Wednesday, April 6, 2016

April 6th

So today is April 6th. For the vast majority of the world, it's just another day with no significance. But for Mormons, i.e. members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it does have significance historically, but many also consider it to be of doctrinal importance. I hate to burst many of your bubbles, but, in short, this blog post is going to refute the doctrinal basis of April 6th because, well, it isn't doctrine and never has been!

I debated whether this post belonged more at Live From Kent... than here, but figured it definitely has a lot of history involved, plus I haven't posted here since last June. Plus, I'm planning on doing some blogging about my recent visit to Ukraine there, so this would get buried beneath those posts.

In any case, here we go! Historically, April 6th is the day of two significant events in LDS history. The first is the official foundation of what is now The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The organization meeting for what was originally called the "Church of Christ" was held April 6, 1830. The official history has this meeting taking place at the home of Peter Whitmer in Fayette, New York, a township near Waterloo, New York. Today you can visit the recreated Whitmer log home, which is adjacent to a church that includes a visitor center. There are some records that indicate the meeting took place at the home of Joseph Smith Sr., in the town (not to be confused with the village) of Manchester, just south of Palmyra. In any case, the date of April 6th is used by the LDS Church as it's official "start date" and how our annual and semi-annual General Conferences are numbered each year, with April 6, 1830, being the first annual General Conference of the church. In the church today, the annual General Conference of the church is always held around April 6, being held the first weekend of April. The semi-annual General Conference is held six months later in the first weekend of October. The many splinter groups who also claim the lineage of being founded by Joseph Smith, also use that date as their beginning. The other historic event in LDS history is the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, which occurred April 6, 1893.

While other events have obviously occurred on April 6 in the church, those are the two most significant. But ask a member of the church what else is significant about April 6, and many will tell you it's the day we believe Jesus Christ was born. Before just recently, I would've been one of them, but after some research, that doesn't appear to be so.

Now, for those of you who may not be familiar with LDS doctrine and practices, we do celebrate Christmas on December 25th just like the rest of the Christian world. As I have blogged about previously related to Christmas, the actual date of Jesus's birth is a matter of debate that will likely never be settled. About the only thing you see on April 6th is a casual mention of the church organization happening or a random "Happy Birthday Jesus" on social media. Even I have one of those from a few years ago! But no, Mormons don't celebrate Christmas in April by any means. And really, even the historic significance of the date only gets attention on major anniversaries. I imagine in 2030 there will likely be a big event for the bicentennial, much like there was for the 150th in 1980. I remember in 1993 the church celebrated the centennial of the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, but outside of that, the date is more a trivia fact that anything. Because General Conference is always near (or on) April 6th, you'll occasionally see mention of it in a conference talk, too, which helps to cement it as "doctrine" for many members when, in fact, it isn't.

A great resource for background and details on the "why" and "how" April 6th is regarded as such by so many members, even all the way to the top, can be found on the FairMormon website. They have a page specifically devoted to the date of birth for Jesus Christ, including the prevailing belief about April 6th, and it includes citations to several articles. In short, the belief stems from one verse in the Doctrine & Covenants, from section 20 verse 1, which is dated April 6, 1830:
"The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April—"
If you take that verse literally, then yes, he was born on April 6th, 1,830 years prior to when this section was written. The problem is that's not why the verse was written the way it was; it was simply a fancy way of saying "April 6, 1830". Indeed, historical analysis indicates verse 1 was inserted later as more of an introduction. Nowhere else in scripture will you find any mention of the Savior's birthday being April 6th, and outside the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, no other major church event happened on April 6th, even ones that could've easily been held. The most significant to me is the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, which occurred March 27, 1836. If April 6th was that significant of a date, why not wait an extra few days and dedicate it then?

The most recent high-ranking person to reference April 6th as the birthday of Jesus was Elder David A. Bednar in a General Conference talk a few years ago. As is almost always the case, it was a passing mention (i.e. the talk wasn't about the birth of the Savior). At the time, I made a remark on my Facebook page that he was incorrect in stating we believed it was the birthday of the Savior (and yes, I obviously still stand by that remark), and you would've thought I had just openly renounced my beliefs and membership in the church the way some reacted. The reality is that, like many things in history, it's a case of being repeated so often, people assume it must be true since they've heard it so many times. They fail to analyze exactly where it comes from and if, in fact, it's an actual church doctrine vs. a general tradition. It's also the reality that even the Apostles are human beings who are not perfect, and that statements in General Conference addresses in themselves are not canon. In fact, the church has no official position on the birthdate of Jesus Christ and statements from various general authorities vary significantly. None of those statements, however, carry the weight of canon, and as I've already pointed out, only a very literal reading of D&C 20:1 supports the idea.

Bottom line, though, does it really matter? From a doctrinal standpoint, as I've stated before, no, it really doesn't. Our salvation and well-being is not determined by believing Jesus was born on April 6th or not. Even so, it's important to know the difference between doctrine and teachings, and understand what are official statements from the church and scripture vs. opinions or simply understandings from general authorities. And again, General Conference talks in themselves do not constitute canonized doctrine, nor do works like Jesus the Christ or other similar publications (and incidentally, a BYU article cited in the above site states that Jesus the Christ author James E. Talmage is the first person on record to use the literal reading of D&C 20:1 in identifying April 6th as the birthdate of Jesus...he wrote the book in 1915). One of these days I'll write a more detailed post about the difference between the teachings and doctrine as they're often confused.

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taken no official position on the exact date of Christ’s birth. In his 1915 classic Jesus the Christ, Elder James E. Talmage maintained that Jesus Christ was born on April 6 in the year 1 BC. Talmage was apparently the first LDS writer to propose this particular date." --Jeffrey R. Chadwick (2010)

From a historical standpoint, it's merely interesting, both the actual birthdate of Jesus and the role of April 6th in LDS Church history. In any case, happy "Restoration Day" if nothing else! HA!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Confederate Flag

In recent days we've seen a renewed interest in the presence of the "Confederate Flag" that flies on the grounds of the South Carolina State House and efforts to remove it. A few years ago, an earlier effort removed that flag from the top of the statehouse rotunda, where it had flown underneath the US and South Carolina flags for generations. Vexillology, or the study of flags, is something I've always been interested in. This post is mostly about the flag itself and some of the symbols that were actually used by the Confederate States of America during its brief existence. I've seen a lot of inaccurate terms and assumptions about them made in various forms of media, both in regular news and personal media like social media and blogs.

