A Voice from Old State’s Past

The following, abridged and lightly edited, is taken from “Reminiscences of Dr. F.J. Pond,” a pamphlet-style Nittany Valley Press book of Penn State memories from Dr. Francis Pond, an alumnus and Atherton-era professor. Dr. Pond recorded these reminiscences shortly before his death, and tells us about Old State from a very different time—a place both foreign and familiar.

Dr. Francis J. Pond was born in Holliston, Massachusetts, on April 8, 1871, the son of Abel and Lucy A. Jones Pond. Dr. Pond entered The Pennsylvania State College in September 1888 and was graduated in the chemistry course with the class of 1892. While in college he was an associate editor of the Free Lance from April 1890 to March 1891; assistant editor of the class annual, the La Vie, for 1892; Vice President of the Washington Literary Society for 1890, and its Treasurer for 1891. He was always interested in sports, especially football, and eagerly followed every game.

In 1896, he returned to The Pennsylvania State College as an instructor in the Chemistry Department, where he worked under his brother, Dr. Gilbert G. (“Swampy”) Pond. For many years he was head of the Chemistry Department, and in 1907, he was made Dean of Freshmen.

Dr. Pond died suddenly from a heart attack February 18, 1943, at his home in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. When the following notes were dictated, his accuracy about details and dates of over fifty years ago was observed over and over again. He also had a nice sense of humor; and during his two weeks’ vacation in the fall of 1942, when he spent part of every day reminiscing, he was enjoyed by everyone with whom he came in contact.

President George W. Atherton

Dr. Atherton, who was a wonderful man, was also a good politician. He knew how to work the middle against both ends. He went to Harrisburg and secured the first appropriation of any size for the college. This was in 1887 and amounted to $100,000. He also invited inspection tours by the members of the legislature so that they might see for themselves how badly some improvements were needed. This was always a great occasion for the students because a holiday was declared and the boys showed the visitors around and entertained them. It was on one such visit that “Fog-horn” Fow found the heating plant then located in the basement of the Main Building and decided that to have the students living and going to classes above this plant was like living on an active volcano, and he started proceedings which resulted in the power plant.

At one time when there was talk of President Atherton’s leaving Penn State for another position, the students became perturbed at the rumor. In order to allay their fears, Dr. Atherton spoke to them and explained that he did not intend to leave. He said that he had always felt that institutions were more important than men and his desire for a long time had been to make an institution here at State College, and he did not intend leaving without fulfilling that desire.


Some of the early teams had fancy scores in football. At one time Lehigh beat Penn State 106 to 0. Another memorable time Penn State thought they had a very good team. They took a trip down East in the fall of 1899. One of the teams they played was Yale, and they all felt sure of winning the game. However, they were disappointed; and when the telegram came to State announcing the results of the game, this is what it said: “Yale 40, State 0. The team played well.” The telegram was sent by Kid Biller, Manager, and the words “The team played well” became a slogan around Penn State.

School Colors

The early colors of Penn State were Pink and Black. In those days they had a yell which went something like this:

Yah, yah, yah. Yah, yah, yeh.
Wish-whack. Pink, black —

Around 1888, when Penn State played Dickinson on the front campus, as there was yet no athletic field, they gave this yell, and the substitutes of the Dickinson team made a parody of it which went like this:

Yah, yah, hay. Yah, yah, yeh.
Bees wax. Bees wax —

This so disgusted the boys that soon after they not only changed the college yell but also the colors from Pink and Black to Blue and White, and so they have remained ever since.


Classes at this time met from Monday through Friday. Saturday was used for make-up day, hikes, military punishment, etc. Every day there was military inspection both of dress and also of rooms. If the room was untidy or dirty or shoes needed polishing, the boys got a notice on the military bulletin board. Each such report carried one hour’s punishment.

On the front campus were four cannon — two brass ones which had been used in the Mexican war and two steel ones which were used for artillery drill. One of the favorite punishments inflicted upon the boys was to make them polish the brass cannon which were merely ornamental. The boys some times shot off the cannon to celebrate certain events. Dr. Pond and Mickey McDowell, who were among the few Democrats on campus, shot off the cannon to celebrate the election of Pattison as Democratic governor of Pennsylvania.


The college had a human skeleton which the students called Old John; there was also a skeleton of a mule. The boys decided it would be quite a joke to mount Old John on the mule and usher him on the stage during a chapel service. They brought them through a side door near the front of the platform. Miss McElwain sat next to this door, and one morning at a given signal the door opened while the minister was praying, and by manipulation from above the skeleton with its rider moved on to the stage just in front of Miss McElwain. The spectacle was enough to unnerve anyone, but she never “batted an eye”.

The boys in Dr. Frear’s animal chemistry course feared that they might not pass his examination, so they decided to steal his exam questions. But how to do it was the question. The Doctor lived on the third floor of the Main Building. The boys finally decided that since one of them had a room on the fifth floor immediately above Dr. Frear’s, they could lower a boy from the fifth floor into the window on third. They lowered him and then pulled him back up to the fifth floor again. But after going to all this trouble and risking the boy’s life, they failed to find the paper on which the exam questions were written.

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