What was happening at the University in 1869? Tumbling, evidently.

The oldest issues of The Argus that I could get my hands on were from 1869. It was an entirely unfortunate time: The Civil War had ended four years prior, and the country was far from recovered. At the University, too, women would not be admitted for another three years (only to be denied admission again 40 years after that), and black students would not be admitted for the first time for another century. The men at the University, however, remained blissfully ignorant of all that—instead, they got really into tumbling. What follows is what one Indiana native might have written home to his childhood best friend in the fall of ’69.

Dear Augustus,

You’re sure going to be sorry that you decided to stay home in Indiana and work the land when you hear my latest story from college. I almost feel bad for abandoning you, but then I remember that it was your choice to cultivate corn instead of ideas.

It all started last semester, when a gymnastics exhibition shocked and thrilled the whole campus. The antics on the horizontal bar, the floor exercises, and the rolling performances were nothing short of exceptional. I’ve never seen such a virile group of young men in all my days! A petition immediately started to defund the dressage program and bring gymnastic instruction to the University, and within a few weeks, our wishes were granted: One Mr. Welch, of Yale, arrived to give a lesson in the art of tumbling.

Augustus, when I tell you it was sensational, I mean it was SENSATIONAL. The only bummer was Mr. Welch himself. He was about 64—in other words, ancient—and could hardly even walk, let alone tumble. The saving grace was his assistant, Garfield, who had the energy of a young colt. Within minutes, we were tumbling and rolling all over the field. What a delight!

Of the 52 freshmen, I was the best by far, if I do say so myself. Growing up on the farm, we boys—my brothers and I, and you and your brother (so sad that your mother died in childbirth, by the way)—learned to contort our bodies in mysterious ways. All these mamas’ boys from Brooklyn and Boston can’t even come close to competing with my agility and flexibility.

After the lesson, Mr. Welch tried to engage me in some chin music, but I just spirited away with a few of my closest possums: Abe, Harold, and Bartholomew. I got the feeling that he was an odd sort, perhaps desperate for friendship, but he gave me a sinister sort of feeling—and that’s why I went skedaddle.

The more I write about this, the worse I feel. Oh, Augustus. I think I’m less of a Christian than I was before leaving home. I thought going to a Methodist college would help me preserve my righteous heritage, and some of the men here are Godly indeed, but everyone’s gone girl-crazy. It’s the tragedy of our society, I suppose. I fear that the only way to ensure the unending commitment to religion is to dissolve all of the state and secular colleges that are cropping up all over the country. What a cockamamie idea!

Take Cornell, for example. In its endeavor to be liberal, it has become loose, not only as regards religion, but in its system of discipline and instruction. Either these institutions will be reclaimed from their infidel tendencies and come under control of those who are friends of Christ, or their fate will be that of the systems of error to which they have linked themselves.

But even this Christian university has its weak spots. Last night was a lecture by a woman named Kate Fields, who—appropriately—was greeted with little enthusiasm. The talk was a shoddy presentation of the role of the women’s sphere. It wasn’t the content of the talk that bothered me so much as Fields’s dry, whispered presentation. She should leave the talking to Susan B. Anthony is all I can say!

At least she changed her topic at the last minute. She was originally to speak about “a lady’s adventures in the Adirondacks.” We expected even the wild John Brown Tract would lose much of its natural roughness under the graceful manipulations of the fairy-like fingers of feminine taste!

In other news, I’ve joined an eating cub: the Chique Chaque. It’s by far the best one, leagues above the Chronometer, Alpha, Wyvern, the Cottage Club, and Sans Souci (I’m just now realizing the French influence in these names—perhaps that’s why I feel so dignified being a part of one!). It’s such a lovely system, to eat good meals in a small community—except, I’m realizing, if one is as misanthropic as I. Should I be concerned about the fact that I despise more people than I admire, and that I walk around campus with a clenched fist and a clenched heart, just anticipating the meatheads and mollycoddles that run rampant here—all bragging about their horses and carriages?

“Well, bully for you!” I want to exclaim. “You can afford to buy your carriages from E Loveland’s First Class Livery Stable? Tell the whole world, why don’t you!”

One of these delightful people is Lawrence Lugburdt. He’s a common thief! He tried to cabbage some of my bark juice at a social function last weekend, but I was having none of it.

Anyway, I’d better swot up for my oration trial tomorrow. Please give everyone at home my best. I know it’s still tough for the folks in Spencer County after Abraham Lincoln’s death, but at least the war is over and Reconstruction is in full swing, right?

Oh, wait, before I sign off, want to know an absolutely fascinating fact? I learned from The Argus that for men who go to college, the average duration of life after graduation is 42 years, meaning that on average college-goers live to be 63—which is two and a half years longer than non-college-graduates. Obviously, there can’t be any other variables at play here.

Bet you’re feeling pretty good about your choice to stay home, huh?

But I shouldn’t be so smug. Diligent students lived longer than bad ones in the study, and given my recent grades, I’m headed straight for the grave.




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