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Auburn’s first homecoming was a big deal

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Auburn’s first homecoming banquet. The menu was apparently amazing.

Auburn held its first homecoming 100 years ago. [UPDATE: OR WAS IT?!?!?!] It was a big deal.

It went down in June 1913, and coincided with spring commencement ceremonies. But it wasn’t just a day—people came home for nearly a week, and heard speakers, speakers, so many speakers, speakers who probably said the words “Auburn Spirit” 10,000 times and were more eloquent than the rest of us combined. An example: Bishop Tucker, the first to the podium on the first day, ended his sermon by encouraging those gathered to “bring to the battle against evil all the energies of a consecrated manhood,” which is almost certainly the most fantastic thing ever said in Langdon Hall.

Organizers spared no expense, at least it doesn’t seem like it. There were banquets and receptions with music provided by Atlanta orchestras, and flowers from API’s horticultural department. Alumni, hundreds of them, headed out behind the engineering building and filled their bellies with pork, mutton, and goat at the best barbecue the town ever had (they had it behind the engineering building), and the school filled its coffers with donations that three years later would help build Alumni Gym, Auburn’s Taj Mahal.

Reporters across the state covered it all, glowingly.

Here’s the Montgomery Advertiser on the “Festival of Lights” display on the second night: “With myriads of colored lights glimmering about the shaded Auburn campus, with a riot of color, life and animation rivaling a Venetian fete in brightness, ‘The Festival of Lights closed the second day of the great Auburn commencement and home-coming week.”

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Nearly 1,000 people attended the swank President’s Reception hosted by Dr. Charles Thach. “The Alabama Polytechnic Institute, a high sounding phrase, is fit for legal documents and grave legislation,” he said in his speech earlier in the day, “but not to conjure with and not to yell with and not to dream with as ‘fair Auburn.'”

Nope, no football—though we obviously would have won had there been one that year, Auburn’s first homecoming game wasn’t until 1924, a 13-0 win over Clemson. But there was a baseball game: the 19th Century vs. the 20th Century, all the way up, I think, to members of the 1913 team. The whippersnappers won, 37-25 (pretty wacky). Wrote the Auburn Alumnus, “If the baseball game… was any evidence of ‘how we used to do it’ I am afraid that the youngsters would lose faith in the tales of the past’s greatness.” (Auburn baseball apparently had a past filled with greatness, including “the baseball team that was never defeated and of 27 struck-out in one game.”)

Langdon Hall ain’t never looked better.

But the true joy of the week—writers for the Glom and the Auburn Alumnus could barely find words to express it—was just in the reminiscing. But, you know, instead of Bo Over The Top, Streaking, and Punt, Bama, Punt, guys waxed nostalgic on stuff like the stormnado that destroyed the Baptist church toward the end of the Civil War, but none of the recuperating confederate soldiers inside; the cadets who braved the flames that devoured Old Main (Samford Hall’s predecessor) to chunk library books to safety and rescue bones from the museum (such potential irony…); and some goat that was tied to a church bell or something. And George Petrie’s old / only players kept nudging him in the ribs to get him to talk about the flying wedge.

Forty-two grads signed up for lifetime memberships to the alumni association during Auburn's first homecoming, most notably Miss Mary Robinson. Robinson, '99, was a science teacher at the same Birmingham High School that squared off against the Crimson Tide in the UNIVERSITY of Alabama's first "football" game.
Forty-two grads signed up for lifetime memberships to the alumni association during Auburn’s first homecoming, most notably Miss Mary Robinson. Robinson, ’99, was a science teacher at the same Birmingham High School that squared off against the Crimson Tide in the UNIVERSITY of Alabama’s first “football” game.

“Just think of it!” Dr. G.H. Price, Class of 1878, exclamation point’ed in his response to President Thach’s address, “The sons of old Auburn are gathered, after all these years, to receive afresh the benedictions of their alma mater, while they bow at her knee and feel again the tender touch of her gentle hand.”

Not just the sons, Dr. P. There were some daughters on hand as well, and one of them signed up for a lifetime membership to the alumni association, the first alumna to do so, which was enough for the Auburn Alumnus to print her picture in its next issue.

The driving force behind the event, and seemingly every Auburn initiative in the early part of the 20th century, was Thomas Bragg, a 1901 graduate and president of Auburn’s Alumni Association. Today, he’s possibly Auburn’s most underrated avenue-worthy forefather. But in 1913 he was a rock star, worthy of a loving cup inscribed with the words “Original Home-Comer,” as well as a poem:

You may go through the North, the East and the South,
And out through the far distant West.
Call the names of the men in every one’s mouth,
Of the men who are doing their best;
Whoever these be, one think you may reck,
The men at the top are those from our “Tech,”
And far in the front, upholding its flag
Is a jolly good fellow, whose name is Tom Bragg.

At the time, Bragg and Co. thought they were trailblazer of sorts, at least below the Mason-Dixon. Auburn had pretty much invented everything else in the South: Football, the hurry-up offense, Coke, coeds. It was only natural to think Auburn was the first southern college or university to hold a gigantic homecoming. They expected other schools would soon follow suit. They did. Tennessee did it in 1916, Georgia Tech did it in 1919, Bama got around to it in 1920. We beat Florida by a decade. LSU, however, says they first had folks (read: ringers) come home in 1909 [UPDATE: but turns out they didn’t] , which someone should maybe tell Missouri, because thanks to a random, poorly fact checked question once upon a Jeopardy! episode or something, they think that their 1911 get-together was the first homecoming not just in the south, but in the country.

Oh, and there was another pretty important Thomas to whom love and esteem were expressed during Auburn’s first homecoming, in a sort of poem of technology. Miller Reese Hutchinson, a graduate of the API class of 1897 who had by 1913 become a prominent inventor, presented Auburn its first amazing wireless transmitter that week. He connected it to a 150-foot steel pipe running from a second floor room on the east end of Broun Hall. He sent the very first wireless message out of Auburn to his boss. He read it out loud to the President Thach: “Mr. Thos. A. Edison, Orange, N.Y.: This wireless formally christens the two-and-a-half kilowatt apparatus which I have this day presented to the Alabama Polytechnic Institute in commemoration of the first homecoming of the alumni. The president, the faculty, the alumni, and the student body join me in expressing love and esteem to the father of electrical development.”

Like I said, it was a big deal.

We’ll be documenting the evolution of homecoming at Auburn for the rest of this week. Like, nonstop vintage homecoming action. I’m excited. Stay tuned. Beat Western Carolina!

Related: Video shows awesome Auburn homecoming decorations from the early ’60s.

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About Jeremy Henderson

Jeremy Henderson is the editor of The War Eagle Reader and co-host of Rich and Jeremy in the Mornings on Wings 94.3 FM in Auburn. Follow him on Twitter: @wareaglereader / @jerthoughts / @RichandJeremy

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