Sincerely Yours: The Pinkerton Detective Agency

pinkerton-header

Scandal.

Intrigue.

THE Pinkerton Detective Agency.

 

Lest you think differently, Bloomington has been a hopping town for some years now. And university students today are different in many ways from the students of yore – but similar in so many more.

In the 19th century and into the early 20th, college students across the country would anonymously publish satirical and sometimes scandalous underground newsletters called boguses. They used these outlets to comment on rival organizations, students, and oftentimes, university faculty. We have some terrific examples of these publications in the Indiana University Archives, but none created a stir as much as what we call the “Turd” bogus. (Yes, really.)

On a spring morning in 1890, Bloomington residents woke to find that a particularly vulgar bogus had been delivered to their doorsteps during the night. The authors accomplished much in its single page, attacking Indiana University students and faculty by calling into question their intellect, morality, and sobriety.

Bloomington citizens were outraged, as at many households children found and read the bogus before parents got to it. And the University administration? Well, you can imagine their response. While unhappy about the situation himself, in public President Jordan tried to play the “boys will be boys” card. The IU Board of Trustees, however, was having none of it. They wanted the responsible students punished, so they called in the big guns to find the dastardly authors – none other than Chicago’s Pinkerton National Detective Agency.

The Pinkerton operative, known to us only as J.H.S., arrived in Bloomington in the wee hours of April 26th, 1890. In the Archives, we have a terrific series of letters the investigator sent to back to headquarters in Chicago. His reports read like something out of a detective novel: private conversations with students in his hotel room where he would try to trick them into confessing, lurking around town to hear what talk he could of the publication, etc.

The Pinkerton agent remained in Bloomington for nearly two weeks, dutifully reporting back each day, but it was the work of wagging tongues that revealed the authors and not so much J.H.S.’ fine detective work. As President Jordan suspected from the beginning due to the content and tone of the bogus, it was seven members of Beta Theta Pi fraternity who authored it. At the last moment, some of the writers lost their nerve and hid the newsletter in a trunk. The others, however, retrieved the bogus and distributed copies throughout the town.

Many in the guilty party were from prominent families, including Nicholas Robertson, son of IU Trustee Robert Stoddart Robertson. Nonetheless, all seven were expelled from the University. Connections, however, had its benefits, of course. In June 1892, the faculty relented and degrees were granted to five of the men, and all seven were reinstated into the University with good standing.

Below you can read the first letter of the Pinkerton operative — click the image for the full PDF of the letter, and if you’d like to read more, contact the Archives!

What? You want to read the bogus that created such a stir? Well, be warned that it really is quite vile. But here you go – click on the bogus image to open a larger version, which you can then blow up for full reading pleasure.

Letter to L.V. Buskirk from William A. Pinkerton, April 28, 1890
Yes, THE Pinkerton Detective Agency

 

The Date, 1946-1947, A Student Publication

The Date001
The cover of the April 1947 Moonlight Issue

A male student clutching a jug of alcohol, the bare backsides of young men spreading a page, and the long, lovely legs attached to five beautiful “coeds” competing for the “Miss Legs” title all make up the 1946-1947 publications of what was a new magazine on campus, The Date. First starting out, and without a designated space to write and publish, Don Goins and the rest of The Date staff completed their work on the basement floor hallway of the Science Hall. Knowing what they published, it seems like an appropriate space to gather and gossip about the goings-on around campus. A typical monthly publication would be filled with all things related to student life: pictures of those recently “pinned,” stories of popular (or not-so-popular) professors, tongue-in-cheek cartoons, funny short stories, and advertisements for shops and restaurants around Bloomington.

For those interested in studying campus culture after World War II, this publication would be the perfect starting point. Picking up the magazine today feels like picking up a modern publication (apart from the fashion, of course).  The publication provides an intimate glimpse into the personal lives of students: their love interests, after-hour excursions, and attentiveness to campus events all add to the richness of I.U. history. From a current student’s point of view, the time period becomes more familiar with each magazine I read. I can see myself kissing my date in the Well House at midnight, having a drink at a local bar, and studying in the library with my peers.  There’s a sense of eagerness and excitement that is often associated with the young reflected in the eyes of the young men and women pictured. I wonder what became of these students, if they ever came back to Indiana University after graduation, and what they would think of this generation of college students if they could see them today.  Who knows? But what we do know is that their memories are forever preserved in the pages of The Date and students of today and the future can share their experiences and reflect upon the differences – or similarities – of their own IU experience.

Other images:

The Date004 The Date006 The Date005 The Date007 The Date008 The Date011

 

The Indiana Plan

There has been a good deal of coverage in the local papers and social media sites over the last few months about IU property on East 8th Street in the University Courts neighborhood and the potential demolition of the current properties to make way for a new Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) house.  I decided to do a little research on the more recent (in the archival world, this is relative – I’m talking the latter half of the 20th century) history of housing of IU Bloomington’s Greek organizations and as is often the case in this job, I’ve learned something new!

