidarity of racial equality.
Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh speaking at the Illinois Rally for Civil Rights in Chicago’s Soldier Field, 1964/0621
The Illinois Rally was somewhat anti-climatic as the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill was imminent – President Lyndon Johnson would sign the bill into law on July 2, 1964. Some were disappointed with the turnout, thinking that it was not as large as it could have or should have been (days before the event, the leaders had estimated the crowd could tip 100,000. The morning rain was blamed for the lower attendance). However, King said to the crowd, “We have come a long, long way in the civil rights struggle, but let me remind you that we have a long, long way to go. Passage of the civil rights bill does not mean that we have reached the promised land in civil rights.” He stressed that the bill alone was not enough – “vigorous enforcement” was essential to success.
Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh with Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Edgar Chandler (far left), and Msgr. Robert J. Hagarty of Chicago (far right) at the Illinois Rally for Civil Rights in Chicago’s Soldier Field, 1964/0621.
Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh’s involvement in the national Civil Rights Movement dates back to November 7, 1957, when President Dwight Eisenhower named him to the newly formed Civil Rights Commission. Hesburgh, then 40, was the youngest of the six member-commission. Hesburgh would remain on the Civil Rights Commission until 1972.
At the Illinois Rally, Hesburgh echoed King’s sentiments that there was still work to do: “A long road and a hot summer are ahead of us. Every Negro American who does not use his opportunity now is a traitor to his race. Be proud to be a Negro. Demand respect by being worthy of respect. We want to strive for human dignity with you.”
At the time, the Illinois Rally was the second largest Civil Rights demonstration, after the 1963 March on Washington. While there was a small group of protesters outside of Soldier Field, the Illinois Rally was overall a peaceful and successful event.
For more information about the Illinois Rally, please see the following:
Notre Dame’s Memorial Library (renamed the Hesburgh Library in 1987) was formally dedicated on May 7, 1964. Its doors officially opened for student use in the fall of 1963, although the famous “Word of Life” mural wouldn’t be installed until the following spring.
Lemonnier Library (now called Bond Hall) was the previous library and opened in 1917 after having outgrown its space on the fifth floor of Main Building. A few decades later, rumblings for a new library could be heard on campus. On April 17, 1945, University President Rev. J. Hugh O’Donnell outlined the future of Notre Dame in his keynote speech to the Alumni Club of Chicago at Universal Notre Dame Night: “The need for a new library building also becomes more apparent every day. When it is built, the present structure will comfortably, but no more than comfortably, house the Wightman Memorial Art Gallery, the archives, and the museum” [Alumnus, June 1945, page 6].
In 1950, University Archivist Rev. Thomas McAvoy lamented the lack of space needed for the newly acquired General William Tecumseh Sherman Family Papers. Alumnus wrote, “Until a new library is built on the campus, and the present structure [Bond Hall] is turned into an art gallery and museum, students and visitors to the campus will be unable to view the collection of possessions and mementoes of the famed Civil War commander, since there is no room to exhibit it under present conditions” [Alumnus, March-April 1950, page 18].
Cover of the fundraising brochure for the Memorial Library (later renamed Hesburgh Library)
The idea for a new library wouldn’t become more concrete until University President Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh announced the Challenge fundraising campaign in 1958. Like his predecessors, Hesburgh had big dreams for Notre Dame. He had a grand vision for a large library that would continue to elevate Notre Dame as a premiere institute of higher learning. As with any ambitious building project, funds need to be raised and sites need to be considered. Some location options for the new Memorial Library included the razing of Main Building, a building long in need of repair and expansion. Another potential site was in between Sorin Hall and Bond Hall, but the site finally chosen was on the eastern outskirts of campus with anticipation of growth of the quad north of Notre Dame Stadium.
Detail of an architectural sketch of a proposed plaza and library on the site of Main Building, c1960
Ground was broken in the summer of 1961, after razing most of Vetville and Navy Drill Hall. Construction advanced rapidly and the 14-story building was topped out on April 3, 1962. Books were moved out of Lemonnier Library and Memorial Library was ready for occupancy on September 18, 1963.
Men (students?) moving the 475,000 books from Lemonnier Library (Bond Hall) to the new Hesburgh Memorial Library using 2000 Black Label Beer boxes, August 1963.
The last step in construction was to install the famous “Word of Life” mural, commonly known as “Touchdown Jesus.” Father Hesburgh recognized that a massive building with few windows needed ornamentation as a counterbalance. On a trip to Mexico, Hesburgh was inspired by iconography on the Central Library at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City. Notre Dame hired artist Millard Sheets to design a mural for the new Memorial Library with Christ the Teacher at the center, surrounded by prophets and scholars of the Catholic Church. As Hesburgh intended with the physical building, the mural united Church and education, a concept often at odds with modern secular scholars.
Construction of the Word of Life Mural for Memorial Library (later Hesburgh Library), c1962. Workers, including Mrs. Hertel, are comparing the cast panels to colors per stone samples.
The mural consists of over 6000 pieces of granite in a multitude different colors and textures found in quarries around the world. The pieces were cut and assembled at the Cold Spring Granite Company in Minnesota. The mural itself is not attached directly to the building, but floats in front of it. There is a bit of space in between to allow for the expansion and contraction of materials during weather changes. During installation, tarps covered the work so that the mural would not be seen until complete. The strong winds of Northern Indiana did not always comply and allowed visitors to peek through the blowing tarps to the artwork underneath.
