Blog Post #19
by Jane Van Ryan
With the 2016 University of Tennessee football team filling the sports pages of the Knoxville News-Sentinel these days, this is the perfect time to reflect back on UT’s long football history. For decades, UT football has dominated the hearts and minds of Knoxville’s residents and college students, including the city’s young socialites in the early Twentieth Century. Evelyn Hazen, who graduated from UT and was the last resident of the Mabry-Hazen House, attended not only the home games in the 1920s but also some of the out-of-town games.
During the so-called Roaring Twenties, UT football games already were drawing huge crowds, especially among the young and prosperous alumni who lived in Knoxville. Many of the city’s young businessmen had money—and often a flask of illegal booze—in their pockets. Young women—those from families with means or a well-heeled husband—made frequent trips to New York City where they could afford to purchase the most fashionable clothing and hats.
Furthermore, Knoxville residents could travel virtually anywhere they wanted to go by passenger train. To go to the 1927 UT football game held at the University of Kentucky, several of Knoxville’s UT alumni boarded a train the evening before the game to travel to Lexington.
Evelyn Hazen was invited to attend the game by her fiancé Ralph Scharringhaus. Assuming that Evelyn’s doting parents would not allow her to travel alone with him, Ralph also invited Gertrude Penland, the sister of his best friend Clifford Penland. The plan called for Evelyn and Gertrude to sleep at one end of the Pullman sleeper car with the women, and for Ralph to stay at the other end with the men.
Pullman cars nearly all were sleeping cars at night and seating cars during the day. Tickets cost more than the standard “coach” fare because passengers not only paid for the trip but also paid a fee for the privilege of having a bed during the night. Some of the cars also were equipped with large separate bathrooms for women and men, and each had a porter to assist the passengers. Pullman cars on more expensive and luxurious trains, such as the “Crescent Limited” of the Southern Railway, also had maids for the female passengers as well as manicurists, barbers, and secretarial services.
In the 1920s, the Pullman Company called itself the largest hotel in the United States, providing 100,000 sleeping accommodations to travelers every night. In the evening, the porter assigned to each Pullman car would fold down the upper and lower berths on both sides of the center aisle. Then he would hang very heavy privacy curtains in front of the berths.
The porters were African Americans, making the Pullman Company the single largest employer of African American men. As part of their jobs, the porters also shined passengers’ shoes at night, removed the curtains in the morning, folded up the berths and returned the Pullman cars to their seating configuration, and helped with luggage. They worked an estimated 400 hours a month, getting as little as three hours of sleep every night. In 1925, they established a union called the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to improve their working conditions.
When Evelyn, Ralph, and Gertrude arrived at the train station to embark on their journey, Evelyn asked Ralph to see her ticket. He refused to show it to her. Only later did she learn that her berth was located directly above his in the Pullman car, nowhere near Gertrude’s berth. After everyone had gone to bed, Ralph shoved notes up to Evelyn, demanding that to be allowed to join her. To avoid waking up all of the Knoxvillians in the car and avoid causing a scene, she finally allowed him to climb up to her berth behind the curtain.
The 1927 UT game in Lexington was the last time Ralph invited Evelyn to accompany him to an out-of-town football game. Rather than spending several evenings a week with Evelyn, he played poker at the homes of his friends and, as she learned later, had dates with other women. Eventually, Ralph became infatuated with Elizabeth Goforth, a young married woman in his social circle, and broke his engagement to Evelyn.
By the way, UT won the so-called Battle of the Barrel in 1927 by a score of 20-0 and claimed the coveted beer barrel trophy awarded to the winner of the long-standing rivalry. The wooden barrel was painted half orange and half blue and became associated with the Tennessee-Kentucky annual gridiron contest in 1925. It was discontinued as a tradition in 1998 following the fatal car crash of two UK football players a week before the game. At that point, the universities decided it was time to end the connection between alcoholic beverages and sports.
According to Wikipedia, the barrel has not been on display since 1997. It was in UT’s possession when UK and UT stopped using it as a trophy. Wikipedia reports its location has not been disclosed to the public.