The flag I know you're familiar with and likely ID as the
"Confederate flag"
When people say the "Confederate flag" they are most likely referring to the red rectangular flag featuring a blue heraldic saltire (a cross in an "X") with white stars on the cross. It is similar to the flag of Scotland (Cross of St. Andrew), the flag of St. Patrick (associated with Ireland), and the Cross of Burgundy (historical flag of Spain). Both Florida and Alabama have flag designs that echo those flags with both featuring a white rectangular flag with a red "X" (Florida's flag has the state seal in the middle). But here's the kicker about the "Confederate flag": it was never used in any official capacity as a symbol of the Confederate States of America. Yep, you read that right, what most people consider the Confederate flag was never an official symbol of the CSA.

Confederate battle flag, or the flag of the
Army of Northern Virginia
What most think of as the Confederate flag comes from a battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, which was headed by Robert E. Lee. It was also the battle flag for the Confederate army, so is frequently just called the Confederate battle flag. The battle flag, however, was square, and is what is currently featured in the flag of Mississippi and was previously featured in the flag of Georgia. The flag flying on the grounds of the South Carolina State House is also a square battle flag, on display at a Confederate memorial. Previously, from 1961-2000, the rectangular "Confederate flag" flew over the dome of the South Carolina State House.

The square battle flag was incorporated into two later designs used by the Confederate States of America, but as part of the flag, not the entire flag. One featured the square battle flag in the upper canton of a white flag. Later, that flag was amended with a slightly elongated version of the battle flag in the canton and a red bar on the far right edge, known as the "blood-stained banner", to prevent the flag from appearing to be a white flag of surrender when not flying. A naval jack used the rectangular version of the flag with a lighter shade of blue, but its shape was never standardized, so it also appeared as a square at times. The battle flag's official use was as the symbol of the Confederate army. The Confederate Naval Jack was a rectangular version of the battle flag and looks almost identical to what many refer to as the "Confederate flag", the only difference being that the naval jack had a lighter shade of blue instead of the Navy blue used on the battle flag.

Confederate Naval Jack using lighter shade of blue

Second CSA flag, known as the "Stainless Banner"
What's interesting is that while at least one of the flags of the CSA had very clear racist meanings, it wasn't the part that we typically consider "Confederate". Instead, it was the white field. The 2nd flag of the CSA, the "stainless banner", was designed by William T. Thompson, who was quoted as saying:
"As a national emblem, it is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity, and barbarism. Another merit in the new flag is, that it bears no resemblance to the now infamous banner of the Yankee vandals." (May 4, 1863; Savannah Daily Morning News)

Third CSA flag, known as the "Bloodstained Banner"; it was adopted near the end of the Civil War and had no widespread usage. Different versions were also created, with a traditional square battle flag in the canton

Stars and Bars

First official CSA flag, from 1861-1863. The number of stars
changed as states were added or claimed by the CSA, going
from 7 to an eventual 13 stars. 

One term often associated with the "Confederate flag" is the "Stars and Bars", contrasting with the "Stars and Stripes" for the US flag. While many refer to the "Confederate flag" as such, "Stars and Bars" actually refers to the first official flag of the Confederacy, in use from 1861 to 1863. The first flag of the Confederacy was based on the US flag. It had a blue canton in the upper left with white stars in a circular pattern. Instead of 13 red and white stripes, there were three. The flag was eventually retired simply because it was too easy to confuse with the US flag. One of the more famous pictures of the first Confederate flag is from the aftermath of the Battle of Fort Sumter in 1861. The first official Confederate flag can be clearly be seen flying over the fort. Nicknames more appropriate for what most think of as the "Confederate flag" are the "rebel flag", the "Cross of Dixie", "Dixie flag", the "Southern Cross", (not to be confused with the actual constellation visible in the southern hemisphere and featured on several national flags, most notably Australia and New Zealand), or the "battle flag".

"Stars and Bars" flying over Fort Sumter, April 1861, when it had seven stars (photo from the National Park Service)

With this information in mind, it obviously leads to the question as to why what most refer to as the "Confederate flag" has become so associated with the Confederate States of America and the South in general. As I mentioned, the design was proposed as a flag for the CSA, but was rejected. One of my favorite arguments against it was that it looked like a "pair of suspenders". The flag has also been used as a symbol of "southern heritage" since the late 1950s, at the onset of the Civl Rights movement. Before then, it had limited usage by Southerners in the US military. But it seems as some of the prevailing attitudes of the "old South" in the early 20th century were being challenged and ultimately dismantled (particularly racial segregation), the "Confederate flag" became a rallying symbol for those who felt like their culture was being threatened. Now, whether or not it was purely because of racism or other prejudice is a matter of perspective and debate; nevertheless, it's important to realize that the use of the battle flag is largely a 20th century phenomenon, not a Civil War one.

Early secessionist flag from South Carolina that inspired 
the design of the Confederate battle flag
In vexillology, the design of the Confederate battle flag was first and foremost to give the Confederate army a flag that was clearly different than the US flag for clarity in battle. This is during an era where flags were carried into battle and could even be used to gauge how the battle was going for each side. I find it interesting that many Confederates began to detest that "damn Yankee flag" even though the Confederacy considered themselves a legitimate successor of the American ideal; they even use George Washington in their official seal. It was because of that dislike of the association with the US flag they hated the first Confederate flag so much. The use of a saltire was to avoid having an obvious religious symbol (the cross) as the feature. The flag that inspired the battle flag was a South Carolina secessionist flag with the same colors, but in an upright cross (+), similar to the flag of England. A design using the same colors but with that upright (or Latin) cross was submitted, but the saltire ("X") was chosen. The design for the battle flag, however, was rejected as the design for the national CSA flag.

