40 Acres of Fun

New book separates the fact and fiction of the history, culture and traditions at UT

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Never before has acreage been the yardstick with which to measure fun, but a new book edited by School of Journalism Professor David Garlock has changed all that with the release of "Forty Acres of Fun: A look at the unique history, culture and traditions found on the University of Texas campus." The collection of 46 stories seeks to uphold or dispel the myths and legends that have surrounded the University of Texas at Austin campus since being founded in 1883.

For instance, most students are aware of the story about how the "Hook 'em" hand sign originated with head cheerleader Harley Clark at a pep rally in 1955, but many fans of the burnt orange may not be aware that the first mascot of UT was not legendary steer "Bevo," but was actually a dog named "Pig."

Pig Bellmont, the original mascot of the university, was a tan and white English bulldog that was a campus favorite among students for eight years until he was struck by a car while crossing Guadalupe Street on New Year's Day in 1923.

Similar stories show that fact and legend are constantly at odds on campus and Garlock, a veteran of the College of Communication for 23 years, said it's made compiling his book a difficult journey. The professor called on students from his journalism classes to dig into the validity of stories, which often took months and sent students to such locales as the Austin History Center and the Dolph Briscoe Center of American History on campus.

"We made the journalism students research this like crazy," said Garlock. "Virtually every story out there about anything on campus is wrong – more myth than reality."

After years of producing a newsletter for the Co-op, the professor was approached to edit a book on the subject by Co-op president George Mitchell. Garlock said a previous book by former dean Margaret Catherine Berry named "UT Austin Traditions and Nostalgia," published in 1992, was the inspiration for this more up-to-date book.

Stories of interest include: the house where Gen. George Custer once lived on campus, the famous Battle Oaks that barely survived the ax a couple of times since the Civil War, and how the rare copies of "The Gutenberg Bible," "Mein Kampf" and "Alice in Wonderland" were secured by the Harry Ransom Center.

Other tidbits range from the travels of "Big Bertha," the UT band's quarter-ton drum that was likely radioactive for years due to its prolonged stay with the architects of the atomic bomb at the University of Chicago, to whether Lou Gehrig's legendary 600-foot home run hit against the Longhorns baseball team at an exhibition game at Clark Field in 1929 was possible.

"It might seem like a soft and squishy book but it isn't. This is good journalism and the 46 stories in there are probably the most accurate ever published about UT," Garlock said. "I think this will be of great interest to alumni and new students. People talk about the Aggies – but we have way more traditions here than they have."

The book can be purchased on the University Co-op's website or at the lower-level book department inside the Co-op at 2246 Guadalupe in Austin.

Marc Speir
Senior Content Producer