Hoosier Monsters and Where to Find Them

Click on image for interactive map

Ever wondered where to find a monster? From the 1960’s to the 1980’s students taking folklore courses at Indiana University conducted interviews around the state about topics that included local supernatural creatures. Those essays are now part of the Folklore Collection at the University Archives. To celebrate Halloween and the IU Themester on animals, I’ve selected six Hoosier Monsters for your reading and viewing terror.

Portraits of our friendly neighborhood spooks were created by fellow folklore grad student (and monster enthusiast) Ben Bridges.

“Older scouts would take some of the tenderfoots [first year scouts] out looking for the Gullywompus at the far end of camp. Older scouts would break up in groups leaving a group of tenderfoots out by themselves without a flashlight. Older scouts would then circle the tenderfoots running through the brush making wild animal sounds. This would scare the tenderfoots causing some to cry, this is when the older scouts would stop and reassure them that everything is all right and that it is just a legend.”

At Camp Louis Ernst in DuPont, Indiana, Boy Scouts in the 1960’s and 70’s would take younger scouts out into the edge of camp to look for a creature called the Gullywompus. According to an IU student’s 1977 interview with a former camper who experienced this in 1963, the Gullywompus was “a large hairy creature that will get you if you don’t watch out.” The scouts said that it had lived in the camp since the 1920s, appeared on moonlit winter nights, and had flashing red eyes in the middle of its head. They also said it would tear up trees, throw boulders, make moaning noises, and grab and shake unwary hikers.  The practice of tricking younger scouts is akin to “Snipe Hunting,” an initiation ritual practiced at summer camps across the United States.

Item number: 77/162

“..a man…was driving home one night (on Cable Line) and he saw something and it scared him, and he hit something and flew out of his car hit a tree with his body and it left the impression of his face and body in the tree, so now that whenever you drive by this tree, on the corner of 26 and 11, you can see his body in the tree. The thing that he saw was the Cable Line monster.”

In Elkhart, Indiana, there are many legends about a specific tree on Cable Line Road. The story above was shared with an IU student in 1978 by a 19-year old former resident of Cable Line Road. The “Cable Line Monster,” depending on who you ask, either caused the fatal accident or stole the body of the victim. Elkhart residents say that the monster lives near the tree, and if you drive past the scene of the accident your car will rattle and shake.

Who is said to have died in the crash varies, as does the reason for the accident – some people say it was a young couple coming home from a date and the boy fell asleep at the wheel, others that it was a motorcyclist going too fast in the rain, and still others that it was a father and his young son who were distracted by the monster. Whoever it was that met their end, it is said their spirit sometimes appears around the tree, and that if you shine your headlights on the tree at night you can clearly see the imprint of their face and body. People who live near Cable Line Road report strange happenings at night, including lights flickering on and off and phone calls with no one on the other end. The Cable Line Monster itself is the subject of much disagreement: it is usually said to have caused the accident, but it has been described by different people as a troll, a hairy bear-like animal with glowing eyes, a swamp monster, or an alien.

Item numbers: 77/145, 78/067 (story from this one), 78/102, 78/103

“Well, son, I never actually saw the thing myself. But I heard it scream. Sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. Kind o’ like a woman screaming; And later when I went out fer water I seen where it had been, out at the pond drinking, left big prints in the mud.”

In Petersburg, Indiana, it was said for many years that the “strip pits,” strip mining sites near town, were inhabited by a strange creature. The figure was half-man, half-ape, twelve feet tall, and left foot prints twice the size of a man’s shoe. It had glowing eyes, and dogs would bark when the creature was nearby. The description above comes from a 93-year old Petersburg resident who shared his story with an IU student in 1973. The reports of the creature’s color varied, leading the IU student who recorded people’s stories to suggest that there might be multiple creatures who have lived in the area over the years. According to people in town, the creature would appear one day every four weeks in the late summer and early fall of every other year. The student researcher also suggested the possibility that during its two-year absences the creature was either hibernating or wandering the country under other names like “Bigfoot” and “Windago.”

