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The Days of Auld Lang Syne

Ann Arbor in the Middle Eighties (1880)

By Royal S. Copeland, '89h

Ann Arbor

In the middle eighties baseball was as attractive as today, but football, as played now, was in its infancy. A certain gentleman,  named Rettick, supplied the Association score, but there were no athletic field and gymnasium to absorb the physical energies of the student body. The old skating rink had not yet risen to the dignity of an armory and the mid-winter circus was yet unborn. The second ward was as popular then as it apparently is today, and Ypsilanti was as seductive without the advantages of half-hour service on the electric.

In the absence of free delivery and a waterworks system, each student rented a box at the post-office and quenched his thirst at the well curb. There was a strong Prohibition club and torchlight processions were frequent. On Halloween Secretary Wade pleaded for the safety of the buildings and "Ben Franklin" received his annual coat of paint. During that decade the last section of the campus fence was cremated and the daily chapel service was discontinued. The "Argonaut" and the "Chronicle" were rivals in the weekly newspaper world, and the "Palladium" was wholly Greek.

Aside from study, the serious business of the student was co-operation; his sport, "room-stacking;" and his recreation, horseback riding.   That was before the days of Professor Trueblood and oratory was as unkempt as the old campus. But oppression was resented then as in the days of Patrick Henry, and the chapel witnessed many gatherings of the student body, met to protest against the extortionate profits of booksellers and merchants. The oratory of that generation was directed against this evil, and it succeeded in arousing the students to immediate action.

"The Students' Co-operative Association" was organized, and with-in a few weeks there was in operation a thoroughly equipped store,  supplied with all the goods necessary to meet the student needs. For convenience's sake this adjoined the post-office, and on the daily trip for his mail the student could supply himself, "at cost," with his books, stationery, and dumbbells, his neckties, and shoelaces.

The ''co-operative store" and the "boarding club" served their generation and died. However, every person in Ann Arbor who lives off the student body remembers the lesson taught by the co-operative movements and is satisfied with "quick sales and small profits."

The effect of a "room-stacking" upon the unhappy victim might prove a means of grace. If borne with Christian fortitude it ought to be counted to him for righteousness. Certainly, of all student pranks, it is the meanest and most irritating.   I shall never forget the scene which one of the sufferers invited me to see. It was in an upper room of Prettyman's "Pie-House." The victims were two popular medics, noted for their love of practical jokes. Neglecting to lock their rooms, some enterprising students did the rest.

Late in the evening one of the roomers returned to this particular suite. Striking a match there met his eyes a sight, which doubtless to this day is vividly pictured in his mind. In the middle of the study room was a pile of stuff which would do credit to a small cyclone or to a second-hand store after a fire. It consisted of the dismantled bed, the ripped-up carpet, the study table, chairs, dresser,  and washstand. There were over-turned trunks, water pitcher, and other utensils. The heterogeneous mass included the contents of the dresser and wardrobe. There were pictures from the wall and photographs from the mantel; books, bones, and medicine; neckties, trousers, and pillows.

The collection formed a broken-sided pyramid, truncated at the apex to furnish a resting place for a grinning skull. Surmounting all,  crowning his fallen pride, was the chief joker's silk hat. It capped the climax of that year's practical jokes.

Fifteen years ago the liveries did not afford the "traps," "run-abouts," and "four-in-hands" so plentiful now, but every one had its riding horses. In this connection I shall never forget an incident, which occurred, during my University residence.

Another student and I were riding out the Miller Avenue road and,  after a time, noticed ahead of us a cloud of dust. We spurred on our horses and were able soon to make out the forms of a horse and rider.   As we approached we discovered,  to our astonishment, a law student who had frequently ridiculed our love of horseback riding. He was mounted on an exceptionally large buckskin beast with a motion that would do credit to an electric car on a bond-issue roadbed.  

Our friend was short and fat.   His stubby legs projected almost at right angles to the buckskin's ribs. His arms were extended and his elbows bent. With every motion of the horse, the disciple of Blackstone was lifted out of the saddle to fall into it again with a awful thud. His face was streaked where huge drops of perspiration found their way through the dusty covering. The features were fixed and the eyes protruding. Despair, torture, and fear made a composite picture never to be forgotten. In spite of the ludicrousness of the situation almost was our sympathies moved.

"Hello, old man!" was our salutation. '' How do you like horse-back riding"

Interrupted by the excursions from and back into the saddle, the broken reply came back: "You—fellows—may—think — this — is—f u n—but—I—thi n k— i t — is—h-h-hell!"

The Alumnus

Dec 1901, page 121-122

Ann Arbor

In the Middle Eighties (1880s)