By: Brian Burns, Interim Media and Access Services Librarian
When Dr. William Porterfield began his long career as a professor of chemistry at Hampden-Sydney College in 1964, he joined faculty members whose time at the College spanned nearly five decades, like philosophy professor Maurice Allen, class of 1916, and physics professor Tom Gilmer, class of 1923. Porterfield not only listened to their advice, he listened to their stories. Upon his retirement in 2012, he recorded for posterity many of the most entertaining ones, sound bites of our past that span much of the twentieth century. The result, Things That Might Have Happened at Hampden-Sydney, is a wonderful collection of tales that will leave those familiar with H-SC’s colorful past both informed and in stitches.
One of the better chuckle-inducing yarns is spun in the chapter “Electrical Technology and Baseball.” Here, Porterfield entertains us with an antic on the diamond perpetrated by one Edward “Easy Ed” Crawford. Seems that before his esteemed career as a biology professor at H-SC, Crawford had a brief career as a professional baseball player on a Class D team in South Carolina. Perturbed by the cheating of an opposing player, who was well known for his signature move of literally holding a baserunner from advancing until he had to let go, Easy Ed hatched a scheme to ensure that the charlatan would be discovered by the umpire with evidence of his deceitful act right in his own hands. In this particular case Crawford’s plan worked like a charm, right up to the point when the bad guy gets caught. What happens next shall not be divulged here, thus saving you, the reader, from spilling your drink on this copy of the Record. Let’s just say the opposing player wasn’t the only one exposed.
Porterfield also recounts to great effect the founding of Hampden-Sydney’s Alpha Chi Sigma chapter, whose very first fundraiser was foiled by the (in)famous Dean of Students Lewis H. Drew ’60. In 1970, the fledgling group needed money and saw opportunity in the approaching Randolph-Macon game. Bored with the standard “Beat Macon” buttons, which were as popular then as they are now, the AXE students crafted something a bit more edgy, the “Screw Macon” button that you see here. The problem: Dean Drew wasn’t one to allow something so crass to be proffered on campus. The solution: 300 buttons, sold secretly at The Game for an instant fundraising success. Ah, but the best laid plans. In the days leading up to The Game, word spread quickly—too quickly—and Dean Drew picked up on it. His confiscation of 250 buttons made the remaining 50 something of a collector’s item, so rare and popular that years later he referred to the confiscated buttons as his retirement fund. Thankfully Porterfield purchased one before they became contraband, thus preserving an important piece of H-SC lore.
Occasionally, Porterfield grabs our attention with an intriguing chapter title. A few examples include “The Infirmary and the Butcher,” “What is the Opposite of Feng Shui?” “The Devil in the Dorm,” “Miss Bessie’s Funeral Day,” and “Francis, the Axeman.” (By the way, there is a portrait of Francis in Bortz Library that any of the librarians would be more than happy to show you, if you stop for a visit.) One notable example of Porterfield’s exaggeration is a chapter dear to this writer’s heart titled “Book Burning at Hampden-Sydney,” a condensed history of libraries at Hampden-Sydney College. Porterfield traces our collections from the two literary societies, to Winston Hall, then on to Eggleston Library, the first library building the college built. But of course, the chapter isn’t about a purposeful or protest-related burning of books—reprehensible portions of human history—rather, it is about a building and the books it housed. The Winston fire that cost the College a portion of its library collection is an important part of our past, and Porterfield’s account lets alumni and friends of the College know what actually happened.
Porterfield’s book could hardly be described as a tome. It is, however, an enjoyable read that this reader had a difficult time putting down. The sections are short and entertaining and as each one is completed, there is a hint of feeling like a child at bedtime, begging for just one more story.
Things That Might Have Happened is available through the Hampden-Sydney Campus Store online or by stopping in on your next visit to the Hill. You won’t be disappointed. You’ll be entertained!