In my opinion, the design itself is a good one in that it uses contrasting colors, has a distinct style, and clear symbolism. Unfortunately, though, the flag has become associated with far more negative things than simply being the symbol of a (failed) country, an ideal, or Southern culture. Outside and even inside the South it is often seen as a symbol of hate and prejudice, associated with white supremacy groups like neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. Supporters claim it's not the case and is simply a matter of being a symbol of the unique culture of the South, distinct from the rest of the US. Obviously with any symbol, it's going to mean vastly different things to different people. In my experience, the use of the "Confederate flag" is most often from self-proclaimed "rednecks" as opposed to using it as an outward symbol of racism. The use of the flag in Dukes of Hazard in the 1970s, seems to be more of the former case. I'm always surprised when I see non-Americans sporting something with the battle flag since they clearly don't know the debate surrounding it. But because it is used by groups that profess racial superiority, that association seems to overshadow any other more innocent "redneck" or "Southern Pride" use. And seriously, pride in a defeated cause? Pride in a movement that was founded to continue the enslavement of other people? Pride in a movement that put "states' rights" so high above everything else that it was completely dysfunctional? I guess I just don't see what pride there is in using Confederate symbols.

From a historical standpoint, I definitely think that the rectangular "Confederate flag" should never occupy a space of honor anything remotely close to that of the US flag or even a state flag. The US and state flags are official symbols of those entities, while the "Confederate flag" was clearly never held in that capacity. In other words, historically it's completely inaccurate. The fact that many of these "Confederate flags" began showing up during the Civil Rights Movement makes their presence even more troubling and racially charged.

Philosophically, even on Confederate memorials, the US flag is most appropriate, followed by the state flag. I have a hard time believing German war memorials from World War II fly the Nazi flag (another flag with a symbol--the swastika--that was completely hijacked), even though that's the flag those soldiers "fought and died under". In the end, secession was deemed null and void and the Confederacy was never recognized by any other country (meaning it was never a legitimate country), so their soldiers are still American citizens. It would seem that part of the whole reconciliation idea following the Civil War would include recognizing both Confederate and Union war dead as Americans. We shouldn't completely forget the Confederacy, but remembering it and honoring it are completely different things.

Flag of Georgia. Compare to the first official CSA flag above
That said, like with the swastika, we do need better education on the various symbols of the Confederacy and understanding of how they were actually used, not only for general knowledge, but historical accuracy. So much of the debate is purely emotional and so much of the official use of the battle flag was the emotional reaction to the Civil Rights Movement. It's interesting to note that when Georgia removed the Confederate battle flag from their state flag in 2001, the flag that ultimately replaced it is completely based on the first flag of the CSA (the "Stars and Bars"), but how many people actually make that association or even knew? And no, Southern culture does not need a highly controversial symbol to be distinct. The Civil War is over. Time to move on. Seriously.

See also: Flags of the Confederate States of America on Wikipedia. Be sure to read many of the links at the bottom of the article used for references.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Factory of Sadness

Taken just prior to the start of the preseason
home opener in August

For this past season I was able to work for the Cleveland Browns in Guest Services. In my job I ended up being the security for the door from the ramps to the Press Level, making sure anyone who came in that door had the proper credentials. Many weeks I also checked four suites before and after the game to make sure everything was working properly.

Anyone who knows me knows I love sports and sports history, so being able to work in an NFL stadium was quite the experience for me. As most know by now, the Browns just finished their season at 7-9. While it's an improvement over last season (5-11), it ended on a five game losing streak. In early November, the Browns were in first place, but ended up in their all-too-familiar final place at the bottom of the AFC North. Since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Browns have had two winning seasons: 9-7 in 2002 (which was their only playoff appearance) and 10-6 in 2007

Working in the stadium gave me the opportunity to see the "behind the scenes" aspect of stadium operations, but I was also able to interact with a lot of fans during the season. At various times during each game, I would usually position myself out on the ramp just outside the door I was watching. Not only did it discourage smoking (mostly at halftime), but many times people would come ask me for directions or to verify they were headed in the right direction. Even though the ramps were designed mainly for exiting the stadium, they were quite popular for people entering the stadium if they didn't want to wait for the escalators or use the stairs. Being able to interact with the fans was usually a pretty good experience, especially after a Browns win. I would often say after a win that "peace and good will" was free-flowing at the stadium. It was especially evident after the season-opening win over the Saints (on a last-second field goal), the first hope-opener win for the Browns since 2004. A Saints fan even remarked how happy everyone was around her and I replied "we're not used to this!" She smiled and said a few years ago, Saints fans were the same way!

The front of the main press box. I was in the press box almost every game, usually passing through or directing people to where they needed to go.

The main press box, further back from the previous picture.

One thing I was really hoping for (besides the Browns making the playoffs) was for the team to have a winning season at home. I knew coming into the season that the Browns have had just one winning season at home, when they went 7-1 in 2007. While they started out 4-1 this year at FirstEnergy Stadium, they ended up 4-4 (though they could've easily ended up 6-2 as two losses were in the final minutes of play). I decided to look up their all-time records at home to see how they were at the old stadium and ended up finding some interesting pieces of information, at least for a statistical geek like me.
Panoramic shot I got of the stadium from the top corner of section 501 before the game against the Oakland Raiders, October 26, 2014

At FirstEnergy Stadium (previously known as Cleveland Browns Stadium until 2013), the Browns have an all-time record of 51-77-0 for a winning percentage of just .398. That is absolutely atrocious and is one of the reasons the stadium has become known as the "Factory of Sadness". The other reason is the nature of the losses. While I don't have all the scores, there seem to have been a large amount of close, excruciating losses at home where the Browns gave up the lead late in the 4th. There were two such home games this season. In going through the seasons, as I mentioned, the Browns have just one winning season there. In their 16 seasons at FE Stadium, they also have nine losing seasons and six .500 (4-4) seasons, including this past season. The stadium has never hosted a playoff game (the Browns haven't hosted a playoff game since 1994) and it's currently the only NFL stadium that hasn't hosted any postseason game. Of those nine losing seasons, the worst was the very first season when they went 0-8 in the inaugural 1999 season after being reactivated as an expansion team (team was 2-14 overall with both wins coming on the road), That was the first (and so far only) time in franchise history the team went winless at home. The second worst season was a 1-7 mark in 2008, the season after they had been 7-1.

