THE STANFORD AXESTANFORD REGAINS THE AXE
By Wagner d'Alessio, Stanford '29
Pandemonium greeted the return of the Axe to Stanford. The speeding car arrived on the campus about half-past ten that night. The first move was to rouse the night watchman to blow the fire whistles. But although shown the Axe, he refused to comply with the request. The party then proceeded to Sequoia Hall, home of most of the raiders. Cries of "We've got the Axe!" quickly brought out studying and sleeping students to learn the startling news. The Axe was taken into the lobby of the dormitory where eager Cardinals closely examined the famous trophy. The story of its capture was quickly told. It did not take long to convince the amazed students of the incredible truth. Congratulations were showered upon the captors, and the howling, joyous mob of Sequoia men welcomed home the heroes. Someone suggested a parade around the campus. Danger of California counter-attacks was expressed, but as the captors were heartily in favor of displaying the prize, a parade was started. A heavy, twenty-foot cable was fastened through the hole in the Axe head, so that the prize might be better protected in case of trouble.
The noisy crowd marched across the front of the Quad to Encina Hall, home of the freshmen. Slumbering frosh were rudely awakened by the noise and shouting. Several hundred Encina inhabitants joined the milling mob in front of the Hall, all anxious to get as close as possible to the cause of the excitement. Cries of "Who's got the Axe?" rent the calm night air. The noisy parade then started up Arguello Street past Toyon and Branner Halls. Hundreds of excited students joined the guarding squadron at every step, swelling the mob to a frenzied army. The Axe was carried to Lasuen, better known as "The Row," then down to the Postoffice. A slight halt was made here. Fears of impending raids from Berkeley were constantly expressed, and many were in favor of immediately placing the treasure in a place of safety. At this point "Jimmy" Purcell harangued the crowd that the captors should have the final voice in the matter. This stand was agreed upon. And so the Axe was taken to Roble Hall, women's dormitory, for more celebration.
At Roble an impromptu rally was held --- the first Axe Rally at Stanford in thirty-one years. Closely guarded by husky Cardinals, the Axe was raised to view, running enthusiasm to fever pitch. Cries of defiance and challenge to the Blue and Gold disturbed the countryside for miles around. Yell leader Paul Speegle, from atop a convenient sedan, led the clamorous crowd in spirited yells, while night-clad Roble, leaned out of windows to lend its high-pitched voice to the general uproar. Axe yells, New Spells, and spontaneous cheers grew in volume till the echoes resounded from the peaceful hills, as jubilant, noisy students, realizing the magnitude of their victory, shouted defiance to Berkeley and to the world. Comedy mingled with drama when disaster almost fell upon the heads of many returning Robleites. Reluctant to leave the jubilant throng, the girls completely forgot lockout hours at eleven-thirty. Imagine the consternation of the excited housemother bravely trying to corral her scattered girls before the doors would be locked for the night!
At Berkeley, news of the loss spread like a prairie-grass blaze in a sweeping wind. Searching parties were quickly organized in a attempt to regain the prize. At Dumbarton Bridge some Californians met part of the Stanford twenty-one, who were returning to the campus after having taken the rented car back to Berkeley. A slight argument ensued when the California men attempted to delay the Cardinals. But little Don Kropp, the perpetual student --- he entered Stanford in 1922 --- merely got into his car and drove through the crowd. The other Stanford cars did likewise. They were met with a few stones, and a monkey wrench crashed through a windshield --- but the boys got through. When this incident was related on the campus, angry Cardinals hurried to Dumbarton Bridge and quickly, but not gently, sent the baffled Bears back to Berkeley.
Another interesting incident took place on the San Francisco Bay Bridge. "Red" Okkre, '31, was working at the toll station on that eventful night. Late in the evening several cars filled with irate Californians were about to cross "his" bridge, Stanford bound. Having a "hunch," "Red" raised the drawbridge while he telephoned the Stanford Daily to learn the startling news. Okkre delayed the Californians a little longer, placed a small axe in the window of his station in view of the fuming Bears, and then allowed the party to proceed on its futile way.
