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Bevo, and history for Big Bertha

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  • Leroy
    Drumbeat of history Big Bertha s BOOM has sounded in football stadiums, Carnegie Hall and the movies for 80 years By Mike Conklin Tribune staff reporter
    Message 1 of 4 , Sep 1, 2004

      Drumbeat of history
      Big Bertha's BOOM has sounded in football stadiums, Carnegie Hall and the movies for 80 years

      By Mike Conklin
      Tribune staff reporter
      Published December 31, 2002

      The University of Chicago's last, high-profile link to past football glory still beats strong, shows no signs of slowing despite nearly 80 years of pounding and will be on display Wednesday in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas when Texas plays LSU.

      That honor belongs to Big Bertha, "world's largest bass drum," a part of the University of Texas marching band since 1955.

      Big Bertha has made appearances at Longhorn games for so long that few can recall when it wasn't part of the school's gridiron history. Fewer realize the same drum once served as a symbol for a University of Chicago program equally glorious.

      Along the way, this one-note instrument has been a virtual symphony of experiences. It has appeared at Radio City Music Hall; performed with legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini in Carnegie Hall; was cast in a movie; and, just for good measure, got dusted for radioactivity. All this was before a rich Texas oilman--owner of the Texas Book Depository in Dallas in 1963, by the way--bought it for the Longhorns at a bargain basement price.

      The drum, 8 feet high and 54 inches wide, rises to 10 feet in height on the small, wheeled cart needed to maneuver it during appearances with the Texas marching band, making it highly visible even in cavernous stadiums. A half-dozen drum keepers are assigned to those events, according to Jerry Junkin, director of the university's band program, and the instrument is as identifiable with Longhorn football for some as the UT mascot, Bevo the steer.

      "Big Bertha is at all the home football games, and sometimes we take it on the road," said Junkin. "It's the first thing entering the stadium when the pageantry gets started. Just the sight of it is exciting for our fans and gets everyone in the stadium energized. It's a major attraction at Texas."

      Difficult to believe this very same instrument once had the same role at the University of Chicago campus, where it made its debut Oct. 28, 1922, at Stagg Field. Those were days when football games played by the Maroons, then one of the most powerful collegiate programs in the country and members of the prestigious Big Ten Conference, always were in the national spotlight.

      On Big Bertha's first appearance, an overflow crowd of 33,000 (there were numerous arrests for ticket scalping) came to see Chicago face Princeton, which was top-ranked in the East and had never before played this far west in football. The Ivy League school won, so the appearance of the spectacular musical instrument provided some degree of solace for the Maroons. Only one other school, Purdue, had a drum similar in size; it had been introduced a year earlier.

      "Something like this was very much in keeping with what was taking place then at the University of Chicago," said Robin Lester, a historian, alum and author of "Stagg's University: The Rise, Decline, and Fall of Big-Time Football at Chicago." "Amos Alonzo Stagg [the coach] was brilliant, but he also knew how to promote and go for the kill commercially too."

      The biggest hides

      Big Bertha was built specially for the Maroon band by alum Carl D. Greenleaf, owner of C.G. Conn Ltd., a leading manufacturer of music instruments in Elkhart, Ind., and who was a musician at the school. He also donated 100 other instruments, each bearing an engraving of the university seal.

      Big Bertha was named for a German cannon used in World War I. The largest animal hides that could be found in Chicago's stockyards were located before measurements for the drum shell were determined. Part of a wall had to be removed at the Conn manufacturing plant just to get the drum outside the building.

      Not only was Big Bertha a star at University of Chicago home football contests, the band took it on the road for at least one game per season, provided suitable railroad cars could be located. At Michigan, news accounts say the drum was too big to get into the stadium's ground-level entrance and had to be lifted over the top. The university had pep bands since 1898, but their sizes and appearances at the Maroon football games grew both in number and creativity with the football team's success under Stagg. The bands' then-pioneering maneuvers on the field included balloons, confetti, singing and spelling of letters.

      "A lot of people at the University of Chicago simply refuse to believe that Stagg and his teams were the most famous part of the school almost from the time he arrived in the 1890s to when he left," said Lester. "They want to present this intellectual image and that it's always been this way. Not true. The drum was a big attraction, but it sort of became a carnival-like feature later in the 1930s when teams didn't do as well there."