Photo of old Cleveland Stadium my grandma took at my suggestion on a trip to the Great Lakes Science Center. This was taken  August 8, 1996, just a few weeks before the stadium was demolished.

Aerial of Cleveland Stadium during the final game played there, December 17, 1995 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Photo credit Paul M. Walsh, uploaded at Wikimedia Commons

I decided to go through all of the Browns seasons and see how well they had been at home when they played at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, their home from 1946-1995. I was only 13 when the move to Baltimore was announced, so I don't remember a lot of details from those previous seasons, but I do remember they typically won more at home. What I found in looking over the stats confirmed this. In the 50 seasons the team played at Cleveland Stadium they had nine losing seasons TOTAL. So, in just 15 seasons at FirstEnergy Stadium (since this 16th season was .500), the Browns have already equaled their total of losing seasons they had in 50 seasons at the old stadium. At Cleveland Stadium, the Browns also had five seasons where they finished at .500. Every other season was a winning season (36 total) for an overall record of 239-126-6 (.652), which includes their 28-2-1 record in the AAFC (1946-49) and a 12-5 (.705) mark in postseason games (3-0 in home AAFC games and 9-5 in home NFL games). They also had no winless seasons and five undefeated seasons (1948, 1949, 1951, 1953, 1957) at the old stadium. In fact, the Browns didn't even register their first losing season at home until their 11th season (1956), when they went 1-5. After that, they wouldn't have a losing season at home again until 1974 and 1975 when they went 3-4 both seasons. The longest stretch without a winning season at home was four seasons (1990-1993), and the 1992 and 1993 seasons were both .500 seasons.

The view I had if I went out on the ramp during a game. This is from the southwest corner.

Just to the right of the previous picture. The double doors go into the Press Level, which includes the scoreboard operations rooms and coaches booths. Several suites are on this level at the opposite end. The large door on the right is a freight elevator used mainly by food service.

In contrast, the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium went eight seasons before having that sole winning season in 2007 and are currently on a seven season drought since then. FirstEnergy Stadium also holds the longest drought in team history of not hosting a playoff game, now at 16 seasons (17 total counting the final season at Cleveland Stadium). Prior to that, the longest drought was 14 seasons (hosted in 1971 and not again until 1986).

Looking west from southeast corner showing one of the new scoreboards and the reconfigured upper level in that end zone after the 2014 renovations. The Dawg Pound is just to the right of this photo.

Now, obviously, the record at home isn't much of an anomaly when you look at the team's overall record during the same period, and their road record is actually even worse than their home record. In their 16 seasons since being reactivated, the Browns, as I said, have only had two winning seasons and one playoff appearance, In general, the majority of the team's wins in a given season were at home. Only on four occasions have the Browns won more games on the road than they did at home: 1999 (0-8 at home, 2-6 on the road), 2002 (3-5 at home, 6-2 on the road), 2003 (2-6 at home, 3-5 on the road), and 2008 (1-7 at home, 3-5 on the road).

New scoreboard and reconfigured Dawg Pound after the 2014 renovations

2002 is also their only winning season on the road (6-2) since the return, while they have had 15 losing seasons on the road including two winless seasons (2004 and 2006), four 1-7 campaigns, and zero .500 seasons. The 51-77-0 record at home looks a lot better than the road record in that same span: 33-95-0, good for a dismal .258 winning percentage. Ouch. The Browns overall record since the return is 84-172-0, a .328 winning percentage.

Another panoramic shot from the aisle between sections 501 and 502 I got after the game against Baltimore, September 21, 2014
Obviously from a fan's perspective, I hope the team finally turns it around and starts having consistent winning seasons at home (and overall) as opposed to the consisted losing it currently has. The Browns still have a very large and loyal fanbase as evidenced by not only the attendance at home yet again this season, but the large crowds of Browns fans present at most road games this year, especially Atlanta, Carolina, Cincinnati, and Tennessee. It seems every sports league has a team like the Browns: a proud and illustrious history, but a long championship drought and no recent success, along with periods of dysfunction or other poor management or just bad luck. In the NHL, it's the Toronto Maple Leafs (no Stanley Cup since 1967, but second most overall), in the NBA, it seems to be the New York Knicks (might be the most dysfunctional team in the NBA...haven't won anything in decades), and in Major League Baseball, the Chicago Cubs (over 100 seasons since their last World Series championship and almost 70 years since their last World Series appearance) and Cleveland Indians (last World Series championship in 1948), and to a lesser extent, the Pittsburgh Pirates (20 straight losing seasons).

Even so, I'm still a Browns fan and will remain so. Hope springs eternal! Make the Factory of Sadness a Factory of Gladness!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Kent State's forgotten first football team

Ask just about anyone at Kent State what year the first football team played, and you'll get the answer: 1920. Indeed, KSU's first football game was against Ashland College and was played October 30, 1920 in Ashland, Ohio. The first home game was played a week later when KSU hosted Bowling Green at the first game at Rockwell Field, the grassy area now known as The Commons.

In going through Kent State yearbooks to find information about Rockwell Field, I found that while the 1920 team was the first team to actually play, it actually wasn't the first football team at what was then the Kent State Normal School. The 1915 Chestnut Burr, Kent State's yearbook, not only makes mention of a team being assembled, but it has the 12 man roster listed so we know who was on the team and what position they played.