The captors held a hurried meeting soon after their return to the campus. In the wee morning hours, the policy of "Twenty-one or None" was enunciated. It was also decided not to write for publication, or give too definite information until the excitement quieted down a bit. This decision was made purely for their own protection as the boys were not sure just what kind of trouble they might get into from the powers that be.
Early Friday morning Stanford was astir. Stories of how the Axe had been recovered, comments on what would happen next, what would be California's attitude, and general expressions of joy were everywhere repeated. A special rally was held on the steps of the Stanford Library. It was on this same spot that the weapon first rose to prominence at the original Axe Rally, thirty-one years ago. The site of the Library was the old baseball field of '99. Classes were excused at ten o'clock. The present rally differed in several respects from its predecessor. This one was a victory rally, and some two thousand jubilant students were on hand to celebrate the return of Stanford's own. Paul Speegle, varsity yell leader, opened the rally with the old Axe yell, given with its original meaning for the first time in thirty-one years. Each one of the twenty-one captors was introduced in turn, and each received an individual ovation that was his due. "Bob" Loofbourow, the man who actually carried the Axe home again, expressed the joy that he and his comrades felt over their fortunate success. Bob's father, by the way, was a student at Stanford when the Axe was first stolen. Dr. Robert E. Swain, acting president of the University, then added a word:
"I find myself at strained relations with myself this morning," began Dr. Swain. "I have had previous personal connections with the Stanford Axe, having been a member of the famous rally in San Francisco in 1899, and witnessed the disturbance leading to the California capture. Naturally, I feel greatly elated at seeing the Axe now returned to this campus. California and Stanford are at present on the most friendly terms in their history. Yes, even after last night the two universities are on friendly terms. In fact, Stanford finds herself at peace with the world this morning," Dr. Swain concluded.
Don Evans, '22, and former student body president, struck a cord of perfect harmony with his hearers when he pointed out that California previously had the satisfaction of possessing the Stanford Axe, making victory all the sweeter and taking the sting out of defeat, but that now they had nothing to comfort them after their losses to Stanford. "The twenty-one captors have won the gratitude of every Stanford man from the White House to San Quentin," said Evans. He ended with consolations to Mr. Horner, holder of the obsolete title of "Custodian of the Axe," and a word of sympathy for "Poor Cal."
During the rally the Axe was removed from the campus to a place of greater safety. The historic weapon was escorted to the vaults of the American Trust Company in Palo Alto by a group of husky Cardinals in three machines. The bodyguard consisted of "Tiny" Thornhill, Harry Maloney, Don Liebendorfer, Al Masters, Jake Erwin, Chuck Winterburn, Johnny Preston, Don Robesky, and a few others, armed with baseball bats. It was placed in the vault under the signature of three members of the B.A.C. The Palo Alto bank officials telephoned to the Berkeley branch that the transfer of the account on the safe deposit box from the Berkeley branch to Palo Alto had been safely made. Monday the Axe was turned over to Bob Loofbourow, Don Kropp, and Eric Hill, elected by "The Twenty-one" to take charge of the Axe. This transfer, however, was merely one of signatures, the Axe was not disturbed in the vault.
Interest in the Axe remained at high pitch for some time. Campus publications gave full account of the capture in extra and special editions. The Axe edition of the Stanford Daily was sent to all parts of California, to many other states and even to several foreign countries in answer to requests from old grads. The captors were honored in every possible manner that grateful students could devise. The capture, being considered closer to an athletic contest than any other extra-curricular activity, the executive committee of the Associated Students unanimously voted the highest sport award in their power --- a block letter. Block "S" cards and a gold Axe watch charm were presented to every one of the twenty-one captors. The students also showed their appreciation in other ways. Sequoia Hall held a dance in their honor. Decorations were strictly axe-like. Toyon Club gave a special smoker in honor of the Axe recovery, and a burlesque of the capture was featured. An All-University jollyup, informal dance, sponsored by the Class of 1930, honored the "Famous Twenty-one."