The Memorial Library Dedication ceremonies in May 1964, were filled with all the traditional Notre Dame pomp and circumstance. On May 6, Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals and Prefect of the Vatican Library, celebrated Solemn Pontifical Mass on Library Quad, and Albert Cardinal Meyer, Archbishop of Chicago, said the homily. The third Cardinal in attendance was Joseph Cardinal Ritter, Archbishop of Saint Louis, who blessed Memorial Library on May 7th. As noted in Notre Dame, “Presidents of 15 college and universities, ranging from Princeton in the East to California in the West, were among 25 celebrated figures who received honorary degrees from Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, Notre Dame’s president at the convocation” [1964 Special Issue, page 3].
Memorial Library Dedication – An ROTC color guard in front of the Library, 1964/0507.
A salutation from Pope Paul VI read at the dedication declares, “We gladly send you Our greetings and felicitations on the dedication of the new Memorial Library at Notre Dame. We pray that this additional repository of wisdom and knowledge may serve as a valuable instrument in the pursuit of truth and the defense and development of faith. It will undoubtedly enhance the prestige of the University, and increase its efficiency in the academic mission so highly praised by Our illustrious Predecessor, Benedict XV. … Rejoicing, therefore, on the inauguration of the new Memorial Library, and praying that it will contribute richly to the advancement of truth, We invoke upon the University of Notre Dame an abundance of illuminating divine graces; and in pledge, thereof, We lovingly bestow upon you, beloved son, and impart to the professors, students and personnel, Our particular paternal Apostolic Blessing” [quoted from Notre Dame, 1964 special issue, page 2].
Memorial Library Dedication – Ceremonies on Library Quad, view from above, 1964/0507.
Wednesday, April 23, 1879, started out as any other spring day at Notre Dame. Taking advantage of the warm day, the Minims were out on their play yard. Around 10:00am, they were the first to notice the smoke rising from the Main Building and sounded the alarm — “College on fire!” Notification was sent to South Bend and a fire engine was dispatched to Notre Dame, but it arrived too late to save five of the campus buildings that were quickly consumed. Despite several devastating fires in her past, Notre Dame was ill-prepared for such a large fire. Even though the Main Building was equipped with water tanks, they proved futile on this fateful day.
Feature of the Second Main Building fire published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, May 24, 1879
The origins of the fire are uncertain, but many theories point to construction work being done on the pitch roof of Main Building. As soon as the fire was discovered, students, faculty, and local townspeople scrambled to form a long bucket brigade up the six floors of the building. Many others desperately tried to save the precious library books, museum artifacts, scientific instruments, furniture, and personal effects. They carried many items carefully out of the buildings. However, in the chaos, some people frantically flung things out of the windows, destroying them from the fall in an attempt to save them. Once the wooden supports of the dome gave way, sending the one ton Mary statue plummeting through the center of the building, all chances for further recovery were abandoned. The western winds spread the fire from Main Building, additionally destroying the infirmary, St. Francis Old Men’s Home, Music Hall, and the Minims’ Hall. Fortunately, Sacred Heart Church (designated a Basilica in 1992) and Luigi Gregori’s murals were spared, as were the Presbytery, the printing presses (home of Ave Maria and Scholastic in what is now Brownson Hall), the kitchens, the steam house, and the first Washington Hall (the current one was dedicated in 1882).
The fire raged for only a few hours and was relatively under control by evening. The South Bend fire engine remained on watch for any flare-ups. Miraculously, there were no fatalities and only a few injuries – student PJ Dougherty either jumped or fell from the third story and recovered quickly in a few days. Others narrowly escaped falling debris that could have been deadly. Main Quad was strewn with items that were salvaged from the burning buildings. In all, there was over $200,000 worth of damage, including 25,000 books, 17 pianos and other musical instruments, many valuable scientific specimens, and irreplaceable historical artifacts. Insurance only covered about $45,000.
Engraving of campus with the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and Second Main Building before the fire, c1870s
At 3:00pm, the administration and faculty convened to map out a game-plan for the immediate future of Notre Dame. They decided that the school year should terminate early. They began making arrangements to send the grief-stricken students home and confer degrees early, but no one believed this was the end for Notre Dame. University President Rev. William Corby decided immediately that the University would rebuild and would be ready to accept students at the normal opening day in September. Scholastic writers echoed, “we feel that there is no reason to give way to discouragement. No, we cannot bring ourselves to believe that the sun of Notre Dame has set. Let the thousands of loving children whom she has sent into the world within the past quarter of a century — let the devoted friends whom she counts in all parts of the country but rally to her relief, and we have every reason to feel confident that the good work which she has been doing in the past will be continued in the not distant future” [Scholastic, April 26, 1879 issue, page 536].
A series of stereoscope views of the Second Main Building and the April 23, 1879, fire aftermath. Photos by James Bonney.
Rev. Edward Sorin, founder of the University, was in Montreal at the time of the fire, about to embark on his 36th transatlantic voyage. A telegram was dispatched to intercept him, although some feared the physical effects of aging Sorin receiving the news. Professor James Edwards left South Bend for Montreal to tell the Superior General his first-hand account in person. Both of them returned to Notre Dame on Sunday, April 27th. That Sunday morning, thousands of students, faculty, and townspeople packed the Basilica of the Sacred Heart as Sorin preached “Lessons of the Fire,” in which he told them “If it were all gone, I should not give up.” Professor Timothy Howard recalled many years later that they were “the most sublime words I have ever listened to” (X-4-e, April 14, 1907).