Page 132 of the 1915 Chestnut Burr

This first team, though, as the Burr explains,  never played a formal game. It had two practice games against local high schools (which was common in those days since football players weren't the size we think of today). After those two practice games, it says the Executive Board and Faculty voted to discontinue to the team to focus on basketball. While there was hope that the team would return in 1915, there is no indication of any football team until the 1921 yearbook, which highlights that inaugural 1920 season. I thought it was interesting that I found mention of this first Kent State football team exactly 100 years after that first attempt!

Considering that the 1914-15 academic year was Kent State's second year of full existence (first classes were held in 1912 with the first classes on campus in May 1913), and the fact that the school was still a teacher training school (i.e. a "normal" school), it should be of no surprise that there was hardly a large amount of men on campus. Teaching was still a largely female dominated profession, far more so than today, and the school simply had few people period. The 1914 yearbook mentions that there were just five "boys" at the first meeting of the athletic association in 1913, out of 140 total students.  But later in the year, there were enough men on campus to start a men's basketball team, though the team only played local high schools the first season. The spring of 1914 saw the establishment of the first collegiate team, the baseball team, which was known as the "Normal Nine". The 1914 yearbook refers to them in the caption as the "Ex Tempore Base Ball Team".

Another important factor as to why the football team couldn't take root in 1914 beyond simple numbers was the lack of suitable playing field. In 1914, Kent did not have any dedicated football field anywhere in town. The local high school at the time (Kent High known as Theodore Roosevelt High School) had a football team, but where, exactly, they played isn't totally clear. Early references mention a "Central field"--most likely the yard in front of the old Union or Central School on North Mantua Street--but no other mentions are made. If it was played in the front yard of Central School (now occupied by the current Central School building built in 1952-53), then it was played on a sloped field as that was never leveled or graded in any way. Hardly ideal for any team, but especially a college one. Kent State would finally get a dedicated football field by 1920, but did not have a gymnasium until 1925.

From the 1917 Chestnut Burr, page 147, showing a summer term baseball game on front campus on or near the site of Rockwell Hall. Merrill Hall can be seen in the background center with the original facade of the Auditorium Building (Cartwright Hall) on the right.

Early Kent State athletic events were played on front campus on and around where Rockwell Hall is now, but the fields seem have been very primitive and makeshift and I have, so far, only been able to find one picture of such an event, a 1916 summer term baseball game. The first dedicated football field in Kent opened in 1917 with the dedication of DePeyster Field at the corner of Crain and Highland Avenues (which still is an open field where pickup games are regularly held), behind the DePeyster School (current Kent City Schools administrative offices). It served as the home of Kent High School football through the 1922 season (the first year the school was called Roosevelt) until the opening of Bowers Field behind the new high school building, now Davey Elementary School.

The first football team on campus that played was actually a high school team. Kent State Normal College had a teacher training school on campus that included a high school starting in 1914. It was first known as the Kent Normal High School (or Kent State Normal High School) and later simply as Kent State High School, "State", or "the University School" locally (official name was the Kent State University School, which included the Kent State University High School). By 1917, the beginning of the year for the high school's first graduating seniors (class of 1918), the school fielded its first competitive football team, though there are references to them playing scrimmages in years prior. I know at least one of their games was played at DePeyster Field that season, so I have assumed most, if not all, of their home games were also played there.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mantua Street

Here in Kent, one of our main north-south roads is Mantua Street, which is divided into north and south sections at West Main Street. The entire length of Mantua Street is also part of State Route 43. All but a short section of North Mantua Street is 4-5 lanes and the section that isn't (along with all of South Mantua Street) is two lanes going in one direction (south).

Every once and awhile, though, people look at a map and realize that Mantua Street doesn't actually lead one to Mantua (pronounced "MAN uh way"...don't ask me why, but it's a very old pronunciation!), a village to the northeast of Kent. OK, so why is it then called Mantua Street? And what about other roads in Kent that are clearly named for nearby towns but don't actually go to them? It's a matter of going back in time and realizing that the current setup for road routes isn't how they've always been.

The key to understanding the name "Mantua Street" is Diagonal Road, which is located just north of the Kent city limits. Diagonal Road is, as you may have guessed, a diagonal road. It's southern end is at State Route 43 less than a mile north of the Kent city limits. Diagonal Road's northern end is at Mantua Center Road, just a few hundred feet south of State Route 82 in Mantua Center, which is the center of Mantua Township. There's your "Mantua Street".

Today, Diagonal Road just appears to be a side street off 43 as you're heading north out of Kent, but up until the early part of the 20th century, instead of the intersection that exists today, the road heading out of Kent to the north had a fork in it. To the right, the road to Mantua, to the left, the road to Cleveland. Indeed, older maps of the area show the main road being Diagonal Road and Mantua Street with the part going to Cleveland as more of a side road rather than today's setup where the main road is 43. Only as the roads and the communities they went to developed more did the more traveled road become the road to Cleveland. Eventually a spur of the railroad was built in that area, so Diagonal Road was re-routed slightly and turns more to the west then it originally did to avoid crossing those tracks.

1874 map showing Kent and most of Franklin Township. Mantua Street/Diagonal Road can be seen as the diagonal line cutting across the center of the map. 
Close-up of the above map (left) and a modern view (right). Ravenna Road was also re-routed slightly (it is broken into two sections when it meets SR 43) because of the railroad building a new line in the 20th century. The settlement of Earlville was based on the railroad station that was located there. (Image on right from Google Earth)

There are still physical reminders of the original path that connected Diagonal Road and SR 43. Just south of the current Diagonal Road-SR 43 intersection is a house that has a row of very large trees in front of it all lined up. If you look at the direction of the line, though, it doesn't parallel SR 43; instead the line appears to be moving away from the road as you travel north. If you look at a map of the area now, you can draw a straight line from the main part of Diagonal Road south and those trees line up with that path.

SR 43 heading north. The line of trees in the center follows the original fork in the road, which connected with the rest of Diagonal Road.
Another point to understand is "Mantua" itself. When people say they're going to Mantua these days, they mean the village of Mantua, which is located in north central Portage County, along State Route 44. But in the early days, going to Mantua meant going to what we generally refer to now as "Mantua Township", the 25 square mile block that almost surrounds the village of Mantua.