The alumni, too, did their share. The boys were feted at special dinners of several of the Bay district Alumni Clubs, earning their free meals by telling rabid grads how everything happened and answering hundreds of questions. Letters and telegrams, congratulating the victors, kept pouring into the campus from all over the country. Phone calls were numerous. From Los Angeles, Tom McFadden, '00, one of the boys who lost the Axe in '99, telephoned to verify the news. From Delmer Daves, '27, came news that his bosom friend, Boome Drumm, was overcome with joy. Herbert Hoover and Ray Lyman Wilbur were telegraphed news of the recovery, by the student body president, Stanford Steinbeck. In a letter, Wilbur replied that he was glad the Axe had been recovered in a fair and sportsmanlike manner without disturbing the relationship between the two universities. Clifton E. Miller, California, who took the Axe across the Bay in '99, expressed his regrets and congratulations to Stanford.
And the dear public took a lively interest in the whole affair. Early Friday morning reporters and photographers were at Sequoia Hall. Bob Loofbourow, pursued by a determined woman reporter, was forced to leap from a window in the mining building to escape the demands of the insistent female. Headlines in the city papers featured a variety of remarkable stories. An account of the capture was also broadcast over the radio. Never before has any collegiate prank created such general interest in this section of the country. The return of the Cardinal's prodigal emblem easily rivaled the Big Game in interest.
The camera that played such an important part in the recovery of the Axe also came in for its share of glory. It was displayed in the windows of a camera shop in San Francisco and again in Palo Alto. The ink-bottle lens proved to be a magnet of attraction for curious crowds.
Norman Horner, as might be expected, made a sudden rise to notoriety. As far as he was able, he retrieved himself in the baseball series that followed the Axe capture. He was largely responsible for the California victories. The first game of the California-Stanford series was played Saturday, April 5, 1930, at Berkeley. Before the game, excitement ran high. Coming but two days after the "coup," the game gave promise of being an interesting affair. The students of the two universities were keyed up in anticipation of the first athletic event following the raid. The sporting pages of the city papers featured the game and the fact that Horner, the last California Axe custodian, was to pitch. Three thousand spectators jammed Southwest field. The crowd was ably handled by a large squad of policemen who were on hand --- just in case. But the noisy crowd was well behaved. The spirited rooting sections gave numerous cheers, but few taunting yells were heard. No axes were displayed. Tense excitement was evident, but it was well restrained and controlled.
The game itself was very close and as hectic as a college baseball game could possibly be. California finally won, seven to six, after the game had been won and lost a dozen times by both teams. Errors were frequent. Horner pitched steady ball throughout, and his timely hitting pulled the game out of the fire for California. As dusk descended, the pressing crowd forced its way close to the base lines on both sides of the field, adding to the difficulty under which the boys were playing. The spectators certainly got their money's worth out of the game! Horner was also instrumental in winning the next two games for California, thus giving the Bears the baseball series for the year. The last two games were uneventful. The Big Meet, two weeks later, was also run off without mishap, Stanford winning by a large score.
One incident occurred that tended to mar the pleasantness of the recovery. In the general excitement on the night of the return of the Axe, the trophy room of the men's gymnasium at Stanford was broken into, and several valuable trophies removed. At a University of California rally, strong disapproval of the action of the hasty and misguided individuals who took the trophies was expressed. John Reynolds, president of the California student body, assured President Steinbeck that every effort would be made to recover the trophies. Later, six of the seven missing trophies were mailed to Stanford by parties unknown. Both schools breathed easier after this action as it was feared that the Presidents' agreement, that all athletic contests would be discontinued if the students of either school invaded the campus of the other, would be invoked. And so the matter rested.
