Nov. 3, 2013
By Jon Cooper
The word “historic” is not one used lightly by a school as rich in tradition as Georgia Tech.
That “historic” is attached to Grant Field at Bobby Dodd Stadium says just about all you need to know about the home of the Yellow Jackets, the oldest continually used stadium in the FBS and in the Southern United States.
But it doesn’t say everything you need to know. For that, you need to go to a real authority, like Marilyn Somers.
Somers, the Director of the Georgia Tech Alumni Association’s Living History program, has researched the history of Grant Field exhaustively at the request of the Athletic Association to commemorate the field’s 100th anniversary and has plenty to say about the history surrounding — and actually underneath — the Yellow Jackets’ home field. She took time Friday morning to do a presentation entitled “The History of Grant Field: A Centennial Celebration.”
“I’m a history detective,” she said, with a laugh. “You just go looking. Turn all the stones over.”
Turning those stones over led to an entertaining hour-long power-point presentation, filled with historic images and captures of headlines from long ago in front of a group of about 40 interested on-lookers seated in a lecture hall at the Georgia Tech Global Learning Center. Somers preferred to describe the session as story-telling.
Somers enlightened and delighted the audience, almost all of who were back for Homecoming Weekend. Tales ranged from the stadium’s land, originally the Walton Springs Branch-Ormewood Sewer Line, which, in the 1880s was more of a source of pride to Atlanta’s Mayor than the soon-to-be-built new school of technology, to the work of a Georgia Tech student named William Alexander in helping the Athletic Association sell bonds to help get the stadium built, to the reason that Georgia Tech is called “The Flats.”
“I didn’t know all the history of Grant Field especially that business about being a sewer in the beginning,” said Don Mac Cullough, Class of ’48, who attended the session with his wife of 50 years, Janet, and planned to show the campus and current Grant Field to his three grandsons on Saturday. “Of course, the stadium looks entirely different than it did when I was here. I left here in ’48. My last football season was ’47. The East Stands were nothing back then and, of course, the West Stands have changed tremendously. “
The presentation showed the progression of Grant Field from an open space with one set of bleachers, where fans could drive up and park their cars right on the side of the field to the current set-up and included tales of the growth of Georgia Tech Football, all the way from the hiring of John Heisman as the school’s first football, baseball and basketball coach to the present. Heisman’s penchant for running up scores, like the memorable 222-0 game in 1916 against Cumberland College, evoked some passion from at least one attendee.
“I want those days again,” shouted one gentleman, causing a round of laughter throughout the room.
The growth of the stadium and the community surrounding Georgia Tech and the celebrities that were attracted also were highlighted. Somers mentioned the visit of Charles Lindbergh in 1927, courtesy of school President Dr. Marion L. Brittain, “a big fan of aviation,” and the response by Georgia Power, which actually lit the stadium for Lindbergh’s night-time visit, making it the first lit stadium.
There were anecdotes about other celebrities that visited Grant Field, including England’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and his film-star daughter, Diana, who visited the ROTC troops in 1932 (“She was far more appealing than he was,” Somers joked), President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who attended a game in 1935, and movie star Dorothy Lamour, who came to campus to promote the World War II Bond Drive. Grant Field became a major fund-raising stop for celebrities during the War.
More recent stars included Nelson Mandela, who packed the stadium in 1990, as well as famous musical acts Santana at the 1978 Champagne Jame, the Rolling Stones in 1989, and Pink Floyd in 1994 (the first concert attended by Somers’ assistant Scott Dinerman — his ticket stub made it into the slide).
Somers admitted that as thoroughly as she researched things, with 100 years of history, to go through, there was no way to fit everything into a one-hour presentation. The events that made the final cut were what she considered the most interesting highlights or, as she kidded in the case of the slide of Lamour, the most visually appealing.
“I had a lot of slides I didn’t put in because there wasn’t enough time to do it in an hour,” she said, noting that her next project is documenting the history of the Georgia Tech Police Department. “I took out all the parts from the (1996 Summer) Olympics. There was a lot of stuff going on there and I thought, `Well, that’s more recent history. I want to get the early stuff in that people are not apt to know about’ so I had to cut all that out for time.”
For more information on the Georgia Tech Living History program visit http://livinghistory.gatech.edu/new/.
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