Mantua village also wasn't known as "Mantua" until 1898, however. For most of the 19th century, it was known as "Mantua Station". Mantua Township is actually a classic example of how New England naming conventions were used in the Western Reserve. The township (some areas use "town" instead of "township") was Mantua, and then within the township were three hamlets or settlements: Mantua Center (intersection of SR 82 and Mantua Center Road), Mantua Corners (intersection of SR 82 and SR 44), and Mantua Station (now the village of Mantua). Mantua Station was founded in the late 1840s when a railroad line was built through northern Portage County, hence the "station" part of the name. It had a brief period of growth, but was never that big. Mantua Center was intended to be the main settlement of the township since it's at the physical center. That, however, never really happened because of growth at Mantua Corners (it being on a busier road, which is now SR 44) and Mantua Station. Mantua Center is where the township school was located (now listed on the National Register of Historic Places) and where the township hall is still located (part of the Mantua Center Historic District on the NRHP).

1874 map of most of Mantua Township, showing the three hamlets within the township: Mantua Center, Mantua Corners, and Mantua Station. Mantua Station is now the incorporated village of Mantua. Diagonal Road can be seen on the left (my grandma labeled it!) and SR 44 can be seen to the right of center, the road connecting Mantua Station and Mantua Corners. 

The same is true for roads in Kent like Middlebury Road and Akron Boulevard. Changes in road layouts, mostly for the sake of traffic, have removed the clearly visible reminders of why they were named as such, along with name changes. Middlebury was a settlement in what is now eastern Akron. Originally, it was a rival to Akron, but eventually Akron grew to the point that Middlebury was absorbed by Akron. Middlebury Road in Kent originally lined up with Northeast Avenue in Tallmadge and continued on to what is now Southwest Avenue (which becomes Eastland Avenue in Akron). In the early 1970s, the re-routing of SR 261 created the current intersection of Middlebury Road and Northeast Avenue and also shortened Cherry Street, which used to intersect with Middlebury and Northeast as a fork in the road.

1826 map of Portage County prior to the creation of Summit County. Middlebury can be seen near the bottom left (SW corner of Tallmadge Township) with Akron (which had just been established) just west of that in Portage Township. The road leading from Middlebury to the northeast is now Eastwood Avenue/Southwest Avenue, Northeast Avenue, and Middlebury Road, and even part of Mantua Street. The settlement labeled in Franklin Township is Carthage, which was located at the present-day intersection of Fairchild Avenue and N. Mantua Street (SR 43). 
Maps of the intersection of Middlebury Road and SR 261 (Northeast Avenue) in 1970 (top) and 2011 (below) from the Portage County Auditor's website showing the previous fork in the road  and how Middlebury Road and Northeast Avenue were connected. I added the labels. The current SR 261 was built around 1973.  The vertical dotted line is the border between Summit and Portage Counties and the horizontal line is the former boundary between Franklin and Brimfield Townships.
Akron Boulevard (and Majors Lane, which used to be Akron-Kent Boulevard) parallels the main water line that connects Lake Rockwell (Akron's main water supply located north of Kent) to Akron. That is why houses along Akron Boulevard and Majors Lane have such large front yards and long driveways. It is actually not that old of a road and has only existed since the late 1950s. While it appears like it could have originally lined up with Middlebury Road (and thus have gone to Akron), it is more likely it is named such because of the water line. Aerials from the 1950s show the road as a dead end near its current intersection with Middlebury. The road was connected to Middlebury sometime in the mid 1960s as more houses were built along it.

Middlebury Road also has physical reminders of its former route. The line of trees just west of the current intersection of Northeast Avenue (SR 261) and Middlebury follows the original route the road went. The area vacated by Middlebury and Cherry Street is now just a grassy area. Cherry Street was a veer to the right before angling northeast to its current location. The re-routing of 261 simply smoothed the curve out and removed the forks in the road, and broke the connection between Middlebury and Northeast, similar to Diagonal Road and Mantua Street.

So, if you ever see another road that looks like it's named for a town but doesn't seem to go there, don't assume that the current route is the way it's always been!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dix Stadium

It's no secret that I love local history, but I also love history of sports, stadiums and arenas in particular. So it's of no surprise that I have studied the athletic facilities in this area, especially those at Kent State University. Thank goodness for the abundance of records available digitally that I can access, and also for the Kent State University Special Collections and Archives on the 12th floor of the library, where I spent quite a bit of time poring over old blueprints, athletic programs, and other documents!

Dix Stadium is the football stadium at Kent State University and is a place where I have spent a lot of time. My grandparents took my siblings and me to games as kids and I have attended games on my own every year that I have lived in Kent. Not only have I gone to dozens and dozens of games over the years, but I grew up all of a half mile from the stadium. Growing up, we could easily hear announcements from the stadium in our back yard. Even now, I drive past the stadium almost every day for various commutes to the southern and eastern parts of Portage County.

In just the past 10-15 years I've seen quite a few changes made to the stadium, but only recently have I really dug into its origins and early years. Some of what I've found is surprising, while other information is either confusing or not totally clear.

One of the great things about having my grandparents around is I can get a lot of first-hand information from them about the early years of the stadium. My grandpa is 89 and still has a very sharp memory. He served as the assistant dean the KSU College of Business until 1985 and was a season ticket holder for football and men's basketball for many years, so he spent a lot of time at Dix Stadium over the years until he was simply no longer able to come to games and stay comfortable.

Dix Stadium in 1969, with only the first few rows installed on the
new west stands
(Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives)
My grandpa was one of the 8,172 fans who were on hand for the very first game at Dix Stadium in 1969. At the time the stadium wasn't even completed yet. On the west ("home") stands, only 16 of 58 rows of seats had been installed and the locker rooms and press box were also not complete. In doing some research, there was apparently a construction accident earlier in the year that put work back several months. The stadium itself wasn't done until after the 1969 season, finished in either December 1969 or early 1970.