      In 1938, the drum got shipped to New York in a special car provided by the Pennsylvania Railroad. Bertha beat a single note in an NBC Symphony Orchestra presentation of Verdi's "Requiem" in Carnegie Hall, directed by Toscanini. The legendary conductor was unable to find a drum anywhere in the East to satisfy him, and he acted on a suggestion by someone who'd heard it pounded in Chicago.

      When the university dropped football in 1939 as part of an overall de-emphasis of sports at the school, the marching band was dispersed, and equipment no longer in use -- including Big Bertha -- went into storage under Stagg Field's west stands. This was adjacent to where scientist Enrico Fermi was busy creating the first nuclear chain reaction as part of the Manhattan Project.

      The university's magazine happily reported in 1946 that Big Bertha passed a Geiger test for radioactivity after it was feared the drum was contaminated from its proximity to Fermi's work.

      A movie role

      In 1952, the drum was cast in the movie of famed bandmaster John Philip Sousa's life, "Stars & Stripes Forever," starring Clifton Webb, Debra Paget and Robert Wagner. "This is a drum with some history," noted Josh Schonwald, a news service director at the university.

      The university bands sputtered in the 1950s until Louis Lason, a professional director from nearby Calumet High School as well as the Chicago Fire Department band, was hired to organize a concert group in 1955.

      It was the hope to have Big Bertha make appearances with the new band, but the drum had been shipped back to its maker in Indiana. So how did it end up in the Lone Star state?

      Col. D. Harold "Dry Hole" Byrd, a wealthy Texas wildcat oilman with numerous holdings, including the Texas Depository Building from which Lee Harvey Oswald would one day shoot President John F. Kennedy, was a huge booster of the Longhorn bands at the time. And, well, being a Texan, he wanted the "biggest and loudest" drum that could be found, according to former UT music director Moton Crockett.

      "Nobody was making anything as large as he wanted," recalled Crockett, 79, "so a music company I was dealing with found out Conn had this big one in storage. They didn't want me to buy it until I saw it. I arranged to do that just before Christmas in 1954, when I had to be in Chicago.

      "The people I met at Conn said they couldn't give it to me because the University of Indiana wanted it, but they could sell it to me--for $1. So we strapped that sucker into a trailer I'd rented with my car, and I drove it back to Texas by myself. Took me two days."

      A new life in Texas

      Crockett had no idea why the company didn't want the drum to go to Indiana and it would be speculation to think Greenleaf, still alive then, didn't want it around as a reminder of Chicago's past musical--and athletic--glory. But the Texan was sure of this: "Col. Byrd was real pleased."

      It took several months of reconditioning to get Big Bertha in shape, according to Crockett, and its debut was made with much fanfare in time for the 1955 football season. The drum has been overhauled twice since arriving in Austin, survived one crash in which the trailer carrying it to Dallas overturned in a ditch and has a permanent home in the university's band hall.

      Big Bertha made a return trip north in 1991 to a homecoming football game at the University of Chicago, where the sport was revived at a non-scholarship, small-college level in 1969.

      The occasion this time was to help celebrate the university's centennial anniversary festivities and, despite the big drum's long, colorful journey back to Stagg Field, some things hadn't changed. The Maroons lost this football game against Case Western Reserve, just as they did in 1922 against Princeton in the drum's debut.

      Its new home in Texas has been more productive. With Big Bertha pounding away in the background, the Longhorns have been a perennial power, and the New Year's Day appearance will be their 34th bowl game since her arrival.

      Bertha may be big, but is it biggest?

      Is Texas' Big Bertha really the world's largest bass drum? You'll get a resounding "no" to that question at Purdue, where Boilermaker followers will tell you their Big Bass Drum (BBD) used by the university's All-American marching band is larger.

      Both schools are coy about exact measurements for their drums, not wanting to risk losing the bragging rights for having the biggest, but past news accounts seem to give Texas a slight edge over Purdue. Both drums are a little over 10 feet high mounted on their wheels, but archived stories put Big Bertha at an actual 8 feet high and 54 inches wide, while Purdue's BBD is 8 feet high and 48 inches wide.

