A College Town – American Travel

IT was about one o’clock in the afternoon when my companion and I alighted from the train in Lawrence, Kansas. the city in which the Quantrell massacre occurred, as mentioned in a preceding chapter, and the seat of the University of Kansas.

An automobile hack, the gasoline equivalent of the dilapidated horse-drawn station hack of earlier times, was standing beside the platform. We consulted the driver about luncheon.

“You kin get just as good eating at the lunch room over by the other station,” he said, “as you kin at the hotel, and’t won’t cost you so much. They charge fifty cents for dinner at the Eldridge, and the lunch room ‘s only a quarter. You kin get anything you want to eat there—ham and eggs, potatoes, all such as that.”

Somehow we were suspicious of the lunch room, but as we had to leave our bags at the other station, we told him we would look it over, got in, and drove across the town. The lunch room proved to be a one-story wooden structure, painted yellow, and supporting one of those “false fronts,” representing a second story, which one sees so often in little western towns, and which of all architectural follies is the worst, since it deceives no one, makes only for ugliness, and is a sheer waste of labor and material.

We did not even alight at the lunch room, but, despite indications of hurt feelings on the part of our charioteer, insisted on proceeding to the Eldridge House and lunching there, cost what it might.

The Eldridge House stands on a corner of the wide avenue known as Massachusetts, the principal street, which, like the town itself, indicates, in its name, a New England origin. Lawrence was named for Amos Lawrence, the Massachusetts abolitionist, who, though he never visited Kansas, gave the first ten thousand dollars toward the establishment of the university.

Alighting before the hotel, I noticed a building, diagonally opposite, bearing the sign, Bowersock Theater. Billboards before the theater announced that Gaskell & McVitty (Inc.) would present there a dramatization of Harold Bell Wright’s “Shepherd of the Hills.” As I had never seen a dramatization of a work by America’s best-selling author, nor yet a production by Messrs. Gaskell & McVitty (Inc.), it seemed to me that here was an opportunity to improve, as at one great bound, my knowledge of the theater. One of the keenest disappointments of my trip was the discovery that this play was not due in Lawrence for some days, as I would even have stopped a night in the Eldridge House, if necessary, to have attended a performance—especially a performance in a theater bearing the poetic name of Bowersock.

Rendered reckless by my disappointment, I retired to the Eldridge House dining room and ordered the fifty-cent luncheon. If it was the worst meal I had on my en-tire trip, it at least fulfilled an expectation, for I had heard that meals in western hotels were likely to be poor. It is only just to add, however, that a number of sturdy men who were seated about the room ate more heartily and vastly than any other people I have seen, excepting German tourists on a Rhine steamer. I envy Kansans their digestions. For my own part, I was less interested in my meal than in the waitresses. Has it ever struck you that hotel waitresses are a race apart? They are not like other women; not even like other waitresses. They are even shaped differently, having waists like wasps and bosoms which would resemble those of pouter pigeons if pouter pigeons’ bosoms did not seem to be a part of them. Most hotel waitresses look to me as though, on reaching womanhood, they had inhaled a great breath and held it forever after. Only the fear of being thought indelicate prevents my discussing further this curious phenomenon. However, I am reminded that, as Owen Johnson has so truly said, American writers are not permitted the freedom which is accorded to their Gallic brethren. There is, I trust, however, nothing improper in making mention of the striking display of jewelry worn by the waitresses at the Eldridge House. All wore diamonds in their hair, and not one wore less than fifty thousand dollars’ worth. These diamonds were set in large hairpins, and the show of gems surpassed any I have ever seen by daylight, Luncheon at the Eldridge suggests, in this respect, a first night at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, and if it is like that at luncheon, what must it be at dinner time? Do they wear tiaras and diamond stomachers? I regret that I am unable to say, for, immediately after luncheon, I kept an appointment, previously made, with the driver of the auto hack.

“Where do you boys want to go now?” he asked my companion and me as we appeared.

“To the university,” I said.

“Students?” he asked, with kindly interest.

Neither of us had been taken for a student in many, many years ; the agreeable suggestion was worth an extra quarter to him. Perhaps he had guessed as much.

The drive took us out Massachusetts Avenue, which, when it escapes the business part of town, becomes an agreeable, tree-bordered thoroughfare, reminiscent of New England. Presently our rattle-trap machine turned to the right and began the ascent of a hill so steep as to cause the driver to drop back into “first.” It was a long hill, too; we crawled up for several blocks before attaining the plateau at the top, where stands the University of Kansas.

