Throwback Thursday: Which UT traditions stand the test of time?

Fred Tally-Foos

In its 131 years of existence, the University has seen traditions come and go. “Some traditions are humorous, some serious, some historical, but all are a part of the school,” Daily Texan staffer Marjorie Menefee said in a 1958 edition of the paper. 

According to Menefee, when the University was established, “a charm against rheumatism, locks of beautiful girls’ hair, a cigar, a streetcar token, a pecan, copies of current newspapers, and various official documents” were laid into the foundation of the original Main Building. But campus lore is not always common knowledge. At the time the article was written, most students were unaware of the building’s superstitious beginnings, and this fact is less commonly known today. 

Before Austin was the nightlife mecca of Central Texas, students had far fewer evening activities at their disposal. They often found themselves spending their date nights wandering around the 40 Acres along a familiar path. This tradition originated when “Maj. Littlefield donated $3,000 in 1901 for the construction of a walk that would surround the original Forty Acres. It begins at Twenty-First Street and Guadalupe, goes north to Twenty-Fourth Street, east to Speedway, south to Twenty-First Street, and west to Guadalupe.” According to Menefee, Maj. Littlefield deemed the path “Peripatus,” derived from a Greek word meaning “to walk around.” This walk has long since fallen out of popularity, largely because of the expansion of campus beyond the familiar 40 Acres.

The familiar burnt orange and white that covers the campus each game day could have easily been burnt orange and maroon. Burnt orange and white, a color combination that is now so closely connected to the UT tradition, was not a unanimous decision. Before orange and white was adopted, public opinion was split. 

“Students in Austin wanted orange and maroon; alumni, orange and white; and medical students, royal blue,” Menefee said. The decision came down to a vote. Orange and white prevailed with a slim 252-vote lead against orange and maroon.

Another story explains how Longhorns began singing “The Eyes of Texas.” The song was originally a parody of former UT President William Prather’s “habit of ending his speeches with these words: ‘Students of the University, remember—the eyes of Texas are upon you.’” In 1903, John Sinclair wrote the present wording and set it to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” The song was sung seriously for the first time at President Prather’s funeral.

Reading Menefee’s 1958 article, it is clear that traditions arise when there is a need for them. Longhorns maintain their love for their school and show it by engaging in Hex rallies and travelling to the OU game every year. 

“The campus has grown,” Menefee said. “It is closer to 200 acres rather than the original 40 — and with it has grown traditions. What the present has left behind, tradition will carry on.”