      However, Purdue enthusiasts say the title belongs to them ever since -- they contend -- Texas ducked a "drum-off" in 1961, thereby forfeiting any claim. The occasion was a national convention for the Kappa Kappa Psi musical fraternity in Wichita, Kan., when the Boilermaker chapter challenged the Longhorn chapter to bring their drum to the event for a measurement.

      "We brought ours, but they didn't bring theirs," said Kathy Matter, a spokeswoman for Purdue's music department. "Ever since then, we've got the biggest bass drum as far as we're concerned, and we will continue to say so -- at least until we get the drums next to each other and find out for sure."

      The obvious opportunity would be a Purdue-Texas football game, but that hasn't happened since 1951, before the Longhorns band acquired Big Bertha. "For a while, one football bowl scenario this season had us playing Texas in the Alamo Bowl, and we got pretty excited over that possibility," said Matter, "but it didn't materialize."

      Instead, Purdue plays New Year's Eve against Washington in the Sun Bowl, and Texas plays on New Year's Day in the Cotton Bowl against LSU. Other than the possibility of bowl games, the schools' football teams are not scheduled to meet each other in the foreseeable future.

      As far as Jerry Junkin, director of the University of Texas band program is concerned, there should be no debate about which school's drum is larger. "I've stood next to both of them," he said, "and there's no question -- ours is bigger."

      But if Texas wins that argument, Purdue can always say size doesn't matter: Its BBD is still older than Big Bertha by a year, having been purchased -- and introduced -- by the school in 1921. This is one year before Bertha's debut, when the University of Chicago, marched it onto a football field at a game with Princeton.

      "The story is," said Matter, "that Chicago felt it had to have one after playing Purdue [in football] the year before and seeing our drum. We can always say ours was the inspiration for theirs."

      -- Mike Conklin

      Copyright © 2002, Chicago Tribune


    • Leroy
      http://www.czechs.org Vítáme Vás! St. Mary s Catholic Church Parish Picnic Sunday, September 5th High Hill, Texas Music During Day Texas Sound Czech & The
      Message 2 of 4 , Sep 1, 2004


        Vítáme Vás!


        St. Mary’s Catholic Church
        Parish Picnic
        Sunday, September 5th
        High Hill, Texas
        Music During Day
        Texas Sound Czech & The Dujka Brothers

        Shiner Catholic Church Picnic
        Sunday, September 5th
        Legion Park
        Shiner, Texas
        Shiner Hobo Band / Hoffmann Kickin’ Polka
        Bill Pekar / The Emotions

        Annual Feast
        St. John’s ~ Fayetteville, Texas
        Sunday, September 5th
        Fayetteville, Texas

        29th annual Westfest

        West, Texas

        Labor Day weekend

      • George Patrick
        It took a Czech, Dan Zabcik, Class of 1993, to come up with an answer to the long-standing controversy: Where did Bevo get his name? . Thought you might
        Message 3 of 4 , Sep 2, 2004
          It took a Czech, Dan Zabcik, Class of 1993, to come up with an answer to the
          long-standing controversy: "Where did Bevo get his name?". Thought you
          might enjoy this?

          George of Austin
          ----- Original Message -----
          From: "Roxann Patrick" <rpatrick@...>
          To: <gpatrick@...>
          Sent: Wednesday, September 01, 2004 7:19 PM
          Subject: Fwd: Informational: Bevo's Retirement Party

          here's the party info for bevo's retirement. interested?

          Begin forwarded message:

