The 1970 edition of the Glomerata, the Auburn University yearbook, was burned. Or at least some of them were burned, their pages gleefully ripped from the spine and tossed into the fire that filled two metal gallon drum-sized trash cans by a hundred or so people on a rainy Thursday night in late May in the parking lot of Auburn’s baseball field just a few days after the books were distributed.
People roasted marshmallows over them.
Campus photographer Roger Wentowski, a long-hair who constantly tried to sneak hippie chicks into the Plainsman’s weekly “Loveliest of the Plains” feature, thought the display could be partly explained by the photos he took for the Glom’s beauty section. The girls featured in previous year’s book had been adorned in $3,200 worth of Saks 5th Avenue evening gowns, styled by a Saks 5th Avenue stylist, then taken to Atlanta to pose amid the Greek columns and greenery at the mansion headquarters of the Atlanta Historical Society for a photographer who shot for Playboy. They weren’t chosen for their grades or extra-curricular activities or personalities or even their sorority affiliation —it was purely looks. (Maybe that’s the way it always was, but this was the first year that the editors, in the section’s introduction, just came out with it: Beauty for Beauty’s sake.) Each girl got a full-color spread that spanned nearly one and a half pages. It’s like something out of Vogue.
Wentowski’s photos look almost casual by comparison. The photos are smaller, slightly blurry. Most are black and white and there aren’t as many. So he might have a point—in 1970 Auburn, the only thing possibly worse than underappreciating the Auburn Woman was underappreciating Auburn Football.
But whatever beef folks may have had with the values and aesthetics not just of the beauty section, but the entire book—the quality that defined previous years’ efforts just wasn’t there—didn’t hold a candle, as it were, to their red-white-and-blue-blooded outrage over the 26 pages of the opening section, which read like a Weather Underground manifesto (“Cold war children we seek to establish a New world”…“America must change. Auburn, too. Or both will crumble”), looked like something out of Rolling Stone (at least eight photos of the same Vietnam War protest, a photo of a guy literally gnashing his teeth, a carefully silhouetted shot of a dude smoking what was obviously a joint), and which, a day or two before the incident, began being tacked to a bulletin board in Haley Center underneath a sign that read: “Fuel For Thursday’s Fire.”
Liz Sauber, that year’s editor, says she didn’t expect it–not that.
“I think I knew the copy in the opening section was out there, sort of cutting edge,” she says. “But I wasn’t looking for a problem.”
Sauber was raised in a small Mennonite farming community in southern Pennsylvania. She was smart, but sheltered–insulated, even. Her parents didn’t let her watch TV. The 1960s didn’t exist for her until her family’s move to Birmingham in 1964 for her father’s psychiatric residency at UAB.
“It was a culture shock,” she says. “This was right after the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed and I was totally unprepared for the deep-seeded racial division. It just wasn’t part of anything I knew.”
She enrolled in Auburn in 1966 after graduating from then still segregated Shades Valley High (where, to her, the girls got dressed for school the way adults got dressed for parties). She wore very little makeup. She was petite and had great posture. She was in a sorority. She was a “Who’s Who.” She wasn’t a hippie or a troublemaker. She was just the Glom editor. Despite the revolutionary language and imagery, her yearbook’s message seems to have been born merely of Yankee desire to make a small difference in her corner of the south because, as Glom editor, she thought she could.
“I just always thought that people wanted to learn more about the world and learn about other people and get along,” Sauber says. “But I edited a yearbook that was very poorly received.”
Yes, very poorly received. Scornfully received. Vengefully received. She received threatening phone calls. She was called bad names. And in case burning the books and roasting the marshmallows wasn’t enough, in case she didn’t receive the message, she was also burned in effigy. Repeat: Burned in effigy. That’s pretty screwed up, and still hard for her to believe.
After the flames died down, she hunkered down, graduated Magna Cum Laude, and then she and her new husband, the Glom’s business editor, got the heck out of Dodge. She’s tried to block a lot of it out. But forty years later, and safely back in Pennsylvania, she still defends the book’s artistic, rhetorical, and cultural merit.