Item number: 73/040

“In my mind, Oscar is the ninth wonder of the world; the Lock Ness Monster being the eighth. In a way I’m glad Oscar was never captured, if in fact he does, or did exist. People shouldn’t take his freedom away from him just because he’s unique . . . Who knows . . . Oscar just may decide to show his face some day.” – IU Student in 1973 on researching Beast of Busco

In Churubusco, Indiana, in the spring of 1949, Gale Harris saw a giant turtle that was “the size of large dinner table” in Fulk pond on his farm. The pond was named after its previous owner Oscar Fulk, so the turtle was given the name Oscar. After Harris’s first turtle sighting he began trying to capture Oscar, drawing curious onlookers from across the state. Gale’s efforts, however, were plagued by bad luck: he attempted to drain the lake, but got appendicitis and could not continue. Then he and other turtle tourists rented a diving suit, but their plans were foiled when the helmet leaked.

While someone using a “water weasel” claimed to see what looked like the turtle moving under the ice when the lake was frozen over, no official sighting besides Harris’s was documented. That did not stop Oscar’s popularity, though – hundreds and then thousands of people traveled to the farm, hoping to glimpse the giant reptile. Some reports suggest the Cincinatti Zoo asked to take Oscar if they could locate him, although the Zoo now denies this. Even the Indiana Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals got involved, stating that Oscar “should not be harpooned.” Eventually Harris spent so much money and time trying to find this mysterious turtle that he lost his farm. His search, though, made news across the state and country. Although Oscar was never found, Churubusco instituted an annual celebration called Turtle Day and has re-named itself “Turtle Town, USA.”

Item numbers: 73/004, 74/240

“One day this fisherman came in from fishing and he was soaking wet. People asked him, ‘what happened, how come you are all wet?’ He said, ‘A great big monster came out of the water and tipped my boat over and I went flying out into the water. I had to swim all the way here with the monster chasing me.’ All the people just laughed and said, “Oh sure,” and took it off like he was drunk. Well as days, months and years passed other people fishermen said they had been turned over and people along the shore said that they had seen this big monster out in the lake. Pretty soon they start believing it. So people went out to see if they could look at it, and search parties went out, but they couldn’t find anything. Then in about 1952 this one fisherman, boy he was lucky, he caught this big ten foot two-hundred pound Bass. Well after that no one else ever saw that monster. People went out in search parties but never saw the monster. So they think that the monster is that big Bass.”

Lake Manitou is a man-made reservoir near Rochester, Indiana, created in 1828 as part of a treaty between the U.S. government and the Potawatomi Tribe. The tribe called it Lake Manitou, or “devil’s lake,” supposedly because they believed a monster lived in it. An IU student recorded the story above from a Manitou local in 1978, and suggested in his analysis that the legend was intended to explain the many disappearances in the lake. According to that report the stories continued at least into the 1950s, but other sources suggest that the sightings occurred mostly in the 19th century, particularly around 1838 when the Potawatomi people were forced to leave their land.

Item Number: 78/117

“…’spose you know ‘bout that big catfish in the river down by the railroad tracks…it’s ‘spose to weigh about 150 pounds…I don’t know…an old coal locomotive went off the bridge down there and years and years ago…and he’s liven in the locomotive.”

In Terre Haute, Indiana, an IU student in 1973 interviewed an elderly plant worker about local folklore related to fishing. He shared with her the story above about a giant catfish living in the wreckage of an old train that had gone off a bridge over the Wabash River. The student who conducted the interview didn’t provide much information beyond the text of the story, but there was a train that fell in the Wabash River in the 1900 Big Four Bridge collapse. Despite later attempts to locate the ruins, part of the train is believed to remain underwater to this day. While the story of the giant catfish in the Wabash doesn’t appear to have become very well known, it is similar to many other stories of large fish appearing in rivers and lakes across the state.

Item Number: 73/128

Sincerely Yours: Ernie Pyle Day

Individual photo portrait of Ernie Pyle
Ernie Pyle’s 1923 yearbook photo

This Friday, August 3rd, Indiana University celebrates an adopted hometown hero on National Ernie Pyle Day! Did you know, however, that Pyle did not receive an IU degree until twelve years after he left Bloomington? The Vermillion County native began his studies here in 1919, but left a year before completing his degree in order to take a position with the La Porte Herald. Bittersweet personal circumstances also surrounded his IU departure: he had recently experienced a bad run-in with some Department of Journalism faculty, and a love interest gave him back his going-steady pin. Despite this, Pyle remained close with companions from IU his entire life. In 1941, at the height of his fame, he waxed longingly to his friend “Hermie” (yes, that one: Herman B Wells) about planning a chance to “escape” to Monroe and Brown Counties. So it was with anticipation, nostalgia, and some nerves that Ernie Pyle returned to IU in November 1944 to receive an honorary degree.

