Derby Day is almost upon us! This year, May 6th is the day to place your bets and take a sip of the traditional mint julep served at the track. The Kentucky Derby is not just an occasion for triumphant horse races and rose blankets; it is also a day for celebrating American culture through art, food, and music. This year, attendees of the Derby will get to see Grammy-winning musical artist Harry Connick Jr. perform the National Anthem, as well as the dozens of other influential and famous celebrities who will be walking down the red carpet. But there was a time that the spectacle of the event was IU’s own Marching Hundred, who were asked to perform before the race every year from 1938-1941.
Indiana University was the first state university to be chosen to play at the track on Derby Day, and were so widely praised that Derby officials asked them to come again and again– and again, four years in a row. They were also the first band that was asked to return more than once. Col. Matt J. Winn, the president of Churchill Downs racetrack where the Derby is held, had hundreds of letters pouring into his office, all of them asking for IU to return for encore performances. An article in the IDS described the 13-minute drill they would perform, opening with a “clock chimes fanfare” and executing “merry-go-round” turns, counter-marches, and a formation that spells out “Dixie” (below). They also managed to get into the formation of the Derby trademark and ended with the IU monogram.
These days, the marching band from the University of Louisville plays the traditional song “My Old Kentucky Home” before the race every year. That, too, was in the 13-minute drill played by the IU Marching Hundred back in their years at the Derby. Lieutenant Frederick E. Green directed the band and Major Roy N. Hagerty was the drill instructor for the group of musicians (which was more than a hundred).
A lot was different from today’s Derby, but the pressure the musicians felt had to be very similar. Several important people watched from the crowds as the band performed. In 1939, IU president Herman B Wells attended the Derby, pictured to the left with a group of other Derby-goers. In 1940, screen actor Walter Connolly (who died only a few weeks following the Derby that year) passed his compliments onto the band after their performance. Gerald Swope, a multi-millionaire and chairman of the New York racing commission, sent a letter to the band that commended them highly. The IDS article from 1940 that reported these and other compliments stated that the Marching Hundred kept letters like this to be framed and kept as souvenirs of their time at the Derby. I can’t help but wonder what happened to those framed letters.
The Marching Hundred has since gained more national fame for being one of the best university marching bands in the country, playing at all sorts of major events throughout the decades. Like the Kentucky Derby, they’ve held onto a few unique traditions of their own.
In the early to mid-twentieth century, students didn’t make friends on social media or find a date through an app. They went to student sponsored socials and dances, with chaperones and live bands. The women were asked to dance by a different male student for almost every song, and they needed cards to avoid scheduling one dance with two different boys. They knew how to have fun and even got to hear some great music! Who wouldn’t want to hear Hoagy Carmichael or Louis Armstrong?
The Myra Montgomery Arthur Dance Card Collection and the Indiana University Archives Dance Card Collection hold numerous examples of inventive miniature booklets once used by female students to schedule their dance partners when at a social event. The two collections together contain over 50 different dance cards from dances and parties held at IU for students between 1900 and 1955. The ‘cards’ are often about the size of a person’s hand or smaller, with several pages provided for listing names. Some are in different shapes, such as a clover for a St. Patrick’s Day dance, or a football for the Foot-Ball Dance, held on the eve of the Syracuse-Indiana game in 1925. Others are attractive metal or leather booklets with a ribbon or string for a young lady to loop around her wrist while dancing. Parties and dances were sponsored by sororities, fraternities, and other student clubs and groups such as the Boosters Club, and there were always annual dances like the Annual Senior Siwash or the Junior Prom. There were so many dances, sock hops, and events to attend, a student could not only have a full dance card each night, but also a full schedule for the week!
Inside the inventive and colorful covers of a dance card was a lady’s promised dances, but also a list of chaperones, the name of the student organization sponsoring the dance, and who performed the live music. Many of the performers were local or college bands that played at IU often, but some were upcoming or established stars of the jazz and big band era! It turns out Hoagie Carmichael and Carmichael’s Collegians performed at a few of the student dances between 1924 and 1925 as his career was beginning. The students who planned The 1939 Junior Prom even somehow found a way to book Louis Armstrong!