The setting of the college surprised us, for, if there was one thing that we had expected more than another, it was that Kansas would prove absolutely flat. Yet here we were on a mountain top—at least they call it Mount Oread—with the valley of the Kaw River below, and what seemed to be the whole of Kansas spread round about, like a vast panoramic mural decoration for the university—a maplike picture suggesting those splendid decorations of Jules Guerin’s in the Pennsylvania Terminal in New York.

I know of no university occupying a more suitable position or a more commanding view, although it must be recorded that the university has been more fortunate in the selection of its site than in its architecture and the arrangement of its grounds. Like other colleges founded forty or fifty years ago, the University of Kansas started in a small way, and failed entirely to anticipate the greatness of its future. The campus seems to have “just growed” without regard to the grouping of buildings or to harmony between them, and the architecture is generally poor. Nevertheless there is a sort of homely charm about the place, with its unimposing, helter-skelter piles of brick and stone, its fine trees, and its sweeping view.

It was principally with the purpose of visiting the University of Kansas that we stopped in Lawrence. We had heard much of the great, energetic state colleges, which had come to hold such an important place educationally, and in the general life of the Middle West and West, and had planned to visit one of them. Originally we had in mind the University of Wisconsin, because we had heard so much about it ; later, however, it struck us that everybody else had heard a good deal about it, too, and that we had better visit some less widely advertised college. We hit on the University of Kansas because Kansas is the most typical American agricultural state, and also because a Kansan, whom we met on the train, informed us that “In Kansas we are hell on education.”

In detail I knew little of these big state schools. I had heard, of course, of the broadening of their activities to include a great variety of general state service, aside from their main purpose of giving some sort of college education, at very low cost, to young men and women of rural communities who desire to continue beyond the public schools. I must confess, however, that, aside from such great universities as those of Michigan and Wisconsin, I had imagined that state universities were, in general, crude and ill equipped, by comparison with the leading colleges of the East.

If the University of Kansas may, as I have been credibly informed, be considered as a typical western state university, then I must confess that my preconceptions regarding such institutions were as far from the facts as preconceptions, in general, are likely to be. The University of Kansas is anything but backward. It is, upon the contrary, amazingly complete and amazingly advanced. Not only has it an excellent equipment and a live faculty, but also a remarkably energetic, eager student body, much more homogeneous and much more unanimous in its hunger for education than student bodies in eastern universities, as I have observed them.

The University of Kansas has some three thousand students, about a thousand of them women. Consider-ably more than half of them are either partly or wholly self-supporting, and 12 per cent. of them earn their way during the school months. The grip of the university upon the State may best be shown by statistics—if I may be forgiven the brief use of them. Out of 103 counties in Kansas only seven were not represented by students in the university in the years 1910–12—the seven counties being thinly settled sections in the southwest corner of the State. Seventy-three per cent. of last year’s students were born in Kansas; more than a third of them came from villages of less than 2,000 population; and the father of one out of every three students was a farmer.

Life at the university is comfortable, simple, and very cheap, the average cost, per capita, for the school year being perhaps $200, including school expenses, board, social expenses, etc., nor are there great social and financial gaps between certain groups of students, as in some eastern colleges. The university is a real democracy, in which each individual is judged according to certain standards of character and behavior.

“Now and again,” one young man told me, with a sardonic smile, “we get a country boy who eats with his knife. He may be a mighty good sort, but he is n’t civilized. When a fellow like that comes along, we take him in hand and tell him that, aside from the danger of cutting his mouth, we have certain peculiar whims on the subject of manners at table, and that it is better for him to eat as we do, because if he doesn’t it makes him conspicuous. Inside a week you’ll see a great change in a boy of that kind.”

Not only is the cost to the student low at the University of Kansas, but the cost of operating the university is slight. In the year 19o9-I0 (the last year on which I have figures) the cost of operating sixteen leading colleges in the United States averaged $232 per student. The cost per student at the University of Kansas is $175. One reason for this low per capita cost is the fact that the salaries of professors at the University of Kansas are unusually small. They are too small, It is one of the reproaches of this rich country of ours that, though we are always ready to spend vast sums on college buildings, we pay small salaries to instructors ; although it is the faculty, much more than the buildings, which make a college. So far as I have been able to ascertain, Harvard pays the highest maximum salaries to professors, of any American university-$5,500 is the Harvard maximum. California, Cornell, and Yale have a $5,000 maximum. Kansas has the lowest maximum I know of, the greatest salary paid to a professor there, according to last year’s figures, having been $2,500.

Before leaving New York I was told by a distinguished professor in an eastern university that the students he got from the West had, almost invariably, more initiative and energy than those from the region of the Atlantic seaboard.

“Just what do you mean by the West?” I asked.

“In general,” he replied, “I mean students from north and west of Chicago. If I show an eastern boy a ma-chine which he does not understand, the chances are that he will put his hands in his pockets and shake his head dubiously. But if I show the same machine to a western boy, he will go right at it, unafraid. Western boys usually have more `gumption,’ as they call it.”

Brief as was my visit to the University of Kansas, I felt that there, indeed, was “gumption.” And it is easy to account for. The breed of men and women who are being raised in the Western States is a sturdier breed than is being produced in the East. They have just as much fun in their college life as any other students do, but practically none of them go to college just “to have a good time,” or with the even less creditable purpose of improving their social position. Kansas is still too near to first principles to be concerned with superficialities. It goes to college to work and learn, and its reason for wishing to learn are, for the most part, practical. One does not feel, in the University of Kansas, the aspiration for a vague culture for the sake of culture only. It is, above all, a practical university, and its graduates are notably free from the cultural affectations which mark graduates of some eastern colleges, enveloping them in a fog of pedantry which they mistake for an aura of erudition, and from which many of them never emerge.

Directness, sincerity, strength, thoughtfulness, and practicality are Kansas qualities. Even the very young men and women of Kansas are not far removed from pioneer forefathers, and it must be remembered that the Kansas pioneer differed from some others in that he possessed a strain of that Puritan love of freedom which not only brought his forefathers to Plymouth, but brought him overland to Kansas, as has been said, to cast his vote for abolition. Naturally, then, the zeal which fired him and his ancestors is reflected in his children and his grandchildren. And that, I think, is one reason why Kansas has developed “cranks.”

Contrasting curiously with Kansas practicality, how-ever, there must be among the people of that State an-other quality of a very different kind, which I might have overlooked had I not chanced to see a copy of the “Graduate Magazine,” and had I not happened to read the list of names of graduates who returned to the university for the last commencement. The list was not a very long one, yet from it I culled the following collection of given names for women: Ava, Alverna, Angie, Ora, Amida, Lalia, Nadine, Edetha, Violetta, Flo, Claudia, Evadne, Nelle, Ola, Lanora, Amarette, Bernese, Minta, Juanita, Babetta, Lenore, Letha, Leta, Neva, Tekla, Delpha, Oreta, Opal, Flaude, Iva, Lola, Leora, and Zippa.

Clearly, then, Kansas has a penchant for “fancy” names. Why, I wonder ? Is it not, perhaps, a reaction, on the part of parents, against the eternal struggle with the soil, the eternal practicalities of farm life? Is it an expression of the craving of Kansas mothers for poetry and romance? It seems to me that I detect a wistful something in those names of Kansas’ daughters.

Much has been heard, in the last few years, of the “Wisconsin idea” of linking up the state university with the practical life of the people of the State. This idea did not originate in Wisconsin, however, but in Kansas, where as long ago as 1868 a law was passed making the chancellor of the university State Sealer of Weights and Measures. Since that time the connection between the State and its great educational institutions has continued to grow, until now the two are bound together by an infinite number of ties.

For example, no municipality in Kansas may install a water supply, waterworks, or sewage plant without obtaining from the university sanction of the arrangements proposed. The dean of the University School of Medicine, Dr. S. J. Crumbine, is also secretary of the State Board of Health. It was Dr. Crumbine who started the first agitation against the common drinking cup, the roller towel, etc., and he succeeded in having a law passed by the State Legislature in Kansas abolishing these. He also accomplished the passage of a law providing for the inspection of hotels, and requiring, among other things, ten-foot sheets. All water analysis for the State is done at the university, as well as analysis in connection with food, drugs, etc., and student work is utilized in a practical way in connection with this state service, wherever possible.