Two letters at the IU Archives show Pyle’s trademark wit and authenticity regarding his prodigal return. In a letter to his friend and IU Alumni Association secretary George “Dixie” Heighway the day after the honorary degree luncheon, Pyle wrote:

It was a wonderful day, Dixie. Instead of hating it, as I had anticipated, I’d almost like to do it again. You couldn’t have arranged it any better for my pleasure. I am deeply appreciative.

Dad and Aunt Mary will be talking about it for years. And so will I (I hope!).

In addition to his thanks, Pyle asks Heighway to send along some information, including the full name and address for University Comptroller Ward Biddle, the man who initially proposed Pyle’s honorary degree to President Wells. Most interesting though, is this request: “The name + street address of Harriett Davidson, Tri-Delt of ’24, now married to a Dr. Martin + living in Bedford, Ind.” This is the same Harriett Davidson who returned Pyle’s pin all those years ago! Perhaps Pyle was moved by the nostalgia of being in Bloomington, and wrote to Davidson to catch up with her after all those years.

Black and white photograph of Ernie Pyle and Patricia Krieghbaum in the IDS office, November 1944
Ernie Pyle visits the Indiana Daily Student office during his return to campus in November 1944.

As we read this letter today, it’s impossible not to feel a little sentimental. We know that Pyle was struck by sniper fire and died during the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945—just months after he wrote this letter. His humorous jab of hoping to talk about the honorary degree for years becomes a sad foreshadowing when we know this context. A follow-up letter Pyle wrote Heighway on November 28, 1944 includes another such line in the postscript: “I’ll be leaving here for good in about two weeks.” Pyle meant only that he would be off to cover World War II’s Pacific theater, but the permanence of the statement is eerie in hindsight.

These two letters, however, should be read for their joyful moments too.  In his November 28 letter, Pyle is especially touching:

After the luncheon that day, a red-headed gal from the Bloomington High School paper tagged me and wanted an interview. Our schedule was so tight and everybody was pulling at me so that I had to leave her standing there, and later had Jack Hastings go back and apologize and say it was impossible, since she seemed to want a lot of time.

I’ve felt badly about it, for I know how kids can be hurt by failing in an assignment like that. I’d like to send her an autographed book in recognition of a good try. Could you find out who she was?

The no-nonsense writing style and humanizing approach is all Pyle. The generosity to this student evinces his deep roots to Bloomington. Heighway or another colleague jotted down the student’s name and address: Gladys Lillian Morrison. Some genealogical research shows that as of 2016, Morrison was still living in Bloomington. She and her late husband both worked at IU. It seems that, like Pyle himself, many people keep these close ties Bloomington and the university.

To see these letters and other University Archives material related to Ernie Pyle, contact an archivist. The IU Libraries Lilly Library also holds a number of Pyle-related collections–contact our friends there for further information!

Scan of original letter from Ernie Pyle to George "Dixie" Heighway, November 28, 1944

Transcription of November 28, 1944 letter from Ernie Pyle to George “Dixie” Heighway:

                Nov. 28

Dear George—

Something else I wish you’d do for me.

After the luncheon that day, a red-headed gal from the Bloomington High School paper tagged me and wanted an interview. Our schedule was so tight and everybody was pulling at me so that I had to leave her standing there, and later had Jack Hastings go back and apologize and say it was impossible, since she seemed to want a lot of time.

I’ve felt badly about it, for I know how kids can be hurt by failing in an assignment like that. I’d  like to send her an autographed book in recognition of a good try. Could you find out who she was?

I’m still glowing over the grand day we had, and so are my folks.

