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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Class of 1904 Letter

Sherrill Sherman

Delivered: June 1954

It is more than 50 years ago since I last stood upon this platform. Then I faced a critical audience — sometimes due to the class rivalry — that one that was actually hostile. It is my hope that with hair thinning and less vigor, there will be more kindness in the hearts of the alumni present.

At the annual alumni meeting in June 1953, the result of a request for a mail vote on the selection of a Half-Century Annalist by the Class of 1904 showed. Normally, there is an annalist and an alternate. However, the alumni present selected two Half-Century Annalists: Bob Wicks with quicker thought. He beat a retreat, leaving the task up to me. Little did I realize that to make it accurate, interesting and non-sleep producing was really a job. This annalist’s letter or report is written on the what I believe fundamentally sound premise that it should be of particular interest to the members of the Class of 1904, present or absent. Of general interest to other alumni; and of some historical interest in preserving an accurate picture of four years spent at Hamilton.

In 50 years, many radical changes have taken place. As I stand here, I miss the friendly faces of well-known alumni whose features were visible in stained glass from the window alcoves. I miss the sweet tone of the old organ, replaced by the new one to a non-musically trained person. It is harsh metallic. No longer does the student in return for rent pull the bell clapper governing the time for change from class to class. Now electricity automatically gives seven minutes for changing classes. No longer are written examinations held in the large classroom above the main center of the Chapel. Neither cannon in the Village Park, nor cows or chickens in the Chapel, nor other Halloween mischief ever stumped Deregt, Superintendent of Grounds. However, when the Class of (I think perhaps I should not mention it by name) filled the keyholes of the recitation room with hot lead, that prevented the orderly holding of classes, so that cuts became the regular schedule that morning.

Almost 54 years ago, in September 1900, the Class of 1904 assembled the college campus to be initiated through Paint Night. Then it was a group of boys from many places who took the first step in class-consciousness. On the following morning, at the Chapel Row, the momentary hesitation, the pressure from the rear ranks started the Pell-mell Movement down the chapel steps into the waiting ranks of 1903. There was rough personal contact under the supervision of the upperclassmen. Previously, following college custom, the junior Class of 1902 had acted as coach and advisors in class organizations. It was a free circus for the residents of Clinton.

When the Class of 1904 entered, with a total membership of 64, it was a record enrollment; it graduated 48 in 1904. The College Catalogue of 1900 listed 174 students compared to a present attendance of 513. The 25th Reunion of the Class of 1904 was held at the Hotel Martin in Utica with Ehret as host to the whole class. Chaunce Tennant distinguished himself in his description of those members present. His words were vigorous, picturesque and might, in certain circumstances, be described as exaggerative. However, his frankness was taken in good spirit, the way he strolled up the center of the “U” tables and addressed himself directly to the victim made him the hit of the evening.

Our 2oth reunion was held at Sherrill Sherman’s. At Clinton, where Ehret’s imitation of starting a Model T Ford amused not only the class, but the Sherman kids.

In 1904, the washing facilities were a pitcher of water and a washbasin. A favorite pastime was to sit over the entrance area with a washtub full of water and dump it upon the freshmen. If, in error, an upperclassman was ducked, the dumper disappeared immediately.

Except for formal college dances, the fraternity weekend parties were single night affairs with most of the girls coming from home. Due to Bill Soper from Utica and thanks to Wicks and Sherman. The different organizations were the College Choir, Debating Teams, the Mandolin Club, the Banjo Club, the Glee Club, the Chess Club, the Biology Club, the French Club, the German Club, the Junior Whist Club, the Hamiltonian Board, the Hamilton Literary Magazine, Hamilton Life, the Hamilton Review, the Hamilton Record and the Freshmen Handbook.

Social events included the senior ball, the junior prom, Fraternity Receptions, Class Banquets, and Fraternity Conventions. Sports were football, baseball, track, basketball and golf. To be manager of one of the teams was really hard work, for coaches were paid by subscription from the student body. If the subscriptions were not paid promptly, the manager was handicapped for trips and expenses.

Mrs. Kelly’s house was on the site of Ed Root’s present garage. She lived in her own home and served food to those who missed regular meals. Rumor has it that in later years returning graduates were presented bills claimed to have been not paid when they left Clinton, a regular source of income to Mrs. Kelly.

When ill health forced Dick Sherman to delay graduation a year — he was the 1905 valedictorian — he was replaced by Schemerhorn (from the Class of 1903) whose average for the four years was $97.

