By Ruth Morgan
For Starkville Daily News
Journalist Turner Catledge, then a freshman, was assigned to duty as an orderly in George Infirmary during the flu crisis. Not yet 18 years old, he was unprepared for what he found. “On my first day there I saw three people die,” he recalled in 1977.
When a temporary embalming operation was set up in the basement of George Hall, Catledge was pressed into service. “This was certainly not what I envisioned when I took the train in Philadelphia, Miss., that September morning to go off to college,” he remembered. But Catledge also called that ghastly experience “a most important part of my college career — a great contributor to my growing up.”
Others living along College Drive and South Jackson Street remember the flu epidemic and the frightening scene of the bodies being transported to the depot on South Jackson Street to be sent home by train for burial.
Mildred Barr (1890-1965), a prominent resident at 610 College Drive, wrote several essays of her childhood that vividly described what it was like growing up at the college during A&M’s early years.
“On Sunday afternoon services were held in the Chapel for the students. One of the ministers from the town would come out and hold services, driving their own turnouts and by that fact were recognized so that everyone knew who was holding service at that particular time.
“The boys would then leave in groups to walk through the fields and down the railroad track or gather in some place to talk over the usual questions of the day. There were no automobiles in which they could speed away. There was no thought of a hard surfaced highway, the youth were dependent upon the fellowship of those around and their ingenuity.
“By this time there was a plank walk from the campus grounds to the City of Starkville and that was considered a vast improvement over the paths traveled by those first students. In worst weather, of course, the railroad track was considered the most satisfactory trail to follow.”
The A&M boys lived by bugle calls and their daily schedule was reveille at 5:30 a.m., breakfast at 6 a.m., guard mount at 7 a.m., end of academics at noon, call to quarters for study at 1 p.m., call to work at 3 p.m., finish of work at 6 p.m., supper at 6:45 p.m., evening call to quarters for study 7:45 p.m., “tattoo” at 9:30 p.m. and taps at 10 p.m. The average A&M student lived on $8.50 a month.
College faculty and their families were housed in cottages placed around the campus grounds facing the roadway on the north and south circles. The Mobile and Ohio Railroad line from Artesia divided it into North Campus and South Campus.
“These cottages were not handsome edifices, in fact these for the most part were fashioned by unskilled labor. There were cracks in the flooring through which the winds sent shiver on cold nights and at times the scatter rugs on the floor would be lifted by quivers of cool air. Every cottage experienced the same chilling drafts.
“Despite such foibles these houses held treasured memories for those of us who were born and grew up therein. Arranged around the circling roadway, we shared a life of neighborly affection and deep fellowship, which gave us a foundation of security and peace that many children never attain.
“Just west of the hospital, the first house on the north circle was occupied by Professor Wiechardt, the Head of the Mechanical Engineering Department. He was well known to the student body as “Hooks.” There were two children, Emily and Fred.
“Next was the home of the doctor. This little house stood on the brow of the hill. Immediately to the west was the ‘Welborns.’ They were good neighbors and Mrs. Welborn — ‘Miss Dell’ — was a blithe spirit with a warm place in her heart for children. She played on the piano and taught the neighbor children to cake walk and dance.
“We had our landmarks — the ‘double tree’ in front of the Walker house and the goomy (sic) bush around which we gathered to the west of the Hospital and the east of the doctor’s home with ditch between over the banks of which the growth of willows swayed their fronds, with the mulberry tree at one end and the log of a large tree at the other on which we rested and paddled our feet in the cool muddy water.
“In vacation time, early in the morning we gathered at the entrance of the campus until ‘Daniel,’ who drove the delivery wagon for Mr. Duff Clardy’s grocery store in Starkville, drew up his wagon. We clambored on and around the circle we rode as the groceries were dispensed. At the end of the loop, we would pile off and wave goodbye to Daniel and his two mules until his next trip. Many a teacake or orange as well as other ‘goodies’ found their way into Daniel’s pocket and on the cold winter mornings he often found a cup of hot coffee in some one of our kitchens to warm him along his journey, “One day many years after childhood, I plodded wearily though an unusually heavy snow, covering walk and road, making it impossible for a car without chains to negotiate the trip. When, down the road, came ‘of all people Daniel,’ like an apparition from the past.
“I eagerly waved him down and got aboard, whereupon he seated me on a ‘goods’ box — the driver’s seat — and standing behind me, reins in hand, off we trotted down the College road many years after childhood until I was brought safely to my door. Waving my thanks to him, Daniel and his two little mules trotted out of my life.
“Just across the road way to the north of the library stood the Y.M.C.A. There was a hall in which the Y.M.C.A. held its meetings on Sunday evening. From there song would float out over the campus in the early spring when the windows were opened and most of us would sit in the twilight and follow the lines of ‘Throw out the Lifeline across the dark wave’ — ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ and other familiar lines that became a part of our memory. We loved the cadence of those strong young voices as they came to us through the first dark of the evening sky. This was a sort of benediction at the day’s end but not so much so as that of Taps that each night at ten o’clock sounded sweetly floating over the quietness of rest, the lights winked out as dark covered us. That was the time when on these sad sweet notes every campus child drifted off to sleep.”
As the years rolled on and the college grew, the churches in Starkville grew with college students. The Nov. 30, 1923 Starkville News contained a photo and article about the churches and college student attendance. The newspaper stated, “Your boy is cordially welcomed at the Baptist church to all of its services. The Baptist church opens wide its doors for these boys and seeks the best to meet the tremendous responsibility that is placed upon us by the large number of Baptist boys in attendance at the A&M College. If the Baptist dads on their visit to Starkville on Dad’s Day would seek to know where his boy attends Sunday School and church or should attend, will come to the Baptist church he will find a cordial welcome and a royal reception.”
“The Methodist Church is the second oldest church in the city. The present pastor has manifested a deep interest in the spiritual and social welfare of the boys who attend A&M College. The Character Builders class of students was organized some twenty years ago (1903) and its influence for good has grown until today it is world-wide.”
“The Presbyterian Church Comrades Sunday School Class was addressed by Fred Sullens of Jackson.”
“Today, two thirds or seven out of 10 high school seniors will drop out of church before they graduate college according to Lifeway Research. Take a hard look at almost every church and you will find the TwentySomething generation notoriously absent.”