As ever,

Ernie

P.S.—I’ll be leaving here for good in about two weeks

India Remixed : Indian Independence in Indiana

On August 15, 1947, India, one of the oldest and most populated nations in the world, gained independence from Great Britain. The British East India Company controlled India, from the 1700s until the Indian rebellion of 1857. After the suppression of the revolt, the British Crown took control of the region from the Company. In the years after 1857 and during British rule of the region, calls for reform and Indian self-rule grew. But it wasn’t until 1947, after years of growing movements, the rise of Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedience movement, the “Quit India” movement of the Indian National Congress Party, and after revolts and mass strikes, that India gained its independence. After 90 years of fighting against British Raj (British Rule) and calls for Indian Self-Rule, the Indian Independence Act of 1947 was signed.

Students, professors, and other members of the IU community were certainly aware of the struggles of Indians well before the 1940s. One faculty member, Cecilia Hennel Hendricks, Associate Professor of English, wrote to her family members about a lecture regarding India that she attended at IU in 1931. In her letter, Cecilia describes meeting a man who had met Gandhi and learned why he opposed British rule:

Letter from Cecilia, 1931, Cecilia Hennel Hendricks family papers, Collection C413, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

“He told of some conversations he had with Ghandi, and said when he asked Ghandi why he opposed the British rule, Ghandi answered that after all India was the country of the Indians, who had owned and ruled it for centuries before England ever existed, and that there were thousands of Indian people as well educated and trained as any English people, and fully able to manage their own government.”

Letter from Cecilia, 1931, Cecilia Hennel Hendricks family papers, Collection C413, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

Independence Day is now one of only three national holidays in India. It’s celebrated on August 15 and is commemorated with a speech from the Prime Minister, references to the Indian Independence Movement, and celebration through cultural events. Flag hoisting events and kite flying in some areas are also hosted around India as a part of the celebration. Around the world, Indian emigrants celebrate with parades and events of their own, sometimes referring to the day as ‘India Day.’

Indian Students Invite President Bryan to attend Independence Celebration. C69, Box 3.

At Indiana University, Indian Independence was celebrated as early as 1948. Indian student Ramnarase Panday was particularly active while attending Indiana University. He and another student, Raghubir Bhatia, organized that first Indian Independence Day celebration at IU. They asked President Wells to speak at the event at Alumni Hall, and invited others from around campus, including President Emeritus William Lowe Bryan, to attend the celebration.

Panday was from Beharr, India and attended the College of Arts and Sciences at IU. He earned his A.B. in Government in 1950 and his M.A. in History in 1952. He was a very active member of the college community. As an undergraduate, Panday was in the Cosmopolitan Club, a student organization for international students and cultures, and once in graduate school, he joined Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.

Ramnarase Panday with President Wells, July 28, 1948. IU Archives image no. P0073656.

The celebration of India’s first Independence Day at IU must have been a momentous occasion for everyone who attended. While we have been unable to find further records documenting the event or information on additional students who assisted with the celebration, we suspect that Panday and Bhatia were likely the only two students organizing the event.

President Herman B Wells spoke at the inaugural celebration in Alumni Hall:

“Birthdays are happy occasions whether they mark the passing of a year in the life of an individual or a nation. We are met tonight to celebrate an unusually significant birthday which marks the end of the first year of independence for one of the world’s oldest and largest nations – a nation rich in physical resources, in manpower, and in cultural acheivement. It is a privilege therefore to join with you in extending our congratulations and good wishes to the Indiana University students from India and through them to the great nation which they so ably represent.”

C137 Wells’ Speech on India Independence Day at IU, August 8, 1948 – click on image to read Wells’ full speech

This celebration marking India’s independence was significant and marked the growing diversity of the university.

Septem Muscicidae: The Moss Killers of Indiana University

Over one hundred years ago a group of six students and one IU staff member made headlines– but not for sports or academic achievement. They were the late nineteenth-century version of a resistance to what they saw as outrageous misconduct and immoral behavior on the part of IU faculty members. Their actions uncovered a scandal in 1884, became campus folklore, could be said to have changed the course of Indiana University’s history, and today are largely forgotten except by those who study IU history.

So, who are they? The Moss Killers.

The Moss Killers consisted of six Indiana University students and an IU janitor:

  • James Zwingle Alexander McCaughan, A.B., I.U., 1885
  • David Kopp Goss, A.B., I.U., 1887
  • Joseph Woods Wiley, Ph.B., I.U. 1886
  • Lucian Rhorer Oakes, A.B., I.U., 1885
  • Edward A. Hall who died while a student in the university
  • Morton William Fordice, B.S., I.U., 1886
  • Thomas “Uncle Tommy” Spicer, the janitor.

