04: The first Homecoming

It's hard to believe now but during its first 63 years, Baylor did not have any formal festivities designed to invite its former students to gather and renew their ties with the University.

That changed in 1909. Acting on an idea first championed by President Samuel Palmer Brooks and supported by Baylor's literary societies, the Baylor faculty that spring voted that a homecoming reunion would take place during Thanksgiving week in November.

The reunion was intended to provide "an opportunity for the joyful meeting of former friends and to serve as an occasion when old classmates could again feel the warm handclasp of their fellow students, recall old memories and associations, and catch the Baylor spirit again."

Committees were formed to spread the word, letters were mailed to Baylor alumni throughout the country, and notices were placed in various Texas newspapers.

The appeals were successful, as alumni began pouring onto campus Nov. 24. They arrived in time for an opening ceremony featuring the Baylor band playing the newly composed Home-Comers March, followed by a pep rally and a bonfire featuring a "war dance" around the flames. Baylor alumnus George W. Truett presented the official Homecoming address at a ceremony that night in Carroll Chapel.

The next day was Nov. 25--Thanksgiving Day--and members of the Baylor family spent the morning greeting friends old and new. After lunch, everyone hurried to downtown Waco, where one of Baylor's oldest and most beloved traditions--the Homecoming Parade--had its first observance.

Beginning at 2 p.m. on Washington Avenue, the parade slowly made its way to the Baylor campus, led by the Baylor band with its hard-to-miss drum major, who was 6-foot-6 and donned a bearskin cap for the occasion.

Following the band was a 25-block-long parade of automobiles, horse-drawn carriages and buggies, numbering more than 130. Many were decorated in Baylor's green and gold school colors. A number of Waco business owners contributed vehicles to the procession, including R.T. Dennis' automobile completely covered in bright yellow chrysanthemums.

The procession made its way to Carroll Field on the Baylor campus, where a crowd of almost 5,000 watched Baylor fight for a 6-3, come-from-behind victory over Texas Christian University, which was located in Waco at the time and was Baylor's biggest athletic rival.

During the game, the Baylor crowd was quite vocal, filled as it was with alumni "long used to the quieting ways of the world (who) forgot the cares of business and the dignities of pulpit or office, and yelled their loyal voices to croupy frazzles."

Although Baylor's first Homecoming was roundly considered a success, for various reasons the event was not repeated until 1915, when the first floats were introduced. Homecoming would become an annual event starting in 1924, with a few exceptions during World War II. The spirit of that first grand reunion has burned brightly for 106 years now, and historians have since determined that Baylor's 1909 Homecoming was likely the nation's first such collegiate reunion celebration.