What might have led other American institutions at the time to fold seemed to only embolden the Notre Dame spirit: “Yes, Notre Dame will be herself again in a few months with God’s help, the untiring toil of her children, and the aid of her generous friends who have never failed her in her hour of need. … Notre Dame has so grown into the life of the country that it cannot but live and flourish, notwithstanding the fire. Like a vigorous tree which has been burned to the ground, the life is still strong in the great heart beneath, and it will spring from its ashes more glorious and beautiful than ever.” [Scholastic, April 26, 1879 issue, page 534].
Once he returned to campus and surveyed the damage, Fr. Sorin seemed to spring back to his youth, determined more than ever to rebuild Notre Dame into a grander university. There was much work to be done and everyone pitched in as they could. Scholastic noted that Sorin could “wheel off a load of bricks with great grace and dignity” [May 10, 1879 issue, page 546]. Three weeks after the fire, the debris pile still smoldered and smoked. Visitors from all over came to see the ruins for themselves.
View of Notre Dame campus destroyed by fire, accompanying a letter by Rev. Edward Sorin soliciting donations in France to rebuild Notre Dame after the fire, c1879-1880. Engraving by Fernique published in “Annales de Saint-Joseph” of the College de Sainte-Croix, Neuilly, France.
News of the tragedy quickly spread across the country and into Europe. Letters and telegrams of support and promises of financial aid poured in. Notre Dame administrators, faculty, alumni, and benefactors immediately hit the bricks in raising funds to rebuild. Fortunately, their strong networks helped to make the rebuilding of Notre Dame a quick reality. Rev. John Zahm solicited specimens for his Museum of Natural History. James Edwards solicited books for the Lemonnier Library. Sorin solicited funds across the country and in Europe.
On May 4, 1879, Fr. Sorin blessed the cornerstone for the new Main Building, even though official architectural plans were still under consideration. By mid-May Chicago architect Willoughby Edbrooke was hired out of many architects who submitted their work in the nationwide competition. Hundreds of laborers descended on campus and construction worked at a fast pace. More than 4,300,000 bricks, mostly made from the marl in the lakes, needed to be laid by September. Sorin figured construction cost $1000-1500 a day and the lack of insurance already put them far behind. However, Sorin’s complete faith in Divine Providence never faltered. He noted to Sister Columba, “our catastrophe, so sudden and so unexpected and so terrible, has been seen as a loss to the whole country, and the American people have marvelously helped us to reverse it” [quoted in O’Connell, page 656].
The New Notre Dame - Engraving of Main Building exterior, 1879.
The core of Main Building was complete for the opening school term in September 1879. Four months earlier, Notre Dame was regarded as one of the largest and one of the best educational institutions in America, particularly in the West. The tragic fire helped bring more national attention to Notre Dame. The physical edifices of the “New Notre Dame” indeed were larger, more ornate, and more modern than their predecessors. Main Building and her Golden Dome stand today as a testament to the dreams, ambition, determination, hard work, and faith of our forefathers to build one of the greatest universities in the world.
Exterior view of Main Building III under construction, without the Dome and with rolls of sod, c1879.
In the early 1880s, the Notre Dame faculty and administration were discussing a way to engage American Catholic lay men and women with the hierarchy of the Church. University President Rev. Thomas Walsh, Rev. Edward Sorin, and Professor James Edwards decided that Notre Dame should bestow a medal of honor each year on an American lay Catholic member, preferably a college-educated “man of letters,” in similar fashion as the Vatican’s Golden Rose. The Laetare Medal quickly became not only the highest honor Notre Dame bestows, but also the highest honor American Catholics can receive.
As the medal was initially presented on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, the medal was known as the Laetare Medal. Notre Dame administrators or a delegate usually presented the medal to the recipient away from campus. As time grew on, the presentations floated further away from Laetare Sunday to accommodate the recipient’s schedule, but the announcement is still made on Laetare Sunday.
Front side of the Laetare Medal given to Albert Zahm in 1925. Astronaut James Wetherbee (Class of 1974) carried this medal with him on his first flight into space aboard the Columbia space shuttle in 1990.
John Gilmary Shea was the first recipient of the Laetare Medal in 1883. Artist Eliza Allen Starr, dear friend of Rev. Edward Sorin, was the third recipient of the Laetare Medal and the first female recipient in 1885. Edward Pruess accepted the 1887 medal under anonymity, not wanting public honors. It wasn’t until after his death that his name was added to the honor roll.
In the early years, an illustrative announcement accompanied the medal. This practice ended in 1908 on the Silver Jubilee of the Laetare Medal. Each medal has a unique design, reflecting an important aspect of the recipient’s life. For example, aviation pioneer Albert Zahm’s (Class of 1883) medal features an airplane and the Golden Dome (see above) while President John F. Kennedy’s medal features the Presidential Seal of the United States.
Laetare Medal certificate to James Charles Monaghan, 1908. Artwork by Howard Darnell of Philadelphia.
For decades, Notre Dame administrators, usually accompanied by the local bishop or other Catholic hierarchy, would bring the medal to the recipient. Usually the ceremony was simple, but other times it was a lavish affair. In 1911, former Notre Dame professor Maurice Francis Egan, who was then service as the United States Ambassador to Denmark, was awarded the Laetare Medal. Notre Dame invited dozens of dignitaries, including cabinet members, congressmen, high-ranking military officials, and foreign ambassadors to the presentation ceremony.
In 1918, Los Angeles Bishop John Cantwell spoke to a packed crowd in the Shrine Auditorium on the occasion of the Laetare Medal presentation to attorney Joseph Scott:
“This distinguished assemblage of citizens is unique among civic gatherings. We come together this evening to witness an academic act of a university whose center is far from here, but whose range of activity is confined only by the continent. … When the University of Notre Dame confers the Laetare Medal this evening, it is the witness of a great university to the superb character of Mr. Joseph Scott.”
[“Joseph Scott Receives the Laetare Medal,” The Tidings, February 28, 1919; CJWC 14/22]
For the Golden Jubilee of the medal in 1933, the presentation was held at Notre Dame’s Commencement. All living medalists were invited and among those who returned to campus to speak were Margaret Anglin, Al Smith, and Dr. James J. Walsh.
Rev. Edmund Joyce, CSC, and Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, presenting President John F. Kennedy with the Laetare Medal in the White House, 1961/1122.
In 1968, the Notre Dame search committee opened up the requirements of Laetare Medalists to include clergy, not just lay people. The first religious Laetare Medalist was Rev. John O’Brien, a Notre Dame faculty member and popular author. Notre Dame has also awarded the Laetare Medal jointly to married couples and groups.
By the 1970s, the presentation of the Laetare Medal became a regular part of Commencement Exercises, and the medal recipient is one of the principle speakers. In 2006, Laetare Medalist jazz musician Dave Brubeck also graced the audience with a performance of “Travelin’ Blues” (see video below). In 2009, Mary Ann Gleason declined the Laetare Medal in protest to Notre Dame’s decision to name President Barack Obama as Commencement speaker and award him an honorary degree.
Commencement – Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, presenting Helen Hayes with the Laetare Medal, 1979/0520.
For the centennial of the Laetare Medal in 1983, University President Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh admitted,
“there was serious discussion whether the University should continue to make the annual award. After all, with twenty-one Catholic members of the United States Senate, we are hardly an immigrant minority; we have entered the mainstream. But the consensus was that our nation will always need – and it will be salutary to recognize – the kind of men and women who have worn the Laetare Medal, persons of excellence and faith who exemplify best what it means to be both American and Catholic. For this reason, I suspect that there will be a Laetare Medal as long as there is a Notre Dame”
[Laetare Medal Centennial: 1883-1983, PNDP 40-La-01].
On February 6, 1814, Edouard-Frédéric Sorin was born and baptized in the small town of Ahuillé, France. He was born the seventh of nine children into a relatively well-to-do Catholic farming family, a generation or so after the bloody French Revolution. The Revolutionaries heavily persecuted the Catholic Church, sending thousands of priests to the guillotine or exile. However, by the time Sorin’s birth, France had begun mending fences with the Church. In this resurgence of peace, Sorin saw an opportunity for leadership to rebuild the Catholic Church in France through the priesthood, a calling he had since childhood.
Chateau de la Roche – Birthplace of Rev. Edward Sorin, CSC, in Ahuille, France, 1939/0715.
In 1834, at St. Vincent’s Seminary in Le Mans, France, Sorin met the charismatic professor Rev. Basil Moreau, who was on the brink of founding the Congregation of Holy Cross. Sorin was ordained on May 27, 1838, and assigned to be a parish priest in Parcé-sur-Sarthe. A year later, Sorin jumped on the opportunity to join Moreau’s new ambitious order that focused on education and foreign missions, rejoining the novitiate in Le Mans. On August 15, 1840, Sorin officially took vows in the name of the Congregation of Holy Cross.
At the appeal of the Célestine Guynemer de la Hailandière, Bishop of Vincennes, for clergy in a predominantly French Indiana, Moreau offered to send six brothers led by a young priest – Edward Sorin. As would echo throughout Sorin’s life, Sorin saw this assignment as a direct mission from God and he threw himself into the idea with unabashed zeal. Before he even left French soil, Sorin declared his allegiance to America, which to him was a relatively blank canvas upon which he could help build the Catholic Church:
“How happy I am to be able to assure you that the road to America stands out clearly before me as the road to heaven. … Henceforth I live only for my dear brethren in America. America is my fatherland. It is the center of all my affections and the object of all my thoughts. … At the present time I see clearly that our Lord loves me in a very special manner as has been told me many times.” [Sorin to Hailandière, summer 1841, as quoted by O’Connell, page 52.]
The group left France on August 5, 1841, the Feast of Our Lady of the Snows, a coincidence not lost on Sorin a year later, and headed to New York. Hailandière arranged for Samuel Byerley to meet the group in New York, who remained friend and benefactor to the Community throughout the years. From there, they took an arduous journey primarily across a series of canals and rivers to Vincennes, with none of them knowing English.
Portrait of Rev. Edward Sorin, CSC, c1860s.
Fr. Sorin and the Brothers were assigned to St. Peter’s parish near Washington, Indiana, tasked to build a novitiate for the Brothers of St. Joseph. The hope was that novices would serve as teachers within the diocese. A poor harvest, lack of monetary resources, and struggles between the strong personalities of Sorin and Hailandière led both of them looking for new opportunities. As it happened, the Diocese of Vincennes had in its possession a tract of land in Northern Indiana, near the south bend of the St. Joseph River.
