Department Head’s Corner – June 2016

Calling all history detectives!  Your help is needed to solve our mystery.

If you have been reading our newsletters faithfully, you know about the department’s centennial and efforts to restore the beauty and unique character of Daniels Scoates Hall. These activities were and continue to be linked, but like any good detective tale, there are story lines that seem unrelated, but are important in the telling.

Scoates Hall Bust - James Oliver

Scoates Hall Bust – James Oliver

Nancy McCoy ’81 was the architect for the Capital Improvement and Restoration project and is currently writing a book on the Depression era buildings of the A&M campus. She was visiting with me about her chapter on Scoates Hall, and we discussed the three empty nooks decorating the foyer. I told Nancy that I remember there being three busts back in the early 1980s, but that two of them were missing sometime in the late 1980s. I was told the three were of John Deere, Cyrus McCormick, and Jerome Increase Case, all early pioneers of mechanization. Unfortunately, the remaining bust does not look like images of any of those men. As we examined the lone remaining bust for clues on who was depicted, we discovered on the back side some embossed lettering. It says “Lorado Taft Sc.” A quick search showed that Taft was a well-known American sculptor, and that his papers were held in the University of Illinois Library. We have confirmed that in a list of busts that Taft produced was one entry with “James Oliver, Texas A&M, 1935.” Oliver was a maker of steel plows in the middle of the 19th century.

Scoates Hall Bust - John Deere

Scoates Hall Bust – John Deere

In working with Henry Dethloff to write the history of the department, I learned that Professor Scoates’ papers were archived in Cushing Library. Hoping to learn more about his work, I recently examined those papers. There were two items of particular interest. The first was a series of correspondence between Daniels Scoates and Gertrude Babcock, the artist who did the murals in the lecture hall (more on that in future newsletters). The second bit of information helped to explain some of the mystery about the empty nooks. In the Scoates archive was a copy of an article that he had written for the May-June 1935 issue of the Furrow magazine published by John Deere Co. In that article, Scoates described the “Agricultural Engineering Hall of Fame” that had been set aside in the “spacious exhibit foyer” of the “new $200,000 Agricultural Engineering building.” After a long history and buildup, Scoates revealed that the first bust installed was of John Deere.

This is where we need you as a history detective. We now know that the existing bust is James Oliver and the original was John Deere. But who was the third bust? Was there ever a fourth bust?  The department has no known photos of the foyer that show any of the busts in the now empty nooks. Do you have a photo where a bust might be in the background? If so, we might be able to match it to someone. Does anyone have knowledge of what happened to the two missing busts? I spoke with retired faculty member Otto Kunze who remembers someone from the Drama Club carrying one of them away to use as a prop. Maybe someone else has one in their home. I hope you can help us with this mystery.

Whether you have any information about the busts or not, we invite you to contact us with any questions you might have, or if you come to campus. We always want to visit with former students!

Steve Searcy

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