Long before Tech students thought of removing letters from Tech Tower, a small party of students boldly climbed it to add letters.
In the earliest days of Tech, when there were only a few hundred students in the school, strong bonds formed amongst the members of each class and major, not unlike the bonds associated with fraternities in later years. Each class was very spirited for itself and maintained a fierce rivalry with all the other classes. Usually this rivalry was expressed athletically, but it could spill forth most anywhere.
In February 1902, the campus started to break out in painted class numerals. Windows bore marks like ‘03 and ‘04, representing the various classes, and the trend developed of placing the marks higher and higher, so that they could be seen further and further away.
The ultimate effort appeared on the steeple of the Academic Building (as Tech Tower was then known) Saturday night, March 1, 1902. On Sunday morning, students emerged from the dormitories to see “T & M 02” painted on the roof in large white characters. It was clear that the textile and mechanical engineering students of the Senior Class had permanently secured the record for placing their marks the highest.
On Monday morning before classes, the student body gathered, according to the usual practice, in the chapel, which was located on the main floor of the Academic Building where the registrar’s office is now. There, the faculty announced its displeasure with the new markings. The students’ earlier efforts had been overlooked, but this time a workman would have to be hired to perform a dangerous cleaning operation. The cost would be assessed against the Senior Class, unless the actual perpetrators were discovered or someone confessed.
The next day, Edward Klein, a senior in textile engineering and hence automatically a suspect, stopped by the administrative office of the school to pick up money due to him from the scholarship he was receiving from Pittsburgh industrialist Arthur French (after whom the A. French Building is named). Klein commented in passing that he supposed the boys were satisfied with their pranks now. The administrator who heard him said sternly that the culprit was known and that it would be best if the guilty party turned himself in. Klein didn’t reply.
Later that day, President Hall’s investigation uncovered that James Anthony, a senior in mechanical engineering, was responsible. Anthony was suspended, pending a hearing before the faculty. On Thursday, Klein and another textile senior, Alex Windsor, went to President Hall and confessed that they had assisted Anthony and were ready to share his punishment. They were suspended as well. Hall was known as a stern disciplinarian and many of the students expected that the painters would be expelled. The three students were popular, as was the deed, so several other seniors came to President Hall and asked to share their punishment, hoping that it would be ameliorated. He sent them away.
The faculty convened on Friday afternoon at 3:00 PM. The three students testified and the full story became clear. As members of various classes placed their numbers higher and higher, several members of the senior class had discussed how to best respond and advance their own class honor. Painting the steeple was mentioned. Shortly thereafter, the three decided amongst themselves that they had better do the job before anyone else did it first.
Normally, students were required to be in their rooms between certain hours, but on this night, dormitory inspectors would excuse students for meetings of the Engineering Society, held in one of the classrooms of the Academic Building. Klein and Windsor were members of the Society, and Anthony could go as their guest. The three seniors left the dormitory for the meeting a little early and climbed the outside of the building with ropes, working in near complete darkness. The moon had not yet risen and there were no street lights for miles. They brought up a short ladder with them, which they tied on the ledge that ran under the highest windows of the steeple. Anthony climbed the ladder and, reaching as high as he could, painted the letters on the roof. The job took longer than they anticipated and the Engineering Society meeting that was to provide their alibi was over before they were done. Even if it had still been going on, they were too dirty to go by the time they had made their way up and down the outside of the tower with the ladder and paint. They returned to the dormitory, managing to avoid being seen by the inspector until after they had cleaned up and stowed their equipment.
The faculty were primarily concerned that students respect their authority, so once they were satisfied the painting was merely a matter of class rivalry and not an intentional affront to them, they were not greatly concerned about the prank. The professors voted that, as soon as the three students had paid for the roof to be cleaned, they would able to resume classes. The faculty was actually more concerned that the students had been out after hours for unauthorized activities. Anthony had explained, sensibly enough, during his testimony, that the three had not done the deed during the day because they would have been caught. The faculty reprimanded the students for abusing the privilege of being allowed out at night. Such conduct, they stated, was unbecoming of members of the Senior Class.
While Klein and Windsor got equal blame with Anthony from the administration, Anthony received the lion’s share of the credit for the feat from the students. The next issue of the student magazine The Georgia Tech contained comments from various writers such as:
The people of Atlanta loved the feat as well. Though Klein had stated in his testimony that he did not want the story to reach the papers, it was covered by both The Atlanta Constitution and The Atlanta Journal in their March 8th issues. Anthony got most of the credit from the public as well the students. His greatest accolade came from local writer Urania Lege, whose poem about the steeple painting was published in The Atlanta Journal on March 9th:
News of Anthony’s efforts spread widely as the stories in the Atlanta newspapers were reprinted. Jim’s father, Rev. Bascom Anthony, pastor of Trinity Methodist Church in Savannah, Georgia, had this to say when interviewed by his local newspaper:
Atlanta Constitution, March 8, 1902, p. 11 “Tech Students Are Reinstated”
Atlanta Constitution, March 15, 1902, p. 9 “Father Proud of Son’s Feat”
Atlanta Journal, March 8, 1902, p. 7 “Tech Boys Reinstated by the Faculty”
The Georgia Tech, March 1902, pp. 25‒6
The Georgia Tech, April 1902, p. 30
Minutes of the Georgia Tech Faculty, Volume 2, pp. 135‒6