———–

Former Phi Psi / Sigma Nu house, now home to some tasty Laughing Planet burritos.

After World War II and the establishment of the GI Bill, campus populations across the country exploded and universities and colleges scrambled to find adequate housing for this new rush of students. Indiana University was no exception (really – students bunked in the Board of Trustees meeting room in Bryan Hall) and administration was able to breath a small sigh of relief in knowing that at least some of the students could find a place to lay their heads within the houses of the campus Greek organizations.

However, the fraternities and sororities themselves were struggling to acquire and maintain sufficient housing for its members. Many had to save for years to have enough money for a down payment or locate existing properties that they could rent, which more often than not, were not fit for chapter houses from an architectural standpoint. At the June 1949 Board of Trustees meeting, President Herman B Wells told the Trustees that there were at least a dozen Greek organizations seeking new or enlarged quarters but they were having difficulty finding property that would fit their needs. He proposed the University develop its acreage north of the Illinois Central Railroad for fraternity and sorority housing. The Board approved and instructed the President to go forth with selling tracts to the organizations for new construction.

So now the Greek orgs had a place to build. Problem solved.

Eh, not so much. The sororities and fraternities still had one huge hurdle – financing. In previous years they had been able to scrape together enough funds through the sale of stocks or bonds and borrowing but the economic landscape was very different at this time and such tactics were insufficient. At the September 1951 Board of Trustees meeting President Wells read a letter from alumni representatives of Alpha Delta Pi, which requested that the University assist in financing its new chapter house at IU. This was a larger issue that needed to be addressed, Wells believed, and he recommended the appointment of a committee of Board members and administrative officers to study the question and make recommendations.

Indiana Plan017
The Fraternity Month, April 1957.

The Fraternity Plans Committee spent a considerable amount of time researching fraternity housing and financing and their recommendations resulted in what became known as the “Indiana Plan.” In a nutshell, the University sold the aforementioned lots to organizations upon approval of the group’s housing plan and to assist with financing, they served as a guarantor for the group’s loan, agreeing to purchase the property if the fraternity defaulted. This plan proved successful and was reaffirmed by the Trustees in 1977, as they and University administrators felt it important to support the development and growth of the Greek community and its housing.

————–

Just a little addendum: All of this was really interesting to me because what I have always heard (but had never had a reason to look into it) was that while the Greek organization owned its house, IU owned the land on which it stood. But in all of my digging, I found nothing that even hinted at this — everything pointed to IU selling the land to the organizations. So I decided to followup with IU Real Estate to find out if I was missing something (real estate dealings can be tough to understand if one has no background in it!) No, according to them, the idea of IU owning the land is a huge misconception and my research was sound. MYTH: BUSTED

Homecoming Decorations of Yesteryear

Coach definitely didn’t prepare us for this.

Homecoming came and went last month and, while the game against Michigan State could have ended better for the Hoosiers, it was still a fun weekend for students, alumni, and all fans of Indiana University. As someone who has been on the campus for only two years, I must say it is quite impressive to see how excited people on campus get for Homecoming. From Paint the Town Crimson Day to the talent competition and pep rally before the game, it’s obvious that all Hoosiers have a lot of pride in their school and have for the last one hundred years since Homecoming became a tradition at IU. It is because of this awe-inspiring level of school pride that I thought I would share with you some fascinating photographs that were recently added to the online collection.

A big part of the Homecoming festivities for students has always been the competition between the campus fraternities and sororities over who can decorate their house in the most creative way. The competition was especially fierce in the 1940s. For example, the highlight of Homecoming 1946, against Iowa, was a makeshift slaughterhouse with animal hides hanging from the sides and live cows grazing on dying cornstalks.

I sure hope someone brought popcorn.

But perhaps the most outrageous year for Homecoming decorations was 1941. On the brink of entering World War II, the Hoosiers first had to get past the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University. It was a big challenge but the fraternities and sororities pulled out all the stops to help IU gain the psychological advantage.

IU students hit TCU in every way they could; they built a giant oil rig that compared TCU to a dry Texas oil field; they built the facade of a small movie house in the middle of the Men’s Residence Center, now Collins Living-Learning Center, showing a film depicting Hoosiers as knights in shining armor skewering and cooking up frog legs; they made signs telling TCU players to enlist in the war so they wouldn’t have to play the Hoosiers; they even went so far as to build a mass grave of TCU players “killed” on the football field!

The Delta Upsilon Cannibals
This takes tailgating to a whole new level.

But by far the most bizarre decorations from Homecoming 1941 came from Delta Upsilon. Clearly a different time in history: the boys covered themselves in dark body paint and tribal makeup and had a barbecue on the house lawn of what is probably supposed to be the head of a TCU player. They were clearly out to “skewer” the opposition. DU was recognized with the best fraternity decorations award that year.

To view these and many more images from IU’s history, please visit the University Archives Photograph Collection by clicking here. Images are being added every day so please be sure to visit regularly to see what’s new. Oh, and don’t feel bad that IU came up short against Michigan State. TCU ended up beating the Hoosiers 20-14.