But what of the future of the Axe? Numerous suggestions have been made for the disposition of the weapon, ranging from holding an annual battle for its possession to throwing it into the Bay. One of the plans that has been insistently urged and strongly opposed is that the Axe be put up as a perpetual trophy for the winner of the Big Game or else the baseball series. This idea was sponsored in 1924 by Robert Sibley, executive manager of the University of California Alumni. Incidentally, a few days after Stanford regained the Axe, Sibley registered as a graduate student at Stanford --- but for the purpose of securing the degree of Doctor of Philosophy and of studying under Dr. Harris J. Ryan. The annual trophy idea for the Axe found favor with many students, who visualized impressive ceremonies of presentation after the game, and the founding of a new tradition. However, the majority of Stanford students were opposed to the plan on the ground that Stanford had everything to lose and nothing to gain by offering California an opportunity to get back what rightfully belonged to Stanford. To overcome his objection it was proposed that California also put up its Golden Bear as a trophy, but this plan did not meet with favor. The Stanford Daily strongly opposed the trophy plan, pointing out that the Axe was not created for, or even intended to be used as an emblem of victory, to change hands with each turn of the tide. California students appeared even more strongly opposed to changing the Axe into an annual trophy than the Sons of the Red. They felt that they wanted to regain the Axe in the same manner in which it has already changed hands twice. The underlying difficulty that complicated the problem seems to be the fact that California students take the attitude that they have a rightful ownership to the Stanford Axe, acquired by giving it a home for thirty-one years. Stanford students emphatically resist this line of reasoning, claiming that the Axe was stolen from them, kept against their wills, that they recovered their own property, and that the Axe is now in its original and only true home!
The twenty-one captors, at a special meeting for the purpose, voiced their opinion in favor of keeping the Axe at Stanford and displaying it at a rally at least once a year. It is natural that the voice of those who so recently complicated the situation should be carefully heard. But the administration appears to be definitely opposed to such a plan. It seems almost certain that rioting, fighting, and general warfare on a small scale would be the result of displaying the Axe under such conditions. And with the guarding problem already in the armored car, the bank vault, tear bomb, and mass protection stage, bloodshed and bodily injury might easily result.
At the end of the spring quarter, with the problem still unsolved, The Twenty-One captors acted to place the Axe in permanent hands. After much argument it was finally decided to turn the Axe over again to the Board of Athletic Control, without any reservations. It was felt that the B.A.C. as a perpetual body, representing the faculty, students, and alumni, was in the best position to take custody of the Axe. And so by consent of The Twenty-One, Loofbourow, Kropp, and Hill signed the Axe over to the three members of the B.A.C. to become the permanent possession of the Board. The prize was not disturbed in the vault. And so the Axe is resting --- but for how long?
Another of the many interesting plans is to keep the Axe completely out of sight for four or five years, or a college generation --- until the heat of passion has cooled --- then place the relic in the Stanford Museum along with the other souvenirs of early University days. A variation of this plan is to place the original Axe in the Museum and put up a duplicate as a Big Game trophy. President Campbell, of the University of California, expressed confidence that the students, if left to themselves, would work out a satisfactory solution. The disposition of the Axe must, of course, be first decided upon by Stanford. The student executive committee has considered the problem, but no solution satisfactory to all concerned could be agreed upon. It is possible that the famous Axe may never again see the light of day. But the problem is still unsettled and will probably remain so for some time to come.
Fortunately, hostilities between the two universities were quickly ended. Even a short time will heal many wounds. At present relations between the two universities are as friendly as could be desired --- too much love might make life uninteresting. But the Axe is by no means forgotten. The hatchet is buried, but not the Axe. It is certain that some Californians will take advantage of every possible opportunity to recapture the prize. After thirty years of security, the Cardinals, too, might become just a little careless. California wants the Stanford Axe. Can Stanford keep the Axe?