Together these so-called “Moss Killers” didn’t actually kill anyone (or any fungi), but they managed to uncover and prove a scandal that lead to the resignations of the university president and of a Greek professor. As a result, the University trustees and legislators broke with the past traditions of moralism and classicism and moved toward new educational leadership and an embrace of the intellectual age and academic reform needed for sciences and modern professions that was already present in many other American universities at the time.

http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/archives/photos/P0024044
The Moss Killers, 1884. Archives image no. P0024044. (Standing in back row, L to R) James Zwingle Alexander McCaughan, David Kopp Goss, Joseph Woods Wiley, and Rhorer Oakes. (Seated in front row, L to R) Edward A. Hall, IU janitor “Uncle Tommy” Thomas Spicer, and Morton William Fordice. The inscription written in Latin with a lead pencil on the back of this photograph and the English translation of the Latin reads: Septem Muscicidae. Hic videas Septem Muscicidas. Et Aspice Tela Muscicidarum. Seven Moss-Killers. Here you see seven Moss-Killers. And look at the weapons of the Moss-Killers.

Rev. Dr. Lemuel Moss was the sixth president of Indiana University and one of the last in a line of six  “Preacher Presidents,” who served the university before Indiana University followed the lead of other American colleges and began to employ presidents more focused on educational philosophy and public responsibility rather than theology or moral instruction.  Moss was at the University of Chicago before coming to Indiana University, and he had previously served as the Pastor of a Baptist Church.

As University President at IU, Moss was known to be a popular public speaker and a strict disciplinarian. Between 1880 and 1884 he was also a member of the National Council of Education, vice president of the American Baptist Missionary Union, president of the department of higher education, and a part of the National Education Association.  However, his prolific career in higher education was to be interrupted as a result of the Moss Killers.

Miss Katherine Graydon, a young woman in her mid-twenties, began work as a professor of Greek at Indiana University in September of 1883. She was an attractive, charming, and intelligent young woman. The rumors regarding her relationship with Rev. Dr. Moss quickly began soon after the start of her appointment.

After months of suspicion and rumor, the “Moss Killers” formed from a group of undergraduates to find out the facts concerning the relationship between Dr. Moss and Miss Graydon. With the help of Uncle Tommy (the janitor), the  six young men used a hand drill to cut a hole in the ceiling above Miss Graydon’s office and the Greek classroom in the University building. They stood watch to see what happened in the room below.  And eventually they saw what had been rumored to be true.

The Moss Killers then presented sworn affidavits and charges of “improper and immoral conduct” between the University President and Greek professor to the University Board of Trustees on November 7, 1884.

The Minutes of the Board of Trustees reads:

Charges against the President of the Univ.

On motion of Mr. Robertson, the following preamble and resolution were made, the unanimous action of the Board:

Whereas, rumors of a grave character in regard to the relations of Prest. Moss with Miss Graydon, teacher of Greek have been published in newspapers of large circulation, and are common on the streets of Bloomington; and the Board was proceeding to investigate the same

The digitized and encoded Board of Trustees Minutes can be seen and searched here.

IU Board of Trustees Minutes of 1884 Nov. 6

The students told the Trustees that they saw Moss present Miss Graydon with gifts and greet each other in ways that were not at all professional.  What was once rumor was now full blown scandal, and an investigation began by the Board of Trustees. They planned to hear evidence on the matter from both Moss and Graydon on Tuesday November 11, 1884.

But, before a hearing or investigation could commence, both Dr. Moss and Miss Graydon presented their resignations abruptly on November 8, 1884.

Toronto Daily Mail. November 18, 1884.

The story grew and spread, damaging the reputations of Moss and Graydon.  Newspapers carried the affair far and wide.  The Toronto Daily Mail, Tuesday November 18, 1884 (excerpt seen to the left) ran a detailed story entitled A Grave Scandal: Involving the President of Indiana State University. Well Known to Citizens of Toronto. An Investigation to be Held Upon Charges of Unseemly Conduct.

The social repercussions of the scandal were more problematic for Moss and Graydon than they were for the university. Some say that the newspapers inflated the story before Moss resigned. In any case, the damage had been done.

