Johnny Sylvester ’37 and Babe Ruth

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Baseball in October is often marked by premier teams, clutch plays, and memorable moments. One such moment came during Game Four of the 1926 World Series. In that game on Wednesday, October 6th, the St. Louis Cardinals hosted the New York Yankees and their great player Babe Ruth. Ruth would shine for the Yankees, hitting three home runs in a 10-5 victory. These home runs would be significant in the baseball world, but for one little boy, they appeared to be life-saving.
In 1926 Johnny Sylvester was an 11 year-old die hard Yankee fan living in Essex Fells, New Jersey. During the summer he was involved in a horseback riding accident in which he fell off his horse. The horse then kicked him in the head, leaving Sylvester with a bad infection that began to spread rapidly. Doctors feared he would not survive. While it is true that Sylvester was sick, there is some disagreement in the historical record as to how critically ill he actually was. Some think he had blood poisoning or a sinus condition or a back problem.
Soon telegrams reached the Yankees in St. Louis, notifying them of young Sylvester’s condition. There is some discrepancy in who initiated the contact—Sylvester himself or his father or uncle—but the end result was positive. Ruth responded by sending back two autographed balls (one from the Yankees, and one from the Cardinals). He also included a note to Johnny: “I’ll knock a homer for you on Wednesday.”
On Wednesday, October 6th, Ruth hit three home runs, ensuring a Yankee victory. Remarkably, Sylvester’s condition improved greatly after the game. He eventually made a complete turnaround, graduated from Princeton in 1937, served in the Navy during World War II, and was a successful businessman in Long Island City, New York.
While memorable and inspiring for Sylvester, when a year later Ruth was asked about the event, he reportedly said, “Who the hell is Johnny Sylvester?” The special home run message was not Sylvester’s last contact with Ruth. Sylvester visited Ruth at the opening game of the 1929 season at Yankee Stadium. And, while Ruth was in his declining years, Sylvester visited him at Ruth’s New York apartment.
A possibly apocryphal story about the Sylvester-Ruth connection revolves around the tradition of older classes carrying signs at P-rade. Though there is no proof of it extant in the Archives, Sylvester allegedly once carried a sign that read “Who the hell is Babe Ruth?” paying homage to the great slugger’s forgetful remark and Sylvester’s memorable connection to him.

–Kristen Turner

Syngman Rhee’s Time at Princeton

Dear Mr. Mudd,
What can you tell me about Syngman Rhee’s time at Princeton?

In South Korea, March 1 marks Independence Movement Day, a commemoration of the 1919 Declaration of Independence that marked the start of Korean resistance against the country’s Japanese occupation. One of the notable figures of that movement was Syngman Rhee *1910, who was named the President of the exile Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea that arose during this struggle. Rhee served this exile government, based in Shanghai, China, until his ouster in 1925, and later served as the first president of the Republic of Korea from 1948 until another acrimonious departure in 1960.

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Photograph of Syngman Rhee *1910 from the October 6, 1950 Daily Princetonian

Researchers curious about Rhee’s time at Princeton should know that the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library has a variety of information on him. Because Rhee was a graduate student, we have a Graduate Alumni File which provides a great deal of insight into his time at Princeton, as well as the dissertation he produced in completion of the degree. Researchers can also examine Daily Princetonian articles concerning Rhee’s later visits to Princeton, or view an information file compiled by the Office of Communications.

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Martin Luther King Jr.’s visits to Princeton

Dear Mr. Mudd,
What types of materials do you have concerning Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?

The Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library’s Princeton University Archives and the Public Policy Papers each have a great deal of material regarding Dr. King, his visits to Princeton University, and his civil rights legacy.
MLK_webKing with Assistant Dean of the Chapel Reimers on the steps of Chancellor Green, March 1960. Also pictured: top right: Tom Garrett ’61, top middle: Jerry H. Shattuck ’61, top left: Daniel H. Jackson ‘1961, bottom right: John N. McConnel Jr. ’61. Historical Photograph Collection, Individuals Series, box MP4

First, the Public Policy Papers contain information concerning King’s civil rights and organizing activities in the David Lawrence Papers, John Marshall Harlan Papers, Robert K. Massie Papers, George McGovern Papers, David E. Lilienthal Papers, Law Students Civil Rights Research Council Records, and in the Subject Files, Project Files, and Audiovisual materials series of the American Civil Liberties Union Records.

Secondly, the University Archives have substantial information concerning King’s 1960 and 1962 visits as part of the Student Christian Association’s Biennial Religious Conference, as well as a cancelled 1958 sermon. The University Archives collections also contain materials that document the University’s annual observations of the civil rights leader’s legacy. In addition, Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King received an honorary degree in 1970, information about which can also be found at Mudd.

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Bronze Memorial Stars

Dear Mr. Mudd:

What is the origin of the stars on Princeton University buildings? Is there any database listing the location of each star?

The bronze stars on window sills of Princeton University dormitories commemorate the University’s students and alumni who died in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and in the Vietnam War. An additional 13 bronze stars honoring those who died on September 11, 2001 are located in a memorial garden between East Pyne and Chancellor Green.

