By Susan Bonnell Burns
To most of us in the John Whittenberger Society now, the Indiana Memorial Union building is a given. It was our home away from home often during our school years and is our anchor when we come back for Biennial celebrations, inductions of new boards, or just to see good old IU.
But it was not always so. In the balmy spring days of early March 1922, a Memorial Fund Drive was successful in raising $1.6 million in pledges to cover the lion’s share of construction costs for three buildings: a new Student Union building (which would include an “assembly hall”); the 10th street football stadium; and a women’s residence hall, all in honor of the men who died in the first World War.
The drive, which had already received pledges from alumni and university supporters across the state and nation, launched Tuesday, March 7. 1922, with an assembly addressed by Gov. Warren McCray and IU President William Lowe Bryan.
The students — who were already known for their love of “rowdy behavior,” since that was the reason John Whittenberger cited for needing to form the Men’s Student Union in 1909 — cut loose again when word came that their portion of the campaign pledge drive had succeeded in topping the $400,000 goal, and school would be out for the rest of the week to celebrate.
Shortly after midnight on March 8, about half the student body of 4,000 was ready to frolic when they lit a huge bonfire in Dunn Meadow to celebrate their success. This image appeared in the March 30, 1922 edition of The Daily Student with the following enthusiastic caption:
“Round the swirling, roaring bonfire danced 2,000 joyous students, writhing in serpentine coils and sending forth undulating shouts of triumph over the roofs of the sleeping city. Two thousand voices rang out in ‘Indiana’ chorus, 2,000 happy faces flashed back the roseate glow of the firelight. The ‘Series’, Indiana’s famous yell, crashed out from 2,000 straining throats and the ‘rumbling Monon thundered on the midnight air. Nine rahs for Noble Butler, Nine rahs for Libbets Johnston and nine rahs for Prexy Bryan re-echoed thru Dunn Meadow. Symbolic in its meaning was this phoenix-like blaze, for in the leaping flames the students saw near-future martyrdom for the long-standing rubbish heap which has for years disgraced a corner of our campus. The glowing embers reflected to them visions of new structures soon to be born to grace our campus, and from the flying sparks they caught the spirit of a greater Indiana.”
As for the meaning of “The ‘Series’ yell,” or “Libbets Johnston”, if you have an idea, send it in.