Syracuse University Magazine


Among the treasured images in the pictorial history book Syracuse University are an aerial view of campus from the 1920s (left), mascot Vita the Goat (below), the relocation of Holden Observatory in June 1991, Otto's Orange ancestor from 1982, and a campus toboggan run.

Photos courtesy of SU Archives

Picturing SU's Story

As you might imagine, whittling down more than 140 years of Syracuse University history into a series of 215 representative images could be a mind-boggling chore. But that’s the assignment three members of the SU Archives and Records Management staff undertook to produce Syracuse University, a pictorial history book published in 2013 by Arcadia Publishing as part of its campus history series. “There were certain things we knew we all wanted to include for various reasons,” says University Archivist Edward L. Galvin, who co-authored the book with archivist Margaret A. Mason and reference archivist Mary M. O’Brien. “But there were a lot of other things we really didn’t know anything about, or hadn’t had any reason to do reference work on.”

Take, for instance, Vita the Goat, a ’20s-era mascot that bah-ed at Archbold Stadium football crowds long before Otto was plucked for duty in Orange Land. “We had known there were different mascots, but Vita was a bit of a surprise,” O’Brien says. “I still think it might have had something to do with the fact that Colgate, which was our big rival back then, also had a goat. So I think it was you have a goat, we’ll have a goat, because after awhile, Vita just disappears. She’s gone.”

Gone, but no longer forgotten, thanks to Galvin, Mason, and O’Brien, who spent countless hours combing through Archives’ vast visual collection of prints, negatives, slides, photo albums, scrapbooks, postcards, and documents. Among the treasured finds: a stereopticon (3D-style) slide of the Hall of Languages—the earliest image they’ve ever come across of SU’s first campus building. There are images of the original Alma Mater handwritten by Junius Stevens (Class of 1895), the first Daily Orange issue, and a Mount Olympus toboggan run that zipped between Bowne Hall and Carnegie Library. The book also dusts off such lost traditions as Women’s Day and the symbolic “disposal” of the character J.R. Calculus by students who abhorred the required course. One especially good source for many of the early images was scrapbooks donated by alumni or their families. “I was pleasantly surprised by the number of really good photos we found in our scrapbook collection,” Mason says. “We have over 200 scrapbooks. They’re various sizes and could be full of newspaper clippings, programs, photos, and memorabilia.”

With an estimated 750,000 images at their disposal, the trio split their research into thematic categories—athletics, academics/schools, buildings, campus views, chancellors, student life and traditions, and special events—and met regularly through an 18-month period, okaying or ousting selections they’d rounded up and crafting captions. Admittedly, each has an affinity for a particular era on the Hill: O’Brien, the beginning years; Mason, the turn of the 19th century; and Galvin, World War II and the post-war GI Bulge. “We all had a couple favorites that didn’t make the cut,” O’Brien says. 

Presented chronologically, the book, whose profits will support the work of the archives department, offers a memorable journey. Page after page, the visual narrative captures the people, places, and events that have helped shape the University throughout its prominent history. “We hope the book brings attention to the noteworthy heritage of the University and helps readers to realize what valuable historical information is available to them in the SU Archives,” Galvin says. —Jay Cox