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Letter from the Society of the Claw to members seeking funding for the initial stars.

The original 140 stars, honoring students who lost their lives in World War I, were placed in 1920. These stars were donated by members of the Society of the Claw, an organization of members of the Class of 1894 who, as a sign-on condition, promised to either attend the next five reunions or every reunion throughout their lives. The Society also inducted honorary members who had done an “unusual service” or “brought exceptional honor” to Princeton, such as Woodrow Wilson ’1879. The Society of the Claw raised $431.65 for these stars, which were then placed on the window sill of each dorm room last occupied by a Princeton student who lost his life in the war.

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From the Archives…Bob Bradley ’80

Long before he was coaching the US National Soccer Team at the World Cup, Bob Bradley ’80 was Princeton’s coach of twelve years. During this time, he led the Tigers to a pair of Ivy League titles and an appearance in the 1993 College Cup.

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Bob Bradley as a freshman. Princeton University Archives: Undergraduate Alumni Records, 1921-2008

Before that, he was a Princeton student as well. A history major, Bradley wrote his senior thesis on “The History of Intercollegiate Athletics at Princeton,” and was joint top scorer on the 1979 team that was Princeton’s most successful up to that point. Bradley was also a varsity baseball player during his freshman year, and a broadcaster at WPRB as a junior and senior.

One of Bradley’s assistants, Jesse Marsch ’96 was also a Princeton student. Marsch was named All-American in 1995 while playing on Bradley’s team.

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Jesse Marsch ’96, Photo by Greg McDermott, Princeton University Archives: Undergraduate Alumni Records, 1921-2008

-John DeLooper

Does Princeton Have a Mandatory Swim Test?

Dear Mr. Mudd,

Is it true that Princeton has a mandatory swim test for freshmen? Furthermore, was this test instituted after the drowning death of an alumnus, whose parents gave the university a pool on the condition that all students were trained to swim to prevent such a tragedy from ever occurring again?

New Students Card for William Humphreys ‘1928
Historical Subject File, Box 122, Folder 7

Princeton did indeed have a swim test, but this test was not instituted because of the death of an alumnus. It is, however, easy to see why this story would develop and create a lasting legend.

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History of Opening Exercises

Dear Mr. Mudd,

What is the history of Princeton’s Opening Exercises, and how long have they been held at the Chapel?

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1986 Opening Exercises, Office of Communications Records, Box 172

Pursuant to your question on when Opening Exercises began and how long the ceremony has been held in the Chapel, the earliest documented “opening exercise” I could find was in 1802, held in Nassau Hall. There is a newspaper clipping to that effect in Historical Subject Files, Box 312. I also checked the index to Trustees Minutes but did not see anything there.

The first time the gathering is referred to as “opening exercises” is in 1904. It was previously referred to in the General Catalogue as an assembly.

Opening Exercises have been held in the University Chapel since 1929. After Nassau Hall, they were held in Marquand Chapel. After Marquand burned, they were held in Alexander Hall until the completion of the University Chapel.

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Opening Exercises Procession at Marquand Chapel,
Historical Photograph Collection: Grounds & Buildings, Box MP29

Best,

Christie Lutz

Did Julia Child’s Father Attend Princeton?

Dear Dr. Mudd,

In reading a biography of Julia Child, I noticed her father attended Princeton. Can you tell me any more details?

With the release of Nora Ephron’s new film, Julie and Julia, Julia Child, the doyenne of television cooking shows, is receiving a lot of buzz, and her life and legend have been discovered by a new generation of cooks. A search of our collections confirmed that her father, John McWilliams, Jr. Class of 1901, attended Princeton, and also revealed that three of her cousins, Charles “Mac” McWilliams ’29, John P. McWilliams II ’31, and J. Alexander McWilliams ’35 attended as well.

Julia Child’s father John McWilliams ‘1901

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R. H. Rose campus stereograph series

Below is the text of an email exchange between University Archivist Dan Linke and David Nathan ’90 concerning a portion of the Archives’ stereograph collection.

Hi Dan,

Here’s a listing with all the information I obtained yesterday, faithfully transcribed from the backs of the Historical Photograph Collection: Stereographs Series, circa 1869-1880. The only thing I omitted is a font issue — some titles appeared in all caps — and the repeating information about “College of New Jersey”, “R.H. Rose”, etc. Any idea where I might look for the missing cards?

Regards,

David L. Nathan, M.D.

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How Many Buildings are on Campus?

Question: How many buildings does Princeton University consist of?

Answer:

This question comes up frequently. In this case, the context and research purpose are as important as the question. What does the patron consider a building? Buildings on the main campus, on the Forrestal Campus, or buildings that the University owns in general?

Because of these qualifiers, there is significant discrepancy among published numbers.

Mudd’s own FAQ page gives 324 as of 2000; the Princeton Weekly Bulletin states 160 (on campus) and 220 (off campus) for 2004; and the Princeton Profile (http://www.princeton.edu/profile/) lists 180 as of 2009.

These discrepancies can be explained by two main factors: 1) change over time and 2) counting methods.

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