“I felt that it (the opening section) was representative of the dramatic change that was happening,” she explains. “I mean, we’re talking Kent State, you know?”
The problem was we weren’t talking Auburn.
Sure, there were protests on the Plains—the second day the Glom was distributed was actually Strike Day, a well-organized antiwar protest with signs and petitions and a march and some folks camped out on President Philpott’s lawn (it quickly shifted from a Vietnam protest to a conversation on extended curfews for coeds, and eventually turned into a panty raid—classic Auburn). An underground newspaper would pop up for a few issues every now and then. There was some graffiti about love on a wall downtown, a half-finished peace sign dug into a spot where the building and grounds crew was going to plant some shrubs.
But Toomer’s Corner wasn’t Haight-Ashbury, no matter how hard you pretended. Auburn women didn’t burn their bras, they burned the meal cards their parents had to buy them because they couldn’t be trusted to maintain a balanced diet if left to their own diners and devices. On the country’s revolutionary Richter scale, the doins at Auburn in the late ’60s and early ’70s barely registered as tremors. The one Molotov cocktail thrown at the ROTC office didn’t even explode. (The ROTC instructor was overheard saying: “Had the damn hippie actually come to class it might have worked.”)
“Imagine your children, 10 to 12 years hence, asking ‘did you really dress and act and talk like this when you were in college?” read one pissed-off letter—there wasn’t enough room to print them all, they said—to The Plainsman.
Emily Perry was a senior that year, about to graduate. Her dad was thinking the same thing.
“I mean, my father went, ‘is this what I sent you to school to do and be a part of?’ And I was like ‘nooo…,’ because I didn’t have anything to do with it”—turning on, tuning in, dropping out. But since the Glomerata staff page listed her as “artiste extraordinaire,” Perry definitely had a hand in, if not the verbiage, then at least the layout “and the basic design of the book;” if not the staging of, say, the pot photo, then at least maybe its inclusion, size (large), and placement next to the artistically (read: random) indented stanza:
You label us
Because you are
When Sauber was called before the the joint faculty and student committee that supervised all campus publications, Perry went with her.
“I do remember very clearly one of the challengers there to present his case and objections saying to me, ‘Why it is there is a full-page color photo of a negro in the opening section and Miss Homecoming is in black and white?’ He was dead serious about it.”
Perry flips through the Glom; looking back, she understands the question.
“This was not Auburn in this opening section in 1970. This was the political viewpoint of a few leadership people… and now, much older and wiser, I can see why these people challenged us about it because really, what this opening section is representing was what was going on in the nation, but not what was going on at Auburn, or what was going on in Auburn only in a minuscule way”—so minuscule that half of the photos of dudes with long hair and beards and armbands were of the same dudes with long hair and beards armbands, taken on the same day, just from different angles.
You can understand the editorial logic, the temptation; the stark contrast between the average Auburn student and what counter cultural element, however small, did exist on the Plains was juxtapositional gold.
“This year’s Glomerata has a large opening section and more color,” Sauber told The Plainsman the week before the books were distributed. “The staff has tried to present diverse elements of campus life and a somewhat unique train of thought copy.”
The last line of that unique train of thought copy: “There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” And for the one hundred or so Auburn students marching toward the baseball field parking lot with yearbooks and lighter fluid and coat hangers on the night of May 28, 1970, the time had come for S’mores.
Photos by Brad Ashmore. For more photos of the Glomfire, click here.
Related: That OTHER Time They Burned The Glom.
* Auburn’s 1960 cheesecake schedule
* I think of Kurt Crain
* Secondhand Shug
* Smithsonian Magazine photographs kid in Auburn hat at Texas prom
* The WiFi Network Names of Auburn
* Auburn’s Legend of Zelda
* Pat Sullivan orders a “Wishbone T” on Bob Hope
* Former Nitro Girl recalls time at Auburn