The most bizarre aspect of Dix Stadium is that it wasn't regarded as a new stadium, but rather as an "expansion and relocation" of the old Memorial Stadium. Memorial Stadium was located where the parking lot is for the KSU Student Center now. It was built in phases, the oldest of which opened in 1950, though the field had been used since 1941. Rather than just build an entirely new stadium in the late 60s, instead KSU dismantled all the main seating sections of Memorial Stadium and moved them about a mile down Summit Street to the new stadium site. The construction at Dix Stadium was to build a 12,772-seat grandstand on the west side of the field that had a new press box and locker rooms, along with 4 free-standing restroom facilities on each corner of the field. The seating sections from Memorial Stadium were used on the other three sides. Memorial Stadium's sideline grandstands became the new end zone seats at Dix Stadium while the 4 auxiliary bleacher sections became the new east stands, known mostly as the "visitor's section" (visitor fans no longer sit on that side of the stadium, however, as it is now the student section). Because Dix Stadium incorporated virtually all of Memorial Stadium's seats, obviously the university couldn't use the old stadium after the new stadium wasn't totally ready in time.

Memorial Stadium ca. 1968. All seating visible in this photo except the end zone bleachers
was moved to Dix Stadium in 1969. The buildings adjacent to the stadium from left are:
Bowman Hall, Lake-Olson Halls, and the Memorial Athletic & Convocation Center. This area is now
mainly occupied by the visitor parking lot for the Student Center
(Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives)
Top photo is of Memorial Stadium when it was new in 1950. Bottom photo is the same
grandstand in 2008, but now in the north end zone of Dix Stadium. The old press box was
removed in 2007.
(Top photo from 1951 Chestnut Burr; Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives)

Those Who Fail to Plan...

Document outlining the future plans for what is now
Dix Stadium. 
The most surprising aspect of Dix Stadium that I discovered were the original long-range plans for its development, most of which were never followed. The most disappointing one to me is the plan for the east side seating area. As I mentioned above, the east side seating, which up until about 2000 was where fans from the visiting team sat, was actually made up of four separate stands of wooden bleacher seats. In the original plans for Dix Stadium, those were considered temporary seats and were supposed to have been removed by 1973 and replaced with an 18-row section of concrete seating. Eventually, that would have been extended to 58 rows to duplicate the west side stands, bringing the seating capacity to around 35,000. The last phase of expansion would have been to add an upper deck on each side of the stadium, bringing total capacity to around 50,000. I would love to see an architectural rendering of what that would've looked like as it's hard to imagine an upper deck at Dix Stadium.

Those "temporary" wooden bleachers ended up being removed, but not for over 30 years. After the 2001 season they were condemned and torn down. During the 2002 season, that area was left empty before a new, smaller section of aluminium bleachers were built on that site for the student section.

Why weren't the plans followed? Well, for one, they were contingent on the team continuing to win, which didn't happen much. Even so, the first few years at Dix Stadium, KSU football did very well and was drawing decent crowds. The two largest crowds in stadium history were both set in 1973 (27,363 and 25,137), though the first recorded sellout didn't occur until 2010 (with a smaller seating capacity). After that, though, attendance was pretty low and crowds above 20,000 were rare.

East side stands (student section) with Field House in the rear in 2010.
The north stands can be seen on the left.
The other factor was likely the effects of the 1970 Kent State shootings, which occurred just after the stadium was initially completed. The shootings caused a decline in enrollment at KSU, which in turn led to budget cuts across the university, so it is of no surprise to me that stadium expansion or upgrades may have been one of those casualties. The only major athletic-related capital project in the 1970s was the controversial construction of the Gym Annex in 1977, and that was more related to physical education than to athletics.  The plans that did largely come to pass are that Dix Stadium is the center of an athletic complex, though not quite as large as the original plans, which included a new basketball arena in the field across Summit Street from the stadium. The field house, built in 1989, was mentioned in the 1970s plans as well as including other athletic fields. As of 2014, field hockey, women's soccer, softball, and indoor track all have facilities in and around Dix Stadium along with football.

Personally I wish KSU would look back on those original plans and use them in their current upgrades to the stadium. I don't think anyone expects the 50,000 seat plan to be followed, but the original idea to have the east side and west side look similar would be quite an improvement over the current setup. The east side stands built in 2003 just don't look like something you'd expect to see at a Division I FBS school. It's made worse by the fact that television cameras are located on the much larger west stands, so TV audiences see the very small east stands in the background (which seats just 4,104), so the stadium looks even smaller than it actually is. Originally, the cameras were located at the top of the east stands, so the west stands were in the background. Aesthetically it's also bizarre that you have a section with almost 13,000 opposite a section with just 4,000, while the north end zone section between them has almost 6,000 seats.


Another interesting aspect of Dix Stadium is the name itself. The stadium is named for Robert C. Dix, who was a member of the Kent State Board of Trustees for some 30 years and also was editor of the Record-Courier newspaper. Locally, the Dix name is known for Dix Communications, which owns several media outlets, including the Record-Courier. Dix Communications is now partially headquartered in Kent while the rest of its headquarters is in Wooster, Ohio. Anyway, my aforementioned grandpa was part of a committee established in the early 1970s to name the stadium. When it opened in 1969, it was known as Memorial Stadium since it was regarded as an expansion and relocation of the existing Memorial Stadium, rather than a new facility.

My grandpa said there was no consensus in the committee (which included the likes of Jack Lambert) on who to name it for, but the various ideas floating around were all athletic-related such as former KSU players and coaches. He said no one even mentioned Robert C. Dix as an option. After the university announced that the stadium was to be named for Dix, my grandpa wrote a letter to the university letting them know to never again call him to be on such a committee that he felt was a complete waste of his time since they did not use any of the naming recommendations the committee gave. One of the suggestions from a committee member, though, was selling the naming rights to a company. While that is commonplace now, it wasn't the case in the early 1970s. In any case, the "Dix Stadium" name became official in 1973.

Just How Many?