The land now occupied by the University of Notre Dame has a long tradition of being a place of Catholic missions. French Jesuit Rev. Claude Allouez founded a mission along the lakes and christened it Sainte-Marie-des-Lacs. Rev. Stephen T. Badin, the first priest ordained in the United States, came to the area at the request of Leopold Pokagon, leader of the Potawatomi, for Catholic priests to minister to his people. He bought the parcels over time in 1830-1832. As one who was often negotiating real estate deals, Badin sold the land and a few dilapidated buildings to the Diocese of Vincennes in 1835 for $751 with the condition that it be used for a school and orphanage. Rev. Ferdinand Bach was the first to be given the task to build such institutions on the land in 1840. His failure to do so and abandonment of the post timed perfectly with Sorin’s ambition to build a college in America.
Perhaps as a way to physically distance himself in Vincennes with Fr. Sorin, Hailandière offered the northern land to Sorin as a place for him to build his envisioned college, giving him only two years to do so. Sorin was so determined to make it a reality that he made up his mind to leave Vincennes in the middle of a harsh Indiana November without first seeking permission from Fr. Moreau.
Fr. Sorin and seven of the Brothers – Mary (later changed to Br. Francis Xavier), Gatien, Patrick, William, Basil, Peter, and Francis – left Vincennes on November 16, 1842, and their 250 mile trek was not an easy one. They only gained five miles on the first day in the cold, snow, and high winds. Impatiently, Fr. Sorin and four of the Brothers went ahead of the other three, who were slower with all the gear loaded on a broken-down ox-drawn wagon. Eleven days later, Sorin and the four Brothers arrived in South Bend. Alexis Coquillard, nephew of the South Bend merchant of the same name, greeted the band and showed them to their new home that same afternoon.
Engraving envisioning Rev. Edward Sorin, CSC, and the founding of Notre Dame in November 1842 [the exact date is left up to interpretation, but is generally acknowledged as November 26th]. The artist is Francis Xavier Ackermann, who was a faculty member from 1890-1937.
Finally writing to Moreau over a week after arriving at Notre Dame, Sorin basks in the majesty of the land:
“Everything was frozen, and yet it all appeared so beautiful. The lake, particularly, with its mantle of snow, resplendent in its whiteness, was to us a symbol of the stainless purity of Our August Lady [Our Lady of the Snows], whose name it bears; and also of the purity of soul which should characterize the new inhabitants of these beautiful shores. … Yes, like little children, in spite of the cold, we went from one extremity to the other, perfectly enchanted with the marvelous beauties of our new abode. Oh! may this new Eden be ever the home of innocence and virtue! There, I could willingly exclaim with the prophet: Dominus regit me … super aquam refectionis educavit me! [“The Lord guides me … beside still waters”; Psalm 23] Once again in our life we felt then that Providence had been good to us, and we blessed God with all our hearts.”
The great dreamer continued,
“While on this subject, you will permit me, dear Father, to express a feeling which leaves me no rest. It is simply this: Notre Dame du Lac has been given to us by the Bishop only on condition that we build here a college. As there is no other within five hundred miles, this undertaking cannot fail of success, provided it receive assistance from our good friends in France. Soon it will be greatly developed, being evidently the most favorably located in the United States. This college will be one of the most powerful means of doing good in this country, and, at the same time, will offer every year a most useful resource to the Brothers’ Novitiate; and once the Sisters come – whose presence is so much desired here they must be prepared, not merely for domestic work, but also for teaching; and perhaps, too, the establishment of an academy. … Finally, dear Father, you may well believe that this branch of your family is destined to grow and extend itself under the protection of Our Lady of the Lake and St. Joseph. At least such is my firm conviction; time will tell whether I am deceived or not.” [Sorin to Moreau, December 5, 1842]
The men quickly got to work clearing the land to build a new log chapel, which opened on March 19, 1843, the Feast of St. Joseph. Sorin nearly exhausted his finances buying lumber and bricks with the hopes of building a grand main building. Unfortunately, the hired architect showed up months too late for it to be open in 1843. In the meantime, the Community built the sturdy brick Old College so that at least the Brothers wouldn’t have to spend another drafty winter in the log chapel.
In the summer of 1843, more support personnel came from Le Mans – “two priests, Fathers Francis Cointet and Theophile Marivault; a seminarian, Mr. Gouesse; one Brother, Eloi; and four Sisters, Mary of the Heart of Jesus, Mary of Bethlehem, Mary of Calvary, and Mary of Nazareth” [Wack]. Each had his own talents, which contributed greatly to the growth of Notre Dame.
Among the first students to arrive were Theodore Alexis Coquillard and Clements Reckers in 1842. Others slowly trickled in and Notre Dame had 18 students enrolled by June 1844, although many didn’t stay long enough to earn a degree. Ever ambitious, Sorin saw Notre Dame as a central beacon for the influx of Catholic immigrants in America. Notre Dame would be the model for all levels of Catholic education – elementary, preparatory, collegiate, seminary, vocational. He envisioned satellite campuses and most definitely institutions for girls and women. Notre Dame applied for a charter with the State of Indiana to grant degrees with the authority of a college and formed an administration. On January 15, 1844, Indiana chartered Notre Dame as a university, even though it would be some time before Notre Dame would have a strong collegiate student body and faculty.
