Old Siwash to Name Football Stadium for Eugene Field?

By Terry Hogan

This writer, on his own initiative and after extensive research, has made a discovery. You read it here first. At least one alumnus of Old Siwash is blatantly using his access to the printed media in spreading an unfounded rumor that Old Siwash is going to announce the naming of the Old Siwash football field for ''Eugene Field.'' This writer has also learned that Eugene Field was none other than a notorious practical joker who attended Old Siwash some 130 or so years ago. With these two handicaps, Mr. Field went out to become a well-known poet and newspaper columnist. Field was a man (way) ahead of his time. He probably could have been a late night talk show host if television had been invented, if people had stayed up that late, and if our definition of humor had broadly degenerated to that point.

Eugene FieldEugene Field on a Galesburg night in the long distant past marched the streets of Galesburg. He and a friend demonstrated banners that ''Šbore coarsely worded inscriptions attesting the power of God to do certain ungentlemanly deeds'' as reported by the Galesburg daily paper. It seems that the motley crew was doing a parody of a popular evangelist who was visiting the fine city, at that time, in an effort to save it from sin. It is also recorded that Eugene Field and some friends also wore gaudy robes and hoods and chanted a profane litany that Field had written.

Eugene Field, in his freshman year at Old Siwash, organized a burial of Livy after the completion of the mandatory reading of Latin histories of Livy. Once again, it was described to have been ''highly sacrilegious.'' A burning heap of boxes and barrels in the park was the host for the ceremony. A devil, dressed in red tights, ran amongst the participants, trying to claim the effigy of poor Livy. The flames climbed into the night sky, causing the trees' shadows to flicker and dance along the spot of open land between the college and the seminary. Galesburg's finest protectors of the city arrived -- both police and firemen, to put an end to the night's mourning of the loss of poor Livy. The next day, Eugene and friends were rudely chastised by the college officials for the outlandish activity. Again, Field had the last laugh as ''the devil'' in the red tights was reported to have been none other than the son of the president of Old Siwash.

Of course, once a reputation is earned, new deeds and accomplishments are heaped upon it like cow patties on the old dung heap. Poor Mr. Field, correctly or not, is also attributed to be the author of a somewhat satirical, but dated, description of the Old Siwash graduation ceremony that was published in the Galesburg Republican. The published account, referring to the speech by Old Siwash President John Putnam Gulliver, records ''Šstill the most illiterate could not fail to be impressed with the soundness of the arguments and beauty of the language.''

Perhaps Field wrote the article, perhaps not. But he did begin to write articles for the Galesburg Free Press by 1870. Some of his work did have a familiar ring to the Old Siwash graduation report. Field wrote an article about the performance of a cantata by the Galesburg Philharmonic Club, performed in Abingdon. Many of the members of the Galesburg Philharmonic Club were Old Siwash faculty. In describing the oriental costumes worn, or at least reported to be worn by the performers, Field wrote, ''Special mention was made of the shapely shanks of some of the faculty ladies and how the inhabitants fled to the woodsŠ'' Field later concludes that the Galesburg Philharmonic Club performance was so successful, that it planned to do another cantata in the near future that would be based on the Biblical Adam and Eve, ''Šalso in original costume.''

Of course, a student with such a talent of pushing humor and bad taste too far was bound for a life of depravation. He became a famous poet and a newspaper writer. In 1893, McClure's Magazine reported that Eugene Field was one of America's leading literary figures. If you don't recognize his name, you probably recognize his work. Examples include ''Wynken, Blynken and Nod,'' ''The Duel,'' ''The Fly-Away Horse'' and ''Little Boy Blue.'' From 1883 to 1885, he wrote a widely published newspaper column entitled ''Sharps and Flats.''

Perhaps in neither of their finest moments, Eugene Field and Clark E. Carr undertook a literary war upon one another. In 1885, the Galesburg Republican Register attributed the dislike due to an earlier competition for an attractive young lady when Field was a student at fine Old Siwash and Carr was still a bachelor. In 1870, Carr was the owner of the Republican Register. Carr used that position to publish a scathingly critical article on ''Eushene Fweeled.'' Carr wrote, in part, ''He is regarded at the seminary as a convenience, at the newspaper office as an oracle, by the young men of the city as a blatherskite, and at the college as a dunce and blockhead.'' (Galesburg Republican, Dec. 30, 1870, cited in ''Missionaries and Muckrakers'', 1984).

In the name and spirit of Old Siwash, and following the inspiration and leadership of Eushene Fweeled or Eugene Field, I believe it is only fitting that Old Siwash, exercising its recently established leadership in political correctness to name the football field in honor of Eugene Field. Perhaps the college football uniform could be changed to denim. These football pants could be known as ''Eugene jeans'' and when bearing the ''Old Siwash'' logo could become campus fashion statements.

But, back to the field. It would officially bear the name ''Eugene Field Field.'' The students at Old Siwash then would, of course, initially refer to it as ''Eugene Field Squared'' (''Eugene Field2) which would then be shortened to simply ''The Squared.''

History would repeat itself. Tears come to my eyes as I imagine, once again, Old Siwash students yelling to one another across campus ''See you on 'The Square(d)'.''*

*For those readers not familiar with Galesburg of yesteryear, the town square, often simply referred to as ''The Square,'' offered a choice of taverns.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online September 27, 2000

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