Little Bits of History

April 23

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 23, 2017

1879: A fire starts at the University of Notre Dame. The Catholic research university was established on November 26, 1842 near South Bend, Indiana. Father Edward Sorin, CSC (Congregation of the Holy Cross) was the founder and first president of the then all-male institution. It was built on land donated by the Bishop of Vincennes, Indiana. Sorin arrived at the site with eight Holy Cross brothers from France and Ireland on November 26 and opened school in Father Stephen Badin’s log chapel. They began building with the Old College building, the first church, and the first main building. They began with just two students as a primary and secondary school, but by 1844 were given a charter by the Indiana General Assembly granting them full college status.

The first main building, or administrative center, came under construction on August 28, 1843 shortly after architect Mr. Marsile arrived on the scene. It was completed by fall 1844. It was a 4 ½ story brick building without a dome and built in the French style. The second Main Building replaced the first and was built between 1864 and 1865. It was larger and six stories high with a dome on top. Mr. Thomas of Chicago was the architect and it was built by brothers of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. Classes were held on the third floor and the upper two floors were dormitories.

On this day, at about 11 AM, smoke and flames could be seen rising from the roof. Men had been working on repairs on the roof until an hour earlier. Students and faculty began a bucket brigade and attempted to put the fire out. Steam engines sprayed water onto the roof, but the fire continued to spread and before the all-volunteer South Bend fire department could arrive, the building was engulfed. Attempts to put out the fire were abandoned and instead, they began to try and save valuables from the lower floors, tossing items out of windows to people below – many of which crashed to the ground and broke anyway. In three hours, the building was entirely consumed. The fire spread to other nearby buildings as well. The $200,000 loss was covered by only $45,000 insurance.

Father Sorin and university president Rev. William Corby immediately began plans to rebuild. The new design was by Willoughby J Edbrooke who had plans ready by May 10th. Groundbreaking for the new Main Building was held on May 17. Funded by donations and bringing in skilled stonemasons from far and wide. Workers and volunteers moved quickly and the building grew almost overnight. The building was completed before the fall semester of 1879. The not yet Golden Dome was finished in September of 1882. It was gilded in 1886 and topped with a 19 foot statue of “Our Mother”. The Golden Dome is the most recognized landmark of the University and stands brightly at 187 feet high.

An atheist is a man who watches a Notre Dame – Southern Methodist University game and doesn’t care who wins. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

You don’t go to Notre Dame to learn something; you go to Notre Dame to be somebody. – Lou Holtz

You have to be equal at both – great at football and great at dedicating yourself to the academics at Notre Dame. It’s hard. There are no rooty-toot classes for athletes in South Bend. – Justin Tuck

In 1953 there were two ways for an Irish Catholic boy to impress his parents: become a priest or attend Notre Dame. – Phil Donahue


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 10, 2013
Knute Rockne

Knute Rockne

November 10, 1928: Notre Dame plays at Yankee Stadium, meeting the undefeated Army football team. Knute Rockne learned to play football on the streets of Chicago and played with a local group and then again in high school. He saved enough money to continue his education in South Bend, Indiana where he ran track and played football. After graduation, he was a lab assistant working with polymer chemist, JA Nieuwland. Rather than continue his scientific career, he opted to become the football coach for Notre Dame University. He became one of the greatest coaches in history. His career spanned 1918-1930 with 105 victories, 12 losses, and 5 ties. His team won six national championships.

George Gipp has been listed as one of the best college ball players. The Notre Dame football star played various positions, mostly halfback. Only two weeks after being chosen Notre Dame’s first All-American player, he was ill and dying in the hospital. Without antibiotics, a virulent case of strep throat was lethal. His coach came to see the Gipper and was told, “I’ve got to go, Rock. It’s all right. I’m not afraid. Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, ask them to go in there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock. But I’ll know about it, and I’ll be happy.” In one of the greatest locker room speeches ever given, Coach Rockne used this to fire up his team against the undefeated opponents. Final score: Notre Dame 12; Army 6.

Rockne introduced the “shift” where the backfield was lined up in a T formation, but the players shifted to a box formation as the ball was snapped. He did not invent the forward pass but did popularize it. Rockne himself admitted the play was introduced at St. Louis University by coach Eddie Cochens who had Bradbury Robinson throw the first pass in 1906. Rockne died in a plane crash at the age of 43.

The Gipper’s own career at Notre Dame was stellar. He led the team in both rushing and passing for the 1918, 1919, and 1920 seasons. He rushed for 2,341 yards, a record that held for more than half a century. Gipp threw for 1,789 yards. He did not allow a pass completion in his territory. He scored 83 touchdowns. He played both offensive and defensive positions. It is rumored he was late for curfew and contracted pneumonia and strep throat while sleeping outside but it is far more likely he became ill while giving punting lessons after his last game. He died at age 25.

“Let’s win one for the Gipper.”

“One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than fifty preaching it.”

“Win or lose, do it fairly.”

“Build up your weaknesses until they become your strong points.”

“I’ve found that prayers work best when you have big players.” – all from Knute Rockne

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The University of Notre Dame is a private, coeducational institution located in South Bend, Indiana. It was founded in 1842 when the Bishop of Vincennes offered land to Father Edward Sorin of the Congregation of Holy Cross in order to build the school. It began as a primary and secondary school, but soon became a college. It was also only for men at the time so Saint Mary’s College was founded for women. The Fighting Irish colors of gold and blue are used by the 26 sports teams. Their mascot is a leprechaun and they belong to the NCAA Division I. Their long tradition of football began when they played Michigan’s Wolverines in 1887. They have won 13 national championships, only 11 claimed by the university. They have the most members in the College Football Hall of Fame and are tied with Ohio State University for the number of Heisman Trophy winners. They have the second highest winning percentage in NCAA history (Knute Rockne’s 0.881 % wins from 1918 to 1930). The highest is held by Mount Union with Larry Kehes at 0.929% from 1986 to 2012.

Also on this day: Brought to You by the Letters J and H and the Number 1 – In 1969, Sesame Street come to PBS, bringing along a whole cast of characters.
War Criminal – In 1865, Henry Wirz was hanged.
Shut Up – In 2007, two heads of state got into an argument.