Halloween was the big night for callers upon the village of Clinton, including the Girls’ Seminary at Houghton where the girls threw presents of cigarettes and other things at the singing callers. As the boys came down the hill, the winter wooden sidewalk was ripped up. It was an entertaining sound even if on the term bill a new sidewalk was paid for. That Halloween was when John Strickland and Dick Sherman and Ehret painted Dr. Stryker’s pigs red, white and blue.

The method of descending College Hill in the winter was by sled. The insignia of each society was painted on the top of the sled. It was the duty of the freshmen of each crowd to pull back the fraternity sleds whether he had slid down the Hill or not.

When we arrived as freshmen, the College owned one house: the President’s residence. Since then, as the opportunity came, the College has purchased all except the Davenport, the Powell, and the Root Residences. As was usual on steep hills, there were water breaks. They proved troublesome in the early days of automobiles. When the present concrete highway was constructed, the College contributed substantially to its cost. That a good job was done is evident by its still splendid condition.

In our time, the campus started at the top of the Hill. Really the practical entrance now is at the foot of the Hill. The older fraternity houses have become apartments for faculty and college personnel.

Chapel attendance was required daily with a monitor in the gallery to check the attendance of every student.
We all remember when Ehret made his first appearance on the Chapel stage and was laughed off the platform. Harsh medicine, but in his senior year, he won the Clark Prize.

In our time, no automobiles appeared on campus. On party nights, a closed sleigh or rig could be hired to move from dance to dance at the different fraternity houses. A few small kerosene lanterns on posts poorly lighted the campus.

In June 1904, as a graduation gift, the Class of 1904 presented two tennis courts. Later, new buildings created a new quadrangle, thus our gift is only a memory on unmarked ground between Carnegie Hall and the Alumni Gymnasium.

My first car was a Franklin, 20 inches shorter than a Model T Ford, and 400 pounds lighter. It lacked power and often could not make the Arbor curve. As the brakes were poor and did not hold, the only safe recourse was to slide back into the ditch. Then a lifting crew from Delta Upsilon or Theta Delta lifted it back on the road again. Like all roads on hills, there were ridges in the roads to divert the excess water.

Young Elihu Root, Class of 1903, was one of the few students ever to ride up College Hill on a bicycle successfully.
In 1900, the courses were restricted, with most studies required. Now there is a much broader field in which an individual choice can be made.

“Old Greek,” Professor North, taught his 57th class in the fall of 1900. We can all remember how Professor Brandt objected strongly to translating “Deutsch” as “Dutch” instead of “German” and the time when Willard Soper perhaps hypnotized. Repeated it three times. Brandt had his own joke knowing that Soper was a ballplayer. After the third “Dutch,” the instructions were “Three times and out, Mr. Soper.”

“Square” Root, Professor of Mathematics, held his examinations in the following manner: There were five division based upon marks. The examinations were from examples or selected cards. If the student felt that he could not pass on the first card, whose mark was 60, he had a chance on the second card requiring a 75 percent passing mark. If the second card stumped him, he had a third opportunity to acquire a perfect paper. The examples were worked on the blackboard. “Square” Root would examine the process of working. If he stood behind the student and pulled his nose that was an indication of an incorrect result. Consequently, the next student, out of the side of his mouth would say, “You had better change that.”

The bright men of the class went to examinations in the afternoon. I have always felt that “Square” Root should have sent the smart ones to the examination first, thus giving a chance for the poor students to remember what the questions were on the cards, and giving a break to those who needed it most.

Geology was a popular subject, taught in the building that has been remodeled into the administration building.
Hamilton is a fraternity and family college. The first Greek Letter fraternity was founded at William and Mary College in Virginia in 1780. Then it was an association of brains and was named at the end of the college course.

In the early days of Hamilton there were rival literary societies that competed in debates and other scholastic labors. Thus, there was a real lack of social intimacy.

Union College at Schenectady attracted many students from the South during the 62 years of President Nott. The more volatile nature compared with more staid nature of the Northern students had the effect of attraction of the unlike. The result was a desire for close companionship. This resulted in the first social Greek Letter fraternity, Kappa Alpha in 1824 followed by Sigma Phi in 1827. The first inter-change among colleges was the establishment of the chapter of Sigma Phi at Hamilton, in 1831. It was natural that there should be a group limited in numbers. In 1832, another group of students associated themselves into Alpha Delta Phi.