After her resignation and after a later attempt to rescind her resignation, Katherine Graydon moved to Indianapolis permanently.  She was the member of two prominent families, the Merrills and Ketchams, who became extremely defensive of her even when the congregation of her church became involved in the public judgement. In the end however, her defenders won and Miss Graydon became a well respected professor at Butler University and went on to have a long career there.

Dr. Moss was not so lucky. After his resignation he quickly left Bloomington. He spent some time in Chicago at a manufacturing firm, then worked editing a religious magazine, later spent time in Philadelphia, and was also a professor of Christian sociology at Bucknell. Dr. Moss died in New York in 1904 at 75 years old.

The Moss Killers, the scandal and affair they uncovered, and Dr. Moss’s resignation created some chaos at Indiana University. The role of president was filled temporarily by Elisha Ballantine, much to everyone’s approval. The University then went on to search for the right new president. The Board of Trustees needed to keep up with the times, and they needed a university president who could lead Indiana University into the new age of American intellectualism and science. The Moss Killers may not have killed anyone really, but their actions damaged one man’s reputation permanently, and ushered in a new era of leadership at Indiana University.

 

“A little nonsense now and then is relished”: The Moonlight Pleasure Club of 1892

Many students are members of a club or two during college. It’s not uncommon. But, how many students can say they created an original club for themselves? What would this kind of informal club look like? Would you have rules?

The Moonlight Pleasure Club constitution is a document which shows us exactly what kind of club a group of Indiana University students decided to create for themselves in 1892.

The members of The Moonlight Pleasure Club were likely graduate students when they formed their club in 1892. They didn’t create a formal student organization or aim to recruit more members. No. These four students just sat down and wrote their own constitution. It appears that one male and one female student were the charter members who then initiated another male and female student into the club. This initiation appears to have been the reason for the document’s creation since the constitution itself calls for the club to have four members only. The document includes twelve articles or rules, and has signatures from all four students including two labeled as protesting and two labeled as affirming. But, who were these students? What was this club for exactly, and why did they name it Moonlight Pleasure?

Unfortunately, a thorough search of the archives has not yet yielded much more information about the club. The Arbutus IU yearbooks document each of the four student authors of the constitution and their time at IU, but there is no mention of the actual Moonlight Pleasure Club in any of the yearbooks. We don’t know much about this mysterious club, but the students who wrote and signed the club’s 1892 constitution were a bit easier to track down.

The four members of The Moonlight Pleasure Club were of similar ages, but each studied different academic subjects at IU.

http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/archives/photos/P0073125
Frederic Truscott, 1891, Archives image no. P0073125

Frederick Wilson Truscott (b. 1870 – d. 1937) graduated from Indiana University with his A.B. in German in 1891. He earned his A.M. in 1892, and later obtained his Ph.D. Truscott eventually became a professor of German at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. He also served in World War I in the U.S. Army.

http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/archives/photos/P0073126
D. T. Weir, 1891, Archives image no. P0073126

Daniel T. Weir (b. 1864 – d. 1949) graduated from IU with his A.B. in physics in 1891 and he obtained his A.M. in mathematics in 1893. He went on to teach in Indianapolis.  Both Weir and Truscott contributed to war service efforts in various capacities.

http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/archives/photos/P0073127
Maud F. Van Zandt, 1888, Archives image no. P0073127

Maud Freeman Van Zandt (b. 1868 – d. 1917) graduated from IU with her A.B. in English in 1888. Maud married and had children. She died at the age 48 after a severe case of pneumonia.

http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/archives/photos/P0073128
Grace Woodburn, 1885, Archives image no. P0073128

Grace Helen Woodburn (b. 1865 – d. 1922) graduated from IU with her A.B. in 1885 and with her A.M. in Latin in 1894. Grace also married and worked in the home.

Unfortunately, this is all that’s currently known about the students. The two men are known to have worked as a teacher and a college professor after their time at Indiana University. A line in the constitution’s Article I implies that all four were studying to either become teachers or to simply obtain a liberal arts education. The line reads: “The motto of this club shall be, ‘A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men and some high school teachers.'”  However, this interpretation of the line does not necessarily mean all members were educators.