Engraving of the first Main Building in 1844
Mr. Marsile, the main building architect, finally arrived in August 1843. Sorin was running out of funds, but knew that if he delayed building, it might never happen. He boldly decided to start the project right away. Fortunately, the winter of ’43 wasn’t as harsh as the year before and “[b]efore the first snow fell, the walls were raised and the building was partially under roof. The remainder of the work, particularly the inside plastering and preparation of the rooms, was left to be finished in the spring. By June, 1844, the main college building was complete. This first main building did not include the two wings which had been planned; these were left to be added in later years” [Wack]. Notre Dame was well on the way to success, although not without the obstacles and growing pains that many American colleges faces at this time.
In the early 1880s, University Vice President Rev. John Zahm and his brother Albert took excursions to the West, Southwest, and Mexico in scientific pursuits, of archeology, geology, and anthropology. In addition to making observations, they were actively acquiring specimens to replace those destroyed in the 1879 fire. Along the way, they made many friends and realized they had also found many new recruits of students to attend Notre Dame.
As Notre Dame’s enrollment exploded in the late 19th century, more and more students were arriving from outside of the Midwest. As travel from the West and Southwest was far more difficult to navigate from the East, Notre Dame helped the western students out with travel special arrangements. Fr. Zahm played chaperone to the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students hailing from these distant points in the 1880s. Zahm arranged for special train cars from points such as Denver and Chihuahua, Mexico, to travel eastward to Notre Dame. In 1883, the trip from Denver took at three days, five from Chihuahua.
The Zahm Special, 1898. Train car built by the Worcester Excursion Car Company for use by western students traveling to and from campus.
Many of the western students’ parents couldn’t afford to also make the trip, so Fr. Zahm and other officials acted in loco parentis, a role Notre Dame faculty and administrators always played. The special cars allowed for the students to make the trip without changing cars. Otherwise, it would be a daunting task to wrangle students ranging from the Minims to the Collegiate boys and their travel trunks. One student marveled, “the journey from South Bend to Denver without a single change of cars, and with all the comforts of a hotel from Chicago to Denver, without extra charge. Truly, wonders will never cease!” [Scholastic, June 20, 1883].
Detail of a broadside advertisement in Spanish for prospective Notre Dame students from Mexico, featuring a map of the United States with train routes, 1883.
The passengers spent much of the day fascinated by the ever-changing landscape – from mountains, to deserts, to the plains. At night, they sang songs and read stories. The students who barely knew each other before boarding became quick friends on the trip. At the stations along the way, they were greeted by alumni and friends of the University.
At the beginning of September 1883, two trains were arranged to bring students to Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s Academy – one from Chihuahua, the other from Denver. Getting to these major hubs was often a significant length of travel in and of itself. Someone on the Denver train reported,
“They came from almost every direction, — from Lander and Cheyenne on the north, in Wyoming, to Pueblo, in the South. Ouray, Telluride, Buena Vista, Crested Butte, sent their quotas to swell the throng of students, parents, and professors. People in the East have little idea of the difficulties and inconveniences that often beset the path of the Western student bound collegeward. Taking the case of Mrs. Amoretti, for instance, who with her son—now a Minim at Notre Dame—had to stage one hundred and fifty miles to Green River before striking railway travel, thence to Denver, by rail, and from there twelve hundred miles to Notre Dame!” [Scholastic, 09/22/1883, page 34].
Brothers Albert Zahm and Rev. John Zahm, CSC.
The trains were decorated with banners and bunting, announcing the presence of Notre Dame students aboard and drawing the attention of onlookers. The 1883 Denver train had a special passenger in the form of a burro, brought to Notre Dame by the Scherrer boys. The burro and his bale of hay rode in the baggage car.
At the same time in 1883, Fr. Zahm chartered a palace car which left from Chihuahua, Mexico, with fourteen students. They were chaperoned by Albert Zahm and A. O’Reilly, a Notre Dame alum who worked for the Hannibal and St. Joe line. This private car allowed for the students to travel nearly 2000 miles without changing cars. Fr. Zahm, who accompanied the Denver car, kept in contact with the Chihuahua car via telegraph, monitoring its movements. They picked up more students from Las Cruces and Albuquerque, New Mexico. By the time two Pullman cars met up in Galesburg, Illinois, over seventy-five students were on their way to South Bend.
In 1885, Notre Dame bought its own private car and hired a chef who at one time worked for Delmonico’s in New York. Traveling first class this way may have seen an extraordinary expense, but in the end was more economical and convenient than going through the train companies:
“Having a special through car, the party escapes all the annoyances incident to transfers from train to train and from depot to depot. And if their car be a hotel car, they can take their meals together at their leisure, and when they feel disposed to do so. They are not obliged to wait for their meals when the train is behind time, or to bolt their food as they are almost obliged to do by the customary twenty minutes’ stoppage at railway eating houses. By having a hotel car of their own, the party is practically at home, and a long journey, far from being a source of annoyance and fatigue, becomes one of pleasure and recreation” [Scholastic, 06/06/1885, page 626].
The New Hotel Car “Notre Dame University,” 1885
While Notre Dame continued to charter special trains for its students, many local Alumni Clubs took over arranging travel for their students into the 20th century. Rail travel eventually was bolstered by charted buses and airplanes and car pools. For Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations in 1959, students spent over $60,000 on eight charted planes and other transportation arranged by Alumni Clubs [Scholastic, 11/13/1959, page 10]. Some Alumni Clubs still help arranging mass transportation, but for the most part, students are on their own getting to and from campus.