          > From: Jim Nicar <nicar@...>
          > Date: Wed Sep 1, 2004 1:29:35 PM US/Pacific
          > To: "GroupMail distribution: A005B9A7DAB88BC10A": ;
          > Subject: Informational: Bevo's Retirement Party
          > -----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----
          > You're invited!
          > The Great Bevo Retirement Party
          > Friday, September 3rd, 5 - 6:30pm
          > Front Plaza of the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center
          > Live Music, Free Food, Prizes,
          > and Retirement Gifts for for our Favorite Steer!
          > Sponsored by the UT Heritage Society of the Texas Exes
          > "The Bull on Bevo"
          > It's one of the best-known stories on the UT campus. During a late night
          > visit to Austin, a group of Texas Aggie pranksters branded the
          > University's first longhorn mascot "13 - 0," the score of a football
          > game won by Texas A & M. In order to save face, UT students altered the
          > brand to read "Bevo" by changing the "13" to a "B," the "-" to an "E,"
          > and inserting a "V" between the dash and the "0." For years, Aggies have
          > proudly touted the stunt as the reason the steer acquired his name. But
          > was the brand really changed? And is that why he's called Bevo?
          > Sorry. Wrong on both counts.
          > The last day of November, 1916 - Thanksgiving Day - was an eventful one
          > for the University of Texas. At 9:00am, a procession of students,
          > faculty and alumni paraded south from the campus to the state capitol
          > for the inauguration of Robert Vinson as the new UT president. Held in
          > the House Chambers, students dressed according to their college and
          > class. Seniors wore special arm bands, engineers sported blue shirts and
          > khaki trousers, and freshmen huddled in green caps. There was enough
          > pomp and oratory for the ceremony to last all morning.
          > After the inauguration, lunch was served on the Forty Acres. A boxed
          > meal for twenty-five cents was available for those who wanted to picnic
          > on the campus. Folks who preferred a more traditional Thanksgiving Day
          > feast headed for the "Caf," an unpainted, leaky wooden shack that
          > somehow managed to function as the University Cafeteria. The full turkey
          > dinner cost fifty cents.
          > The afternoon was reserved for the annual football bout with the A & M
          > College of Texas. A record 15,000 fans packed the wooden bleachers at
          > Clark Field, the University's first athletic field, where Taylor Hall
          > and the ACES Building are now. The first two quarters were a defensive
          > struggle, and the half ended with the score tied 7 - 7.
          > At halftime, two West Texas cowboys dragged a half¬-starved and
          > frightened longhorn steer onto the field, where it was formally
          > presented to the UT student body by a group of Texas Exes. They were led
          > by Stephen Pinckney (LL.B. 1911), who had long wanted to acquire a real
          > longhorn as a living mascot for the University. While working for the U.
          > S. Attorney General's office, he'd spent most of the year in West Texas
          > assisting with raids on cattle rustlers. A raid near Laredo in late
          > September turned up a steer whose fur was so orange Pinckney knew he'd
          > found his mascot. With $1.00 contributions from 124 fellow alumni,
          > Pinckney purchased the animal and arranged for its transportation to
          > Austin. Loaded onto a boxcar without food or water, the steer arrived
          > just in time for the football game.
          > After presenting the longhorn to the students, the animal was removed to
          > a South Austin stockyard for a formal photograph and an overdue meal.
          > The steer, though, wasn't very cooperative. It stood still just long
          > enough for a flash photograph, and then charged the camera. The
          > photographer scurried out of the corral just in time, and both the
          > camera and photograph survived the ordeal.
          > In the meantime, the Texas football team ran two punts in for scores to
          > win the game 22 - 7.
          > To spread the news, the December 1916 issue of the Texas Exes Alcalde
          > magazine was rushed into press. Editor Ben Dyer (BA 1910) gave a full
          > account of the game and halftime proceedings. About the longhorn, Dyer
          > stated simply, "His name is Bevo. Long may he reign!"
          > With the football season over, the steer remained in South Austin while
          > UT students discussed what to do with him. The Texan newspaper favored
          > branding the longhorn with a large "T" on one side and "22 - 7" on the
          > other as a permanent reminder of the Texas victory. Others were opposed,
          > citing animal cruelty, and wondered if the steer might be tamed so that
          > it could roam and graze on the Forty Acres.
          > The debate was abruptly settled early on Sunday morning, February 12,
          > 1917. A group of four Texas A & M students equipped "with all the
          > utensils for steer branding" broke into the South Austin stockyard at
          > 3:00am. It was a struggle, but the Aggies managed to brand the longhorn
