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Architectural Archrivalry

Built in 1951, the Coke Building was originally a white brick structure. Legend has it that a sneaky t-sipper sold the university bricks that would turn a burnt orange color after several years. But there was no such covert operation; instead, the bricks were intentionally chosen to transition into a reddish-pink shade as a tribute to the early campus buildings’ cherry-red brickwork.

Across Simpson Drill Field, the Albritton Bell Tower displays a clock face with “IIII” signifying the number four. Some have interpreted this as an aversion to the Roman numeral “IV” looking too much like “T.U.” However, many European clocks built before the 17th century also used “IIII.” There are competing explanations as to why: Some argue the Europeans simply mirrored the first Roman sundials crafted before “IV” was standard. Others focus on “IIII” being easier to read or creating a pleasant visual balance—dividing the face into neat thirds of I’s, I’s and V’s, and I’s and X’s.

Some have even pointed to the Latin spelling of Jupiter, “IVPPITER,” theorizing that early clockmakers sought to avoid offending the mythical god of the sky and thunder by using an abbreviation of his name. While the tower’s craftsmen were not so superstitious, it’s nice to know that Aggieland is insured against the ancient deity’s wrath regardless.

Photo provided by Texas A&M Marketing & Communications

Newer Than It Looks

Many assume the beloved Century Tree was planted the same year as the university’s founding in 1876. While the sprawling live oak is certainly old, Gretchen Riley ’00 of the Texas A&M Forest Service estimates it was planted around the turn of the 20th century. A 1908 campus bulletin documents a live oak planted in 1891 that matches the Century Tree’s location and dimensions. “If it isn’t the Century Tree in the 1908 photo,” said Riley, “then the Century Tree would’ve had to have been planted as an extremely large tree in 1910 or shortly thereafter.” Thus, the tree is likely about 133 years old—but it’s aging so gracefully, it doesn’t look a day over 119.

Photo provided by Cushing Memorial Library and Archives

Tuba or Not Tuba?

Some Ags note the conspicuous absence of tubas among the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band’s assortment of instruments, and many believe it’s an intentional omission along the lines of the clock tower myth: “Nothing in the Aggie Band should start with ‘t.u.’!”

But according to the band’s director, Dr. Timothy Rhea, there is a more straightforward answer. “We purposefully use sousaphones, a special marching tuba,” he stated. “Created around 1893 by J.W. Pepper at the direction of American bandleader John Philip Sousa, it was designed to be easier to play while standing or marching than the concert tuba and to carry the sound of the instrument above the heads of the band.” Still, the semantic difference between sousaphones and tubas has taken a life of its own among current band members, so don’t expect them to start saying “tuba” anytime soon.

Photo provided by Cushing Memorial Library and Archives

Sbisa Amnesia

When Texas A&M University’s first dedicated mess hall went up in flames in 1911, the university’s devoted steward of subsistence, Bernard Sbisa, ran in and out of the burning building to gather enough materials to cook outdoors and ensure cadets had breakfast. It was the only meal he ever served late on record. When a new dining hall opened two years later, it bore the name of the man who passionately served the student body quality meals for more than five decades.

Given his legacy of service, it’s unfortunate that Aggies have accidentally mispronounced his Italian surname ever since. That’s right—it’s not “suh-bee-suh.” According to former Texas A&M archivist David Chapman ’67 and historical documents from Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Bernard’s name is properly pronounced more like “speez-uh.” It’s not too late to start saying his name correctly, but be warned: Correcting others may get you uninvited from the next social gathering.

Photo provided by Cushing Memorial Library and Archives

A Not-So-Sacred Cow

On a Sunday morning around 3 a.m. in 1917, four Aggie cadets snuck into the South Austin stockyards searching for a certain rival school’s Longhorn mascot. Once located, the cadets branded the bovine with the score from Texas A&M’s victory in Kyle Field the season before, “13-0.” When the mascot was officially christened “Bevo,” Aggies claimed that the name came from an attempt at damage control, with The University of Texas simply combining the 1 and 3 to create a B, making an E out of the dash, adding a V and keeping the zero to create “BEVO.”

Unsurprisingly, sources in Austin dispute this. According to them, a school reporter unofficially named the steer in writing days before the night operation, most likely after a non-alcoholic “near-beer” of the same name produced by Anheuser-Busch. Now, our rivals do have evidence substantiating their version of events, but to paraphrase Mark Twain, the truth should never get in the way of a story we’d prefer to believe instead.

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