Since the beginning of collegiate football when Princeton played Rutgers in 1869, the game has been constantly evolving. One aspect of the game that was in flux for many years was passing. While lateral and backward passes or pitches were legal, anything that crossed the line of scrimmage was against the rules. In March 1888, over a month before the second-ever Notre Dame varsity game was played, Scholastic reprinted an abridged list of American football rules from Century, which described the techniques of sequential lateral passes, reminiscent of the 1982 Stanford vs. California game (minus the marching band in the end zone):
“Passing” the ball, or throwing it from one to another, is another feature of the game. Hardly any combination of team-playing and individual skill is more noteworthy than the sight of a first-rate team carrying the ball down the field, each player taking his turn in running with the ball, and, when hard pressed, passing it over the head of an opponent to one of his own side, more fortunately situated, who carries it farther. Considering that the egg-shape of the ball makes it the concentrated essence of irregularity, that only the most skilful player can even hazard a guess at the direction which it will take after a bound, and that an error of but an inch in the direction of a throw may carry the ball a dozen feet away from the place at which it was aimed, one may be pardoned for admiring the certainty with which individuals and teams make each point of play and combine them all into an organized system. A “pass forward ” is not allowed, and is a foul; the ball must be thrown straight across the field, parallel to the goal-line, or in any direction back of that line [Scholastic, 03/10/1888, page 391].
Sadly, the rough style of play and lack of much protective equipment led to serious injuries on the gridiron – from cuts to broken bones and even death. The public, however, loved the game and flocked to newly built stadiums to see the contests. Many colleges began banning the football programs. In December 1905 as part of an effort to try to save football, President Theodore Roosevelt called upon college administrations to unite and come up with standards that would make the game safer. One of the recommendations that eventually came out of the committee was to open up the game with the forward pass.
Once it became a legitimate strategy, the forward pass slowly made its way into the playbooks across the country for the 1906 season. Saint Louis University is credited with being the first to legally and successfully use the forward pass. In recapping Notre Dame’s first game of the season against Franklin, Scholastic was disappointed not to see the forward pass immediately used on Cartier Field:
The new rules were much in evidence, especially in the way of penalties, as the Varsity was penalized at least 100 yards during the game. The rooters did not get a chance to see the new game tested, as straight football was used by the Varsity; the much-talked of forward pass and short kicks did not show up as it was hoped. During the first half, and in fact most of the time, Notre Dame resorted to the old style of play [Scholastic, 10/13/1906, page 75].
Notre Dame and Army had both sporadically used the forward pass to success well before 1913. However, there were still a lot of disadvantages to the forward pass such as penalties for in completions and much higher risks of turnovers than running the ball. While many football programs were aware of the pass and occasionally used it, it was still a rarity in the game. Proponents of the traditional style of football tried to revoke the forward pass from the rule book. However, by 1913, many of the penalties and restrictions were removed and it came time for coaches and players to develop their athletic skills and try their hand at using the open game to their advantage.
The Eastern teams tended to stick with the old-style of play while the Western schools were more comfortable with the open passing game. Since there had been little interconference play, Harvard, Yale, and Army were apples and oranges to Michigan, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame. No one was really sure how to compare them to one another. The Western schools also had the disadvantage in that many East Coast sports reporters were biased toward the Eastern schools and their style of play.
Since 1887, Notre Dame had worked her way up to the top of the Western Conference, even nabbing the title in 1909. Louis “Red” Salmon (1902) and Harry Miller (1909) garnered third team All-America nods before Gus Dorais became the first Notre Dame player to earn first team in 1913. In 1912, the Notre Dame football team chalked up its first undefeated, untied season, under the helm of Coach Jack Marks, a Dartmouth man who taught the Notre Dame squad Eastern tactics. While Marks never lost a game in his two years, the record was against light schedules that brought in little revenue. The administration, students, and alumni knew Notre Dame athletics could do better.
In this vein, Notre Dame hired the talented and much sought-after Jesse Harper of Wabash College in December 1912. Harper, who played under Coach Amos Alonzo Stagg at the University of Chicago, would assume his post of Athletic Director and coach of all varsity sports at Notre Dame in September 1913. In those nine months, he worked hard on behalf of the Blue and Gold to schedule the most competitive opponents possible and to fill the bleachers, and thus the coffers. Due to conflicts within the Western Conference, Harper sought to schedule teams outside of the Midwest, which proved fortuitous in the long-run for Notre Dame. The 1913 schedule was one of the most difficult Notre Dame had seen to that point with six of seven opponents Notre Dame had never faced before.
Football Team with a toy mule, 1913. Back Row: Assistant Coach Edwards, Emmett Keefe, Ray Eichenlaub, Albert King, Freeman (Fitz) Fitzgerald, Charles (Sam) Finegan, Coach Jesse Harper Middle Row: Ralph (Zipper) Lathrop, Keith (Deak) Jones, Joe Pliska, Captain Knute Rockne, Gus Dorais, Fred (Gus) Gushurst, Al Feeney Front Row: Allen (Mal) Elward, Alfred (Dutch) Bergman, Bill Cook, Art (Bunny) Larkin
The 1913 Notre Dame squad was chock-full of veterans and the students were all hopeful for another successful season; however, Scholastic complained “we know Mid-West critics too well to hope for the Western Championship this year” [Scholastic, 10/25/1913, page 80]. The Montgomery [Alabama] Adviser noted that Notre Dame’s “[p]resent prospects point to one of the strongest elevens the university [Notre Dame] had ever had” [“Twenty-Two Candidates Out at Notre Dame,” The Montgomery Adviser, 09/20/1913].