Passing through the laboratories, I saw many examples of this activity, and was shown quantities of samples of foods, beverages, and patent medicines, which had failed to comply with the requirements of the law. There was an artificial cider made up from alcohol and coal-tar dye; a patent medicine called “Spurmax,” sold for fifty cents per package, yet containing nothing but colored Epsom salts ; another patent medicine sold at the same price, containing the same material plus a little borax; bottles of “Silver Top,” a beer-substitute, designed to evade the prohibition law—bottles with sly labels, looking exactly alike, but which, on examination, proved, in some cases, to have mysteriously dropped the first two letters in the word “unfermented.” All sorts of things were being analyzed; paints were being investigated for adulteration; shoes were being examined to see that they conformed to the Kansas “pure-shoe law,” which requires that shoes containing substitutes for leather be stamped to indicate the fact.

“This law,” remarks “The Masses,” “is being fought by Kansas shoe dealers who declare it unconstitutional. Apparently the right to wear paper shoes without knowing it is another of our precious heritages.”

The same department of the university is engaged in showing different Kansas towns how to soften their water supply; efforts are also being made to find some means of softening the fiber of the Yucca plant—a weed which the farmers of western Kansas have been trying to get rid of-so that it may be utilized for making rope.

The Kansas state flower is also being put to use for the manufacture of sunflower oil, which, in Russia, is burned in lamps, and which Kansas already uses, to some extent, as a salad dressing and also as a substitute for linseed oil.

The university has also given attention to the situation with regard to natural gas in Kansas, Professor Cady having recently appeared before the State Board of Utilities recommending that, as natural gas varies greatly as to heat units, the heat unit, rather than the measured foot, be made the basis for all charges by the gas companies.

In one room I came upon a young man who was in charge of a machine for the manufacture of liquid air. This product is packed in vacuum cans and shipped to all parts of the world. I had never seen it before. It is strange stuff, having a temperature of 300 degrees below zero. The young man took a little of it in his hand (it looked like a small pill made of water), and, after holding it for an instant, threw it on the floor, where it evaporated instantly. He then took some in his mouth and blew it out in the form of a frosty smoke. He was an engaging young man, and seemed to enjoy immensely doing tricks with liquid air.

In the department of entomology there is also great activity. Professor S. J.. Hunter has, among other re-searches, been conducting for the last three years elaborate experiments designed to prove or disprove the Sambon theory with regard to pellagra.

“Pellagra,” Professor Hunter explained to me, “has been known in Italy since 1782, but has existed in the United States for less than thirty years, although it is now found in nearly half our States and has become most serious in the South. Its cause, character, and cure are unknown, although there are several theories. One theory is that it is caused by poisoning due to the excessive use of corn products; another attributes it to cottonseed products; and the Sambon theory, dating from 1910, attributes it to the sand fly, the theory being that the fly becomes infected through sucking the blood of a victim of pellagra, and then communicates the infection by biting other persons. In order to ascertain the truth or untruth of this contention, we have bred uncontaminated sand flies, and after having allowed them to bite infected persons, have let them bite monkeys. The result of these experiments is not yet complete. One monkey is, however, sick, at this time, and his symptoms are not unlike certain symptoms of pellagra.”

The university’s Museum of Natural History contains the largest single panoramic display of stuffed animals in the world. This exhibition is contained in one enormous case running around an extensive room, and shows, in suitable landscape settings, American animals from Alaska to the tropics. The collection is valued at $300,000, and was made, almost entirely, by members of the faculty and students.

The Department of Physical Education is in charge of Dr. James Naismith, who can teach a man to swim in thirty minutes, and who is famous as the inventor of the game of basketball. Dr. Naismith devised basketball as a winter substitute for football, and gave the game its name because, originally, he used peach baskets at his goals.

A very complete system of university extension is operated, covering an enormous field, reaching schools, colleges, clubs, and individuals, and assisting them in al-most all branches of education; also a Department of Correspondence Study, covering about 150 courses. Likewise, in the Department of journalism a great amount of interesting and practical work is being done on the editorial, business, and mechanical sides of news-paper publishing. Following the general practice of other departments of the university, the Department of Journalism places its equipment and resources at the service of Kansas editors and publishers. A clearing house is maintained where buyers and sellers of newspaper properties may be brought together, printers are assisted in making estimates, cost-system blanks are supplied, and job type is cast and furnished free to Kansas publishers in exchange for their old worn-out type.

