Another one of my favorite stories from writing Witmer Stone: The Fascination of Nature concerns the day I was doing some research at the University of Pennsylvania archives. UP’s archivist extraordinaire, James Duffin, wheeled in a cart with two large books wrapped in brown paper and butcher twine, saying, “By the way, I found these Class of 1887 scrapbooks in the archives. I knew Stone was a member of the class, so I thought you might find something in there about him.” Did I ever. Upon opening the first one (there were five altogether), I found – right there on the first page – that Stone was the one who created them! The class was so impressed with the first volume Stone produced in 1910 that they immediately appointed him class secretary for life. He presented the class with the fifth and final volume at their 50-year reunion in 1937, in a ceremony in the Furness library (scrapbook photo of Stone and ’87 classmate, lawyer, and former U.S. Senator George W. Pepper; second photo of the same location today):
In this scrapbook photo, Stone (front and center) seems to be leading the parade at the class’s 25-year reunion in 1912. Note the banner, matching outfits, and Class of ’87 boater hats (modeled by Stone in inset):
Commenting on his declining health in 1936, Stone told a friend, “This autumn also brings me to the 70th milestone of my life…Next year (1937) our college class holds its 50th reunion…So I don’t want to be shot until these celebrations are completed.” Well, he made it − here’s another scrapbook photo of Stone (arrow) at the Class of ’87 50-year reunion:
The scrapbooks contain photos, menus, attendance sheets, and other similar items from the semiannual reunions (one in winter, one in summer), as well as newspaper clippings featuring class members, and – increasingly in later years – their obituaries. I spent a couple of hours that day going through the books, and it was a fascinating, time travel history experience. By the end I had such a familiarity with these guys that I felt like I’d been a member of the class. Kudos to Jim Duffin and the folks in the UP archives!
One of the things that piqued my interest most strongly during research for Witmer Stone: The Fascination of Nature was the discovery that Stone’s college class, the University of Pennsylvania (UP) Class of 1887, in a thoughtful and forward-thinking gesture, left a loving cup to be presented to the Class of 1987 at its graduation. The cup was eventually inscribed with the names of the class presidents for 30 years, going back to their undergrad days. (The class selected a new slate of officers each year or two after graduation.)
Description of cup from Class of ’87 scrap books, which were prepared by Stone. (That’s his writing at the top.)
A 1901 article at the time the cup was first purchased mentioned that it was left for safekeeping in Houston Hall, UP’s historic (first in America) student union building. After that, plans seem to have gotten a little sketchier. A newspaper account of a 1914 class reunion reported that “the last living member of the class will deposit the cup with a trust company as a bequest to the class of 1987.” The potential complications and uncertainties of that arrangement are obvious. The waters really get muddy in a 1920 letter to class secretary Stone, informing him that one of the class members was taking “the ’87 loving cup home to Pittsburgh with him.” Assuming that referred to the cup being held for the Class of 1987, it introduces a lot of mystery to the story line.
Not surprisingly, the cup seems to have gotten lost on its way to the 1987 commencement. Class of 1987 officers that I contacted had never heard of it. I was silly enough to walk all around Houston Hall one day looking for it in the display cases sprinkled throughout the building, and I futilely investigated a few other dead ends at UP. The range of possibilities for the fate of the cup would include being put out with the university trash in 1947 to residing today in an attic in Indiana. For me, it’s become the holy grail of Stone-related relics. If it ever miraculously turns up, I think the best thing to do would be to put it in a safe, secure place for presentation to the UP Class of 2087 at their commencement.