Hoagy Carmichael was a Bloomington native who, after graduating from IU with a bachelor’s degree and law degree in 1925 and 1926, went on to become one of the most significant composers and musicians of his time. Famous for writing well known hits like “Georgia on My Mind” and “Stardust” among others, Carmichael is an icon of the jazz and big-band eras. He worked with Johnny Mercer on a number of projects including collaborating with him on “Skylark” in 1942, and his songs were performed by many famous singers including Louis Armstrong.
The young men and women who were lucky enough to attend a student dance where Hoagy Carmichael or Louis Armstrong were performing during the 1920s and 1930s not only had the chance to fill their dance cards, but also to see some of the era’s most famous musicians!
Eighty-eight years ago today, Amelia Earhart departed from Trepassy, Newfoundland in a Fokker F7b-3M named Friendship to begin her successful flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Co-pilots Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon were also on the flight that took over 20 hours before landing safely in Wales, making Earhart the first woman to fly across the Atlantic.
In the fall of 1936, Agnes E. Wells, Dean of Women at Indiana University, was corresponding with O. B. Stephenson from The Emerson Bureau in hopes to have Earhart speak at IU. In the letter below, Wells received the good news that Earhart would, indeed, be coming to the university on October 22, 1936 for a fee of $350. “Dear Miss Wells, A letter this morning from Miss Earhart accepts your lecture engagement the evening of October 22.”
Several newspapers, including the Indiana Daily Student and the Bloomington Evening World, excitedly reported that Amelia Earhart would be giving her lecture “Aviation Adventures” at Indiana University in Alumni Hall at 8 pm on October 22, with an informal reception to follow. The reception was an opportunity for the public to meet and question Earhart and was sponsored by A.W.S. and St. Margaret’s Guild, Bloomington Charity Organization.
During her visit, Earhart gifted this photograph to Indiana University, with an inscription written by her on the back: “To the Indiana Union. Amelia Earhart, October 22, 1936.”
William Lowe Bryan – Indiana University alumnus, professor, vice president, president, and finally, president emeritus – had a dazzling array of correspondents over the years. Included on the roster were presidents, entertainers, writers, scientists….the list goes on. They are all fascinating but when I first stumbled across the below in his presidential correspondence a few years ago, the writer’s evident pain rather took my breath away:
Most American schoolchildren learn the story of Helen Keller but just a recap: as a toddler, Keller fell ill and once recovered, had lost both her hearing and vision. As she grew, she developed a method of communicating with her family but in 1886 her parents sought additional help for their daughter and found themselves at the Perkins Institute for the Blind. The school’s director asked 20-year old teacher Anne Sullivan, who had herself become visually impaired due to a childhood illness, to work with young Helen. Thus began a lifelong friendship between the two. In October 1936, Anne suffered a heart attack and died five days later at the home she shared with Helen.
Born in Zistersdorf, Austria on September 7, 1919, Charlotte (Lotte) Lederer arrived in New York, New York on August 28, 1939 via the S. S. Bremen through Southampton, England. The recipient of one of three refugee scholarships from the Indiana University Board of Trustees that covered her tuition in full, she enrolled at Indiana University that fall while student organizations such as the Student Refugee Committee organized benefit dances and raffles to cover room and board. After a year at IU, Lotte penned this note of gratitude:
While at Indiana University, Charlotte met and subsequently married fellow student Hugh Grant Freeland on April 24, 1941. The pair graduated in May 1942; Charlotte with a B.A. in Psychology and Hugh with his LL.B.
While the details of their life after graduation are a little hazy, we know that the Freelands immediately moved to Louisville, Kentucky where Charlotte initially took a job at the University of Louisville in the office of the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts while Hugh worked as an attorney for Seagrams. She wrote her mentor Frank Beck back at IU that “I really had first planned on doing something in connection with the war-effort. But I was not able to find the right thing…. I feel all at home here – as you know I have always been crazy about university-atmosphere, etc.” She later took a position doing “personnel research work” at Seagrams. On January 21, 1944 she became a naturalized United States citizen. By that point Lt. Hugh G. Freeland of the US Naval Reserve was stationed in the Pacific, and she had relocated to Washington D.C. in 1945 where she was working as a Classification Analyst in the Personnel Division of the Office of the Secretary of War. She wrote the IU Alumni Association on October 27, 1945 that “It’s a swell and very interesting job. There are many I.U. grads in the Pentagon, and we are all enjoying the good news of our Football Team this year.” Following the war the couple moved to Beaumont, Texas where Charlotte taught German at a Beaumont high school and Hugh began a law practice specializing in corporate law.