The first fraternity house erected in 1871 is now the Town of Kirkland Library on College Street. The first house on the campus was Alpha Delta Phi in 1875, four were downhill. Delta Kappa Epsilon, Delta Upsilon, Theta Delta, Psi U, Chi Psi was opposite the campus. In 1900, a Sigma Phi Hall was erected on the campus in back the Litchfield Observatory. Fire later destroyed Chi Psi and Sigma Phi. Besides the seven Greek Letter Fraternities there was the Emersonian Literary Society, started in 1882. This made it possible for boys of little means to secure a college education of extreme care in doing all work themselves, and by quantity by buying direct from neighboring farmers. The two members of 1904 to reach the highest rank in public life were Judge William F. Dowling, New York State Appellate Court, and Fred Sisson, who in a Republican District was elected a Democratic congressman. Both were members of the Emersonians.

As times changed and economy was not so important, the Emersonian undergraduates and alumni divided. One group remained Emersonian and the other became Beta Kappa. Now a member of the National Society: Lambda Chi Alpha. The standing of Hamilton as a strong small college was evidenced by the installing of chapters of Psi U in 1843, Chi Psi in 1845, Delta Upsilon in 1847, Delta Kappa Epsilon in 1856 and Theta Delta Chi in 1867.

It has been hinted that I might be treading on dangerous ground if I mentioned Pentagon. A governor of New York had a favorite saying, “Let’s look at the record.” In checking the college publications I bind and I quote from volume there, May 25, 1901 which appears on the editorial page as follows:

A new senior society, named ‘The Pentagon’ has been formed in college. It is now secret and composed of five men chosen in the spring term from the junior class upon the basis of interest shown by them in the welfare of the college. Honorary members are provided for, these, together with graduate members, aid the work of the active organization.

The honorary members already received in the Society are:

Stryker ’72
Scollard ’81
R. Kelsey ’98
R. Cockingham ’00

Aim of the Pentagon: This being the first issue of The Hamiltonian since The Pentagon was instituted. It may not be out of place in this book to give briefly the intents and purposes of the organization. It is neither a secret society nor a political machine. It aims toward concerted and unified action in all college interests. It is essentially unpartisan, and merit is on the basis of reward. It seems to subordinate selfish interests to the good of the College and all its associations. So much for its undergraduate members, embodying a complete account of all action taken during the year. And including also recommendations as to the most urgent needs of the college.

I have two suggestions. First, increase the Pentagon with the size of the classes. Second, since it is fundamentally a non-secret organization, the membership should report publicly to the Faculty or the Trustees. And the report should appear in some college paper.

In 1904, Pentagon had six members, when Richard Strickland was elected to replace him. When Richard U. Sherman returned to graduate as valedictorian, 1905, there were six members: five from 1905 and Sherman 1904.

There was only one class fraternity, T.N.E., a sophomore society house, which can be described as the opposite of Phi Beta Kappa. It had been gradually going down hill and was replaced in the Class of 1903 by D.T., which consisted of two men from six of the Greek Letter Fraternities and an odd man who acted as President. In 1904, “Butinsky,” with four members, was formed. It graduated into a junior Honor Society call Was-Los, with a membership increased to six.

In the late 1890s, drinking was heavy at the College. Tailcoats had a pocket in the tails, reputedly a handy place to carry a flask of liquor. From 1900 on, those under the influence of liquor were ostracized. At college dances no liquor was allowed in fraternity houses.

After World War I and Prohibition, the pendulum swung again to the wet side in college manners actions. Nearly all the fraternities have some type of drinking room. The caretaker, Uncle John Crossley, was an old time famous Barnum and Bailey Circus performer who was the first man to turn a triple somersault over the elephants and the first man to race around the ring against a horse.

Time does not allow a full review of our athletics. First Colgate for some years was our chief rival; then Union, under Prettyman. Hockey developed, with trained teams whose actions on the playing field were always in order, win or lose. The golf course was built; perhaps the outstanding example of what good coaching really does was Gelas and his fencing teams. With only untrained raw material in the big league of Army, Navy, Yale, Harvard, and Columbia, one year, by a single touch in foils, Hamilton was beaten for a national crown by Annapolis midshipmen. Now, Hamilton has its own enclosed hockey rink building, finally equipped with artificial ice plant and concrete floor, and the new Alumni Gym. It leaves nothing to be desired for a college of our size.