          > "13 - 0," which was the score of the 1915 football game A & M had won in
          > College Station.
          > Only a week later, amid rumors that the Aggies planned to kidnap the
          > animal outright, the longhorn was removed to a ranch sixty miles west of
          > Austin. Within two months, the United States entered World War I, and
          > the University community turned its attention to the conflict in Europe.
          > Out of sight and away from Austin, the branded steer was all but
          > forgotten until the end of the war in November 1919. Since food and care
          > for the animal was costing the University fifty cents a day, and because
          > the steer wasn't believed to be tame enough to roam the campus or remain
          > in the football stadium, it was fattened up and became the barbecued
          > main course for the January 1920 football banquet. The Aggies were
          > invited to attend, served the side they had branded, and were presented
          > with the hide, which still read "13 - 0."
          > Why did Ben Dyer dub the longhorn Bevo, instead of another name? The
          > most popular theory has been that it was borrowed from the label of a
          > new soft drink. "Bevo" was the name of a non-alcoholic "near beer"
          > produced by the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Saint Louis. Introduced in
          > 1916 as the national debate over Prohibition threatened the company's
          > welfare, the drink was extremely popular through the 1920s. Over 50
          > million cases were sold annually in fifty countries. Anheuser-Busch
          > named the new drink "Bevo" as a play on the term "pivo," the Bohemian
          > word for beer.
          > However, while the Bevo drink was a long-term success, its sales in 1916
          > were comparatively small. Without the assistance of radio or television
          > advertising, national marketing campaigns were slower, and it took
          > longer for retailers to buy in to the new Anheuser-Busch product. As it
          > turns out, the Bevo beverage was almost unknown in Austin when Stephen
          > Pinckney presented his orange longhorn to University students. Bevo the
          > beverage just might be a red herring.
          > A recent suggestion made by Dan Zabcik (BA 1993) may prove to be the
          > right one. Through the 1900s and 1910s, newspapers ran a series of comic
          > strips drawn by Gus Mager. The strips usually featured monkeys as the
          > main characters, all named for their personality traits. Braggo the Monk
          > constantly made empty boasts, Sherlocko the Monk was a bumbling
          > detective, and so on. The comic strips were popular enough to create a
          > nationwide fad for persons to nickname their friends the same way, with
          > an "o" added to the end. The Marx Brothers were so named by their
          > collegues in Vaudville: Groucho was moody, Harpo played the harp, and
          > Chico raised chicks when he was a boy. Mager's strips ran every Sunday
          > in newspapers throughout Texas, including Austin.
          > In addition, the term "beeve" is the plural of beef, but is more
          > commonly used as a slang term for a cow (or steer) that's destined to
          > become food. The term is still used, though it was more common among the
          > general public in the 1910s when Texas was more rural. The jump from
          > "beeve" to "Bevo" isn't far, and makes more sense given the trends of
          > the time.
          > Whatever the reason, UT's mascot was named by folks in Austin, not
          > College Station.
          > Jim Nicar
          > The Texas Exes
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          > To determine the authenticity of this message, please see
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        • Cindy Neal
          Thanks for posting this Leroy. I ve really enjoyed going to these church picnics since moving to the country . We never know anybody, but have a great time
          Message 4 of 4 , Sep 2, 2004
            Thanks for posting this Leroy.  I've really enjoyed going to these church picnics since moving to the "country".  We never know anybody, but have a great time just listening to music, playing games and eating great food.  This looks to be a great weekend with lots of activities. 
            Cindy Neal
            Delhi, Texas
            -----Original Message-----
            From: Leroy [mailto:ljanda@...]
            Sent: Wednesday, September 01, 2004 10:15 AM
            To: TexasCzechs@yahoogroups.com
            Subject: [TexasCzechs] Some of the events this weekend


            Vítáme Vás!


            St. Mary’s Catholic Church
            Parish Picnic
            Sunday, September 5th
            High Hill, Texas
            Music During Day
            Texas Sound Czech & The Dujka Brothers

            Shiner Catholic Church Picnic
            Sunday, September 5th
            Legion Park
            Shiner, Texas
            Shiner Hobo Band / Hoffmann Kickin’ Polka
            Bill Pekar / The Emotions

            Annual Feast
            St. John’s ~ Fayetteville, Texas
            Sunday, September 5th
            Fayetteville, Texas

            29th annual Westfest

            West, Texas

            Labor Day weekend

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