It’s impossible to glean the breadth, and depth, of the Woodson Research Center Special Collections & Archives without visiting it — and that’s exactly what we did! At the heart of Fondren Libray, the archives are a treasure trove of artifacts, including rare photos, documents and memorabilia ranging from the quirky and fun to the somber and informative. We toured Woodson with Rice Historian Melissa Kean '96 from whom we learned that things have been pouring in every week since the Centennial. We dug deep into the history of Rice as preserved at Woodson to present to you some objects that tie in beautifully with the history of our beloved university.
At the far end of the archives is a box containing objects that were on the desk of Rice’s first president, Edgar Odell Lovett, at the time of his death in 1957. The box includes an address book filled with pages of his tiny, neat handwriting. There are documents, books, a pen and a paperweight among other things. But what may really impress the history buff is his pair of foldable, round spectacles, still intact. Lovett continued to have an office on campus as president emeritus years after he stepped down as president.
Hand-carved Rice Owl toilet seat
Now who could have come up with the idea of a Rice Owl on a toilet seat? You’re right — we don’t know either, but we can thank Jeff E. Ross ’75 who, at the suggestion of his wife, donated the toilet seat that had been gathering dust in his garage. He had apparently bought it at a garage sale about four decades ago. We’re wonderstruck, but grateful that it has a new home at Woodson.
Kean was at the home of trustee emeritus Albert Kidd ’64 about six years ago when she spied something in his garage: a blue, waist-height megaphone used by Kidd during his time as a cheerleader in 1962–63. Prominently painted on the megaphone is “BEST O’ LUCK LOEW'S.” The well-wisher, we later found out, was Loew's State Theatre, a popular movie theater located in downtown Houston that was in business from 1927 to 1972.
At one corner of the archives stands a large glass panel. A complicated web of cables runs within. The panel is one of 20 that had been constructed for a computer built by Rice students between 1958 and 1961 to support research that, as the story goes, would have been impossible to carry out without it. The computer itself remained in operation through the late ‘60s as a model of how they should be built. Kean discovered the panel in a storage closet in Abercrombie Hall and had it delivered to Woodson.
Rice students never cease to surprise us, do they? In this version of Monopoly, you can buy Lovett College, Baker College, Fondren Library or even Willy’s Statue for up to $4,000 “Owl-opoly” bucks. You can also play as President David W. Leebron, William Marsh Rice or your favorite mascot, Sammy! We can’t help but wonder who came up with this ingenious idea!
Ken Simmons '63 Sugar Art
We have no idea how this sugar portrait reached Woodson or who made it. Was it a Ken Simmons ’63 fan? Or a secret admirer? Or maybe just someone who needed a muse? If you have an inkling of who the artist might be, we would love to hear from you. Email email@example.com with your ideas.
And where did these owl soaps come from? Were they gifted to attendees of a special Rice event? Were they placed beside the sinks in campus bathrooms? Who made them? The only thing we can be sure of is they have kept their soapy fragrance.
In 1923, Rice defeated Texas A&M on the gridiron. To celebrate this victory, pennants were made to decorate various parts of campus. Kean found this particular pennant sometime around 2004 when she was inspecting items stored in Autry Court as it was being cleaned out for a major renovation. Sure enough, the pennant was pinned up on a door just as it likely had been in the days following the 1923 victory.
If you have a Rice-related item that you think might be a good fit for the archives, and you would like to donate it, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Kean and her fellow archivists are always happy to hear from alumni and learn about the history behind your Rice memorabilia.