PREP. SCHOOL DAYS
To every man there comes a moment that marks the turning point of his career. For me it was a certain Saturday morning in the autumn of 1891. As I look back upon it, across the years, I feel something of the same thrill that stirred my boyish blood that day and opened a door through which I looked into a new world.
I had just come to the city, a country boy, from my home in Lisle, N. Y., to attend the Horace Mann School. As I walked across Madison Square, I glanced toward the old Fifth Avenue Hotel, where my eyes fell upon the scene depicted in the accompanying picture. Almost before I was aware of it my curiosity led me to mingle with the crowd surging in and out of the hotel, and I learned by questioning the bystanders that it was the headquarters of the Yale team, which that afternoon was to play Princeton at the Polo Grounds. The players were about to leave the hotel for the field, and I hurried inside to catch a glimpse of them.
The air was charged with enthusiasm, and I soon caught the infection—although it was all new to me then—of the vital power of college spirit which later so completely dominated my life. I recall with vividness how I lingered and waited for something to happen. Men were standing in groups, and all eyes were centered upon the heroes of the team. Every one was talking football. Some of the names heard then have never been forgotten by me. There was the giant Heffelfinger whom every one seemed anxious to meet. I was told that he was the crack Yale guard. I looked at him, and, then and there, I joined the hero worshippers.
I also remember Lee McClung, the Yale captain, who seemed to realize the responsibilities that rested upon his shoulders. There was an air of restraint upon him. In later years he became Treasurer of the United States and his signature was upon the country’s currency. My most vivid recollection of him will be, however, as he stood there that day in the corridor of the famous old hotel, on the day of a great football conflict with Princeton. Then Sanford was pointed out to me, the Yale center-rush. I recall his eagerness to get out to the “bus” and to be on his way to the field. When the starting signal was given by the captain, Sanford’s huge form was in the front rank of the crowd that poured out upon the sidewalk.
The whole scene was intensely thrilling to me, and I did not leave until the last player had entered the “bus” and it drove off. Crowds of Yale men and spectators gave the players cheer after cheer as they rolled away. The flags with which the “bus” was decorated waved in the breeze, and I watched them with indescribable fascination until they were out of sight. The noise made by the Yale students I learned afterwards was college cheering, and college cheers once heard by a boy are never forgotten.
Many in that throng were going to the game. I could not go, but the scene that I had just witnessed gave me an inspiration. It stirred something within me, and down deep in my soul there was born a desire to go to college.