From the Archives 1: The time when it was normal to kidnap other students

For the last year and change, I've been scouring the Carnegie Mellon archives while researching for a top-secret project. Hopefully in the not-so-distant future, this research will come to fruition, and I will drop a bombshell report in this very publication. But alas, my research remains pitifully unfinished. For now, I’ll let the suspense linger while I share with you the odd stories, interesting characters, and strange discoveries I find while digging through the archives. If the Pillbox gods are satisfied with this pilot article, you can expect this to become a recurring column in the future.

This week, I'm kicking things off with a light story. For various undisclosable reasons, I was reading the very oldest editions of The Thistle, the school yearbook, through our digital archives. On page 62 of the 1908 yearbook, I stumbled upon a series of short stories written as letters from the perspective of a female student named Margaret, titled the "Maggy Murphy Manuscripts." After having a strongly-worded conversation with our resident plagiarist Anna Cappella about her clear theft of this idea, I began to read so that I could learn how students of yore felt about school life. The fourth letter, dated to Dec. 15, 1907, starts out, "You remember how Sampson, the strong man, was captured last year, and a banquet spoiled, well would you believe it, the Plebes fell into the same trap." This grabbed my attention, but I didn't want to jump to any conclusions. To be clear, Maggy is fictional — the real author of these stories is Walter Gray, the first-year Class Historian — so perhaps this is a fictional event. But the event is described in such great detail that I felt it necessary to dig deeper.

In the letter, Maggy describes how the juniors kidnapped the plebe (freshmen) class president Martin — a "bird of a fellow" according to her — and "stowed him in the boiler room of Mechanical [Hamerschlag] Hall." I will also clarify that "juniors'' here refers to second-year students, as the Carnegie Technical Schools only offered three-year programs. The plebe class, who were having their "plebe banquet" that evening, came out in force to recapture their leader. The juniors tried to spirit Martin out through a back entrance of Hamerschlag, but were unable to escape before the plebes descended on them. In the ensuing fight on the muddy slopes of Junction Hollow, the plebes got their president back and took him to a doctor's office. However, a group of crafty juniors tracked them down and "once more took Martin in charge, boarded a streetcar, and made off with him."

Here's where the story really gets interesting. Word got out that Martin was being hidden in "Urling's House." My best guess is that this is referring to the residence of Walter C. Urling, a student who appears to have been on both the football and track teams. He's not listed as a senior in 1908, and I find no mention of Urling in later yearbooks, so I can't say for certain if he even graduated. And this is just a best guess. Gray assumes you know these key details, so he doesn't spell out where exactly this is. Well it just so happens that our Maggy is neighbors to the Urlings, and when the mob of plebes came prowling around, she got so frightened by this band of hooligans and mischief-makers that she phoned the police.

Now how much truth is in this? To my surprise, pretty much all of it, apparently. On page 82, we get a history of the plebe class from one Lowell "Nick" Nicols, who claims to have been present at the "Siege of Urling's." The story matches up extremely closely, minus the detail about Martin being taken to a doctor's office. Instead, Lowell tells us that the "most reliable reports" speak of a scuffle for possession of Martin's horse-drawn carriage following the fight at Junction Hollow, during which the juniors ultimately prevailed, and boarded a streetcar with Martin. And of course, Lowell makes no mention of our fictitious Maggy phoning the police, but instead it was the unnamed neighbors of Urling's. Though search parties resumed the following day, it seems the plebes never recaptured their president. It's left as an exercise to the reader to figure out how and when Martin returned. Presumably the juniors got bored, but Lowell felt this to be too obvious to even mention.

In conclusion, Carnegie Tech students used to go pretty hard.