More than 80 years later, Baylor students still honor the names of 10 students who died in a bus-train accident on January 22, 1927, in Round Rock. From Jack Castellaw to William Winchester, the Immortal Ten are alphabetically presented as their story is told at the annual Mass Meeting during Baylor's Homecoming week. They have become a hallowed tradition, collectively symbolizing the "Baylor spirit" that is made visible in the concluding candle-lighting ceremony on the steps outside in the chilly, late-night autumn darkness.
AbeKelley stands at the forefront of the memorial, holding a basketball. Kelley, who died in the wreck, sacrificed his life to save that of teammate Weir Washam, whom he pushed to safety through the window of the bus. The other nine victims include William Winchester, Willis Murray, Merle Dudley, Sam Dillow, Jack Castellaw, L.R.
IveyFoster, Bob Hailey, R. L. Hannah and James Walker.
BAssociation, Baylor Chamber of Commerce, Baylor University Student Life Fund, Baylor Yell Leaders, the Traditions Fund and other individuals.
In a way, this tradition started with a set of scrapbooks from Elizabeth "Bess" Autrey Jennings, the wife of football coach and athletic director Morley Jennings, who produced the Chapel period on Monday, January 23, 1928--the school day closest to the first anniversary, brought large scrapbooks in memory of the dead students.
During the regular anniversary of the tragedy, a memorial service was held for the Immortal Ten. For the next three years, Baylor held a similar memorial Chapel service, but the practice seems to have ended after President Samuel Palmer Brooks's death in 1931. By the wreck's anniversary in 1940, January 22 had effectively ceased to be a date of special observation on the Baylor calendar.
Enter the Mass Meeting, held in the fall of each year to kick off Homecoming activities. Described as having begun in 1928 in memory of the Round Rock victims, the event was staged to promote school spirit among freshman men by reviewing Baylor traditions and ideals. In 1947, following the cancellation of Homecoming during World War II, the Immortal Ten story entered a golden era of prominence and innovative presentation. That year the Mass Meeting, held on Thursday night, October 30, in Rena Marrs McLean Gymnasium, was "conducted by the yell leaders and dedicated to the Immortal Ten," the Lariat reported. The next morning the story was told in Waco Hall during Chapel, primarily for the benefit of Baylor's female students who remained excluded from the Mass Meeting.
During the next two decades, the one-two punch of Mass Meeting and Chapel presentations continued to keep the story dramatically alive. During the 1960s, the Mass Meeting became the tradition's primary home, with the creation of a separate Women's Mass Meeting in 1967, held the night before the men's gathering.
In 1972, the men's and women's meetings were merged, and in 1974 the event was moved from Marrs McLean to the hillside at the Baylor Marina after complaints that the wax drippings from hundreds of lit candles had damaged the gym's polished floor and grandstands. In the 1990s, the Mass Meeting moved again, this time to Waco Hall, and 10 p.m. was established as its regular starting hour. But throughout such changes, the annual gathering's focus has remained on the Immortal Ten and the unifying Baylor spirit they represent.
For Homecoming 2016, the Freshman Mass Meeting will be held in the Ferrell Center.
For the past several years, former Baylor football coach Grant Teaff has participated in the event--speaking about Baylor spirit and traditions--and Neil Knighton '75, MA '78, has told the story of the Immortal Ten.
As a student, Knighton had been a member of Baylor Chamber, and he felt the group's close connection to what happened in Round Rock in 1927. Two of those who died were Chamber members, and another had been elected to join Chamber the week before the accident. Perhaps it's natural that members of Chamber, steeped in Baylor's traditions, would feel the power of the Immortal Ten. But what significance do other Baylor students find in a 75-year-old story?
"One of the issues I try to bring out in my closing is that we don't make heroes out of these guys," Knighton says. "They are your roommates, or the friend across the hall, or the quiet guy that's a good athlete that maybe isn't the most popular guy on campus. These were kids just like the ones you're sitting next to tonight. The hero is the spirit of the Baylor tradition, and what we celebrate is acknowledging one another as important. Tradition is bound up in our relationships that we carry on for a lifetime. The stories help us enhance those relationships. That is the Baylor tradition."