In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, it was common for women to gain a college education but then go on to primarily be homemakers and mothers. This seems to have been the case for Maud Van Zandt and Grace Helen Woodburn who both appear to have become a “house wife” after marriage according to U.S. Census records.

While to this point we don’t know much more about these club members,  the constitution itself can offer a few more clues into what the students were like and what they did as a club.  Articles I., II., and III. explain that the club basically aimed to have fun together as a group of friends. The club was likely a chance for each student to get  away from school work and stress.

The next few articles in the constitution seem to contain stereotypical details and rules that a club might want to establish. The difference however, between this constitution and the usual sort of document used by a formal club is its tone.

The student members of the Moonlight Pleasure Club made jokes and appeared to mock formal club rules while writing their constitution. But even some of their jokes are representative of the social milieu of the time.  There are two instances when the document makes it clear that the male members have more power and status in the club than the women. Articles V. and VIII. seem to make jokes at the expense of the women club members. While there are no leaders or positions of power in the club, Article V. also says “of course in cases demanding a high grade of intelligence the women shall give place.”  And though the club appears to be democratic, it also gives the “gentlemen” the ability to have the final say in any tied votes.

But, were these rules all serious? Were students mocking social aspects of their time or did they seriously imagine men had a ‘higher grade of intelligence’ than women? Their constitution also says that the club “initiation fee the price of one pair of shoes for each of the charter members.” Is this a social idiom of the day, or were they mocking the often required fees for student organizations? Did they write this document as a joke with the aim to mock other university student clubs?

Unless we find more about the Moonlight Pleasure Club, we might not find out if these students were joking or mocking other student clubs, or if this was a serious matter to these students. In any case, this document provides a unique glimpse of what a group of friends did for fun together.

Below, you can look at the constitution for yourself! Can you find any more clues? A transcript of the constitution follows.

Constitution page 1, Moonlight Pleasure Club constitution, Collection C629, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
Constitution page 2, Moonlight Pleasure Club constitution, Collection C629, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
Constitution page 3, Moonlight Pleasure Club constitution, Collection C629, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
Constitution page 4, Moonlight Pleasure Club constitution, Collection C629, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

Below is a transcript of all four pages of the constitution:

[Page 1]

Constitution of The Moonlight Pleasure Club 1892.

Members
I. Charter.
Grace N. Woodburn.
Fred W. Truscott.
II. Initiated
Daniel T. Weir.
Maud Van Zandt.

Article I.
The motto of this club shall be, “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men and some high school teachers.”
Article II.
The purpose of this club shall be to have an awfully nice time, and anything which tends toward education or intellectual improvement shall be looked upon with disfavor and suspicion.

[Page 2]

Article III.
The ruling spirit in this club shall be, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow begins my early week at school.”
Article IV.
This club shall consist of four members; of these two shall be gentlemen and two shall be women.
Article V.
This club shall have no officers; all members shall be on an equal footing but of course in cases demanding a high grade of intelligence the women shall give place.
Article VI.
This club will meet whenever it has a chance or whenever any body invites it out. In urgent cases any member may call a meeting and one person shall constitute a quorum for transaction of business.

[Page 3]

Article VII.
The Action of the club shall not be binding on the members, nor shall the action of any members be binding on the club.
Article VIII.
All questions shall be decided by a majority vote but in cases of a tie, the gentlemen shall have the say.
Article IX.
The color of this club shall be crimson, symbolical of the warm friendship among its members and the ruddy time which tinges all its proceedings.
Article X.
Freedom of speech is guaranteed to every member and also the right to yawn as violently and as often as he pleases without fear of molestation.

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Article XI.
The initiation fee shall be paid right away by each initiate and shall be the price of one pair of shoes for each of the charter members. During the cold spells the senior members reserve the right to impose a repayment of this fee as often as they choose. The right is reserved to each initiate to do as he pleases about paying this.
Article XII.
This club will encourage as far as possible the use of the truly Hoosier expression “didn’t get to.” Everything that is Hoosier shall be welcomed and anything that savors of the worn out east shall be discountenanced.

Signature of Members

Protesting
Daniel T. Weir
Maud F. Van Zandt

Affirming
Grace H. Woodburn
Fred W. Trescott

Contact the IU Archives to see the Moonlight Pleasure Club constitution in person.