I stumbled across my current favorite example of how almost everything you’ve been told about Auburn history is wrong while doing some digging for an Auburn Magazine story on the history of Jordan-Hare Stadium, this year being its 75th anniversary and all (I mean, I guess it is… who knows…).
It’s a favorite because it’s such a basic statistical building block: What was Auburn Stadium’s original, day-it-opened capacity?
The current copy-and-paste consensus is that the stadium could hold 7,500 people on Nov. 30, 1939, the day it was dedicated. That jives with the attendance figures for the Auburn-Florida game that day that a reminiscing Jeff Beard, former Auburn Athletic Director, swore to 50 years later: 7,290.
So why did Auburn football Coach Jack Meagher, in a thanks-for-coming note to students the following week, state that the official attendance was 11,095? Why did most newspaper accounts estimate the first real crowd to be between 12,000-14,000?
Somewhere along the way, when people started talking about “the stadium”, what they really meant were the west stands. When you ponder Jordan-Hare’s growth, you ponder in terms of permanence. And the west stands were the first permanent portion of the stadium. They were concrete. They were the anchor. They weren’t going anywhere. Soon forgotten, however—Beard was telling everyone asking him for stadium stories for the 50th anniversary that they were only added a year or so later—were the large wooden stands erected on the east side of the field. Ditto the temporary bleachers behind each end zone.
But leading up to the game, no one—not fans, not reporters, not Auburn officials—thought the stadium only sat 7,500 people, the “Fun Fact” listed literally everywhere (including official AU literature) these days; they thought, they said, they wrote that it sat twice that many (as in “The stands at present seat 15,000 people…”)
In his letter, Meagher said he was happy with the turn out even though 11,095 “wasn’t a full house” (even though every available ticket had been purchased to help fund the thing). A full house was 15,000. And it stayed that way for a decade.
In 1949, 13,000-ish seats were added to the east side, making a grand total of 21,500-ish.
Wait—how do you add 13,000-ish to 15,000 and get 21,500-ish? You get out your bulldozer and subtract the temporary-for-ten-whole-years wooden stands, and then you add 13,000-ish. And from what I can tell, therein lies the lookin’-back confusion.
I mean, it’s easy to just do the math and go with it when you’re dealing with sepia-toned stats that you know the people reading the press release you’re writing don’t really care about, nor that anyone in 2014 can really relate to anyway. So just subtract 13,000-ish seats from 21,500-ish and carry the temporary end zone bleachers and hit enter.
Original Capacity: 7,500—right on your calculator, wrong in reality.
Sure, those new 13,000-ish seats comprised a new, permanent east side stands made of stuff that wouldn’t warp in rain or anything. But the people they sat were no more real than those that had been paying to watch Auburn games (what few there were) from the same spot for ten years.
So congrats to the at least 3,805 forgotten Auburn souls at that first game on being written back into existence!
Related: The almost names of Jordan-Hare Stadium.
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