These are but a few scattered examples of the inner and outer activities of the University of Kansas, as I noted them during the course of an afternoon and evening spent there. For me the visit was an education. I wish that all Americans might visit such a university. But more than that, I wish that some system might be devised for the exchange of students between great colleges in different parts of the country. Doubtless it would be a good thing for certain students at western colleges to learn something of the more elaborate life and the greater sophistication of the great colleges of the East, but more particularly I think that vast benefits might accrue to certain young men from Harvard, Yale, and similar institutions, by contact with such universities as that of Kansas. Unfortunately, however, the eastern students, who would be most benefited by such a shift, would be the very ones to oppose it. Above all others, I should like to see young eastern aristocrats, spenders, and disciples of false culture shipped out to the West. It would do them good, and I think they would be amazed to find out how much they liked it. However, this idea of an exchange is not based so much on the theory that it would help the individual student as on the theory that greater mutual comprehension is needed by Americans. We do not know our country or our fellow countrymen as we should. We are too localized. We do not understand the United States as Germans understand Germany, as the French under-stand France, or as the British understand Great Britain. This is partly because of the great distances which separate us, partly because of the heterogeneous nature of our population, and partly because, being a young civilization, we flock abroad in quest of the ancient charm and picturesqueness of Europe. The “See America First” idea, which originated as the advertising catch line of a western railroad, deserves serious consideration, not only because of what America has to offer in the way of scenery, but also because of what she has to offer in the way of people. I found that a great many thoughtful persons all over the United States were considering this point.

In Detroit, for example, the Lincoln National Highway project is being vigorously pushed by the automobile manufacturers, and within a short time streams of motors will be crossing the continent. As a means of making Americans better acquainted with one another the automobile has already done good work, but its service in that direction has only begun.

Mr. Charles C. Moore, president of the Panama-Pacific Exposition, whom I met, later, in San Francisco, told me that the authorities of the exposition had been particularly interested in the idea of promoting friendliness between Americans.

“We Americans,” said Mr. Moore, “are still wondering what America really is, and what Americans really are. One of the greatest benefits of a fair like ours is the opportunity it gives us to form friendly ties with people from all over the country. We shall have a great series of congresses, conferences, and conventions, and will provide the use of halls without charge. The railroads are cooperating with us by making low round-trip rates which enable the visitor to come one way and return by another route, so that, besides seeing the fair, they can see the country. The more Americans there are who become interested in seeing the country, the better it is for us and for the United States. Any one requiring proof of the absolute necessity of a closer mutual understanding between the people of this country has but to look at the condition which exists in national politics. What do the Atlantic Coast Congressmen and the Pacific Coast Congressmen really know of one an other’s requirements? Little or nothing as a rule. They reach conclusions very largely by exchanging votes: `I’ll vote for your measure if you ’11 vote for mine.’ That system has cost this country millions upon millions. If I had my way, there would be a law making it necessary for each Congressman to visit every State in the Union once in two years.

In an earlier chapter I mentioned Quantrell’s gang of border ruffians, of which Frank and Jesse James were members, and referred to the Lawrence massacre conducted by the gang.

In all the border trouble, from 1855—6 to the time of the Civil War, Lawrence figured as the antislavery center. That and the ill feeling engendered by differences of opinion along the Missouri border with regard to slavery, caused the massacre. It occurred on August 21, 1863. Lawrence had been expecting an attack by Quantrell for sometime before that date, and had at one period posted guards on the roads leading to the eastward. After a time, however, this precaution was given up, enabling Quantrell to surprise the town and make a clean sweep. He arrived at Lawrence at 5.30 in the morning with about 450 men. Frank James told me that he himself was not present at the massacre, as he had been shot a short time before and temporarily disabled.

Lawrence, which then had a population of about 1,200, was caught entirely unawares, and was absolutely at the mercy of the ruffians. A good many of the latter got drunk, which added to the horror, for these men were bad enough when sober. They burned down al-most the entire business section of the town, as well as a great many houses, and going into the homes, dragged out 163 men, unarmed and defenseless, and cold-bloodedly slaughtered them in the streets, before the eyes of their wives and children. Very few men who were in the town at the time, escaped, but among the survivors were twenty-five men who were in the Free State Hotel, the proprietor of which had once befriended Quantrell, and was for that reason spared together with his guests. Some forty or fifty persons living in Lawrence at the present time remember the massacre, most of these being women who saw their husbands, fathers, brothers, or sons killed in the midst of the general orgy. Many stories of narrow escapes are preserved. In one instance a woman whose house had been set on fire, wrapped her husband in a rug, and dragged him, thus enveloped, in the yard as though attempting to save her rug from the conflagration. There he remained until, on news that soldiers were on the way to the relief of the stricken town, the Quantrell gang withdrew.