Notre Dame had an easy time with the home opener against Ohio Northern, the only previously-played team on the schedule, winning 87-0 while Knute Rockne sustained an early rib injury. South Dakota was next and proved a bit more of a struggle, even though the scored ended up 20-7 with some late Notre Dame scores. Alma rounded out the end of the home stretch with Notre Dame defeating them soundly 62-0.
Football Game Scene - Notre Dame vs. Ohio Northern, 1913/1004. Captain Knute Rockne leading the team onto Cartier Field before the first game of the season.
The last four games were on the road, taking the Notre Dame squad to far-flung corners of the country for the first time. The road trip started with the famous game versus Army at West Point on November 1, 1913. Army was a big dog in the Eastern Conference, so it was a big deal to get on their schedule. Fortunately, Army had a few dates open on their schedule and they were accommodating to Notre Dame. When Jesse Harper was making the schedule for the 1913 season, he actually wrote to Yale a few days before Army. Unfortunately, there is no reply in the files, so we don’t know if there was a scheduling conflict or a lack of interest as to why Notre Dame didn’t play them in 1913 but did in 1914.
Part of the legend is true – the forward pass was crucial to Notre Dame’s victory, as the Army team outweighed many of the Notre Dame players. Notre Dame didn’t invent the forward pass, but they brought a balanced offense of running and passing played with such precision and speed as had never before been seen in a major collegiate game. The mix of offensive plays weakened and confused the Army defense. The plays weren’t formulated overnight and it wasn’t a secret, as Notre Dame had used such game strategy previously throughout the season. The Dallas Morning News even predicted that Notre Dame could edge out Army with use of the forward pass balanced with Ray Eichenlaub’s running game, which was thoroughly tested out in the Alma game [Dallas Morning News, 10/30/1913].
Quarterback Charles (Gus) Dorais had perfected the timing of routes with his open receivers Knute Rockne, Joe Pliska, and Charles (Sam) Finegan so that the plays ran like a well-oiled machine. Dorais was never under pressure and he constantly switched things up, never throwing to the same receiver twice in a row. Dorais completed 13 of 17 passes for 243 yards and three of the five touchdowns in the air to defeat Army 35-13.
Notre Dame proved that the forward pass could be an effective weapon in an offensive arsenal and that it wasn’t just a trick play or a last-ditch option, as it had mostly been seen in the past. The defeat of Army in 1913 gave more legitimacy to the open Western-style of playing versus the traditional, smashmouth football of the East. If done right, the passing game allowed for more scoring in a quicker amount of time and it was safer for the players. In regards to the Army game, the New York Times noted that “[f]ootball men marveled at this startling display of open football. Bill Roper, former head coach at Princeton, who was one of the officials of the game, said that he had always believed that such playing was possible under the new rules, but that he had never seen the forward pass developed to such a state of perfection” [reprinted in Scholastic, 11/08/1913, page 107].
Football team members and boosters in Kingston, New York en route to West Point, 1913/1101. Including Ray Eichenlaub, Charles (Gus) Dorais, George (Hullie) Hull, Art (Bunny) Larkin, Keith (Deac/Deak) Jones, Joe, Gush (Fred Gushurst?), Em (Emmett Keefe?), Charles (Sam) Finegan, Paul (Curly) Nowers, Allen (Mal) Elward, Knute Rockne, and Mike Calnon.
Notre Dame then traveled to Penn State and handed them their first defeat on home soil 14-7. A few weeks later, Notre Dame defeated Christian Brothers College in Saint Louis 20-7, and then headed to Texas for a Thanksgiving Day game. Notre Dame was the first school north of the Mason-Dixon line to play Texas. Notre Dame took advantage of their time in Austin to practice at Saint Edward’s University, an institution also founded by Rev. Edward Sorin and run by the Congregation of the Holy Cross. The extra practice paid off as Notre Dame secured a 30-7 victory.
After Notre Dame’s second undefeated, untied season in as many years, many schools tried to plan a post-season game with Notre Dame, including Louisiana State University, Michigan State, Oklahoma, and Seattle A.C. Timing, extra training, and extraneous travel were obstacles to scheduling more games in 1913, so nothing materialized at the time, but it probably did give Jesse Harper leverage when it came to negotiating future schedules.
While already on the college football map before 1913, Notre Dame athletics was becoming better known as a household name outside of the Midwest. Notre Dame’s student population, and thus alumni, have always been geographically diverse, so rooters met them along the way. Notre Dame had an entire bleacher section filled with fans and alumni at West Point. The extensive road trips starting in 1913 coupled with the pervasive anti-Catholicism in America helped Notre Dame to begin building her “subway alumni.” Jesse Harper saw that he could build a fan base, and thus revenue, by having competitive athletic schedules. His vision of excellence was the foundation upon which Knute Rockne continued to build when he became Coach and Athletic Director, securing Notre Dame’s place at the top of collegiate football history.
PATH 1913 Football Season Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football by Murray Superber Forward Pass by Philip Brooks
Notre Dame Scrapbook c1910-1913 [GSBC]
Notre Dame Football Scrapbook 1913 [GSBH] GCLE 1/03
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