Another sort of mystery or source of confusion for me is the actual seating capacity of the stadium. News articles from the time it opened list its capacity at 28,748. Later, the capacity was listed at 30,520 in media guides. This number is listed as the capacity until 2003 (it's even used in the 2002 guides even though the east stands weren't there the entire season). In 2003, with the opening of a newer and smaller east stand, the capacity was changed to 29,287, a loss of 1,233 seats. In 2008, after the south end zone seating was removed, the capacity was listed at a generic "25,000", until 2010, when the capacity suddenly "dropped" to 20,500. That was the official listed capacity until 2013, when, despite no new construction, the stadium got about 5,000 more seats to have a listed capacity of 25,319.

The one consistent number I have found is that the west stands have seating for 12,772. That number is present in the architectural plans and news reports from the late 1960s and in media guides over several decades, plus the west stands have had no major changes made beyond new paint. I could only find one game program that listed the seating capacities for each section, from the mid 1980s: 12,772 for the west stands, 5,976 for the original east stands, and 5,726 for both the north and south end zone sections (which were virtually identical). It also has a "Southeast Corner" section with 320 seats that isn't on the stadium seating diagram nor is it one I remember ever seeing in all my years going to games. All of that added together was where the 30,520 total comes from. The new east stands built in 2003 were listed in a 2008 media guide as having 4,104 seats, so that explains why capacity went down in 2003, though the new section is 1,872 seats smaller than its predecessor yet the overall stadium capacity only dropped by 1,233 even though there were no additional seats added elsewhere that I am aware of.

The 5,726 total for the north and south end zones is interesting because when Memorial Stadium opened in 1950, it consisted of one grandstand (which is now the Dix Stadium north end zone...pictured above) and some auxiliary bleachers on the opposite side of the field. The listed seating capacity for Memorial Stadium then was 5,600. Obviously that's an estimate, but it seems odd that the 1980s total for that section of seats is higher than the 1950 total without auxiliary seating in the count. Edit: turns out, the initial capacity for Memorial Stadium was actually about 7,000, which included the main grandstand and auxiliary seating, so the 5,726 for that section seems accurate!

If the totals from that 1980s game program are correct along with the 4,104 total for the current east stands, then the current seating capacity of Dix Stadium is 22,602. Now, there is a difference between seating capacity and total capacity too. Obviously since the stadium has a large plaza in the south end zone, smaller open areas on either side of the east stands, and virtually all of the seating is made of of bleachers, more people than the total seating capacity can be in the stadium, but still, I do wonder where the current 25,319 figure comes from and why there is so much discrepancy, especially in the last few years. Have they started counting seats that hadn't previously been counted? Has the university changed how they divide the bleacher seats in the various sections? Do they include the standing room only sections in the capacity? At this point, the latter is the only explanation I can find. The largest crowd since the most recent renovations was 24,221 in 2010. At the time, it was almost 4,000 over the listed capacity, but now it appears it was slightly below the listed capacity even though no changes to the seating have been made between 2008 and now. That game, however, was the first official sellout for Kent State football at Dix Stadium.

Location, Location, Location

The other aspect of Dix Stadium's history I've always wondered about is why the stadium was built where it is. In studying the contemporary news stories, there aren't any specific reasons given by those who were responsible for the stadium's development.  Based on reading those stories and what I know about developments that were going on around it at the time, though, I can make a fairly educated guess.

Dix Stadium in 1970. The rest of campus can be seen in the upper
right corner of the picture
(Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives)
First, the reason they needed to move the stadium away from the Memorial Stadium site was due to the growth of campus in the 1950s. When the athletic fields that later became Memorial Stadium were built, that was the edge of campus. By 1964, there were several more buildings and campus was starting to "pass" Memorial Stadium to the point that it was becoming more central to the campus instead of the edge. University officials wanted to build a new University Center (library and student center), and that location seemed to be best geographically based on the how campus was at the time and the long-range plans.

OK, but why did they choose a site that was, at the time, off-campus? That specific reason is never mentioned, but my guesses have to do first with cars. A big part of the Dix Stadium project was the parking lot for a few thousand cars, so they needed a very large area. The Dix Stadium site is about a mile from the edge of campus (at that time), though today it doesn't seem nearly as far as it did in 1969 as campus has expanded further east. I don't consider Dix Stadium to be "off-campus". It has plenty of space not only for ample parking, but has allowed for the other athletic facilities to be built there. The university did want an athletic complex at that site in time.

Another reason that may have played into the decision to locate there specifically was the proximity to what is now State Route 261. In the late 1960s, plans were in place to make what is now SR 261 a 4-lane limited access freeway that would have had an exit at Summit right near the stadium site (at the time, SR 261 entered Kent via Cherry Street, then followed South Water Street and SR 43 north to downtown Kent where it ended at the intersection of Main and Water Streets). The portion of 261 now that runs north-south from SR 59 to just past Summit Street was originally going to be part of a divided 4-lane limited access highway SR 435 going between SR 14 in the north and I-76 in the south. 261 was supposed to tie in to SR 435 just south of Summit. The overall project was only partially realized with 261 being built as a divided highway from just south of Summit to just east of the Kent-Tallmadge border, completed in the early 1970s. The property lines, though, still reflect where the on-ramps and interchanges would have been. It makes sense that having the stadium and its huge parking lot directly accessible to the highways would have been preferable, especially in the late 60s when the general planning mindset favored more highway construction.
1968 Land Use and Thoroughfare Plan for Kent and Franklin Township. I added a few labels.
Of these plans, part of SR 261 was built (without any highway interchanges) and Haymaker
Parkway, which can be seen on the left side. 435 was never built, though part of SR 261 follows
the SR 435 route between Summit Street and SR 59. 
Property map of the Dix Stadium area today. The location of the planned interchange of what would have been SRs 261 and 435 and the exit ramp to Summit Street (all visible in the bottom right of the picture above) can still be seen in the property lines even though the project was abandoned years ago.
(Portage County Auditor)
I haven't really touched on all the more recent changes made in 2007 and 2008, or the upcoming plans for the stadium and the entire athletic complex. To see more, be sure to visit