The Demise of the Crocodile Club: A Town/Gown Tragedy at Yale

The following post was authored by Camila Tessler, archivist in Manuscripts and Archives. All references to archival collection material are to items from the William Henry Anderson Correspondence Regarding the Crocodile Club (MS 2018).

Image of William Henry Anderson letter to his father, 1858 January 9. (MS 2018, Box 1, folder 5).

William Henry Anderson letter to his father, 1858 January 9. (MS 2018, Box 1, folder 5).

On January 9, 1858, William Henry Anderson (Class of 1859) wrote to his father that the Crocodile Club, a Yale undergraduate group, was flourishing. In fact, he wrote, “I think I can safely say that [the Crocodile Club] is … the most popular club of all.” (MS 2018, Box 1, folder 5). A little more than a month later, on February 21, Anderson again wrote to his father, admitting that the faculty were recommending that the club disband. In a month’s time, how did Yale College’s “most popular club” fall so low as to be forced to disband by the faculty?

The Crocodile Club was a popular eating club, which provided a way for students to socialize and dine together. These eating clubs still exist at other Ivy League institutions, such as Princeton, but at Yale the only modern equivalents are the senior societies. The Crocodile Club was apparently successful, racking up bills of “nearly a thousand dollars” (Box 1, folder 4), which is the rough equivalent of $30,000 in today’s money. The club appears to have been comprised of many students who could afford to both eat out and board with the other “crocodiles.”

On the night of Feburary 9, 1858, following several nights of tension between New Haven firefighters stationed near the campus and groups of students, members of the Crocodile Club encountered a group of New Haven firemen while on their way back from dining. As an altercation between the two groups spiraled out of control, the leader among the group of firemen, a man named William Miles, was shot by one of the Yale students. (Lyman Hotchkiss Bagg, Four Years at Yale, New Haven: C.C. Chatfield & Co., 1871, pages 510-511).

Image of Letter from William Henry Anderson to his father, 9 February 1858 (MS 2018, Box 1, folder 6).

Letter from William Henry Anderson to his father, 9 February 1858 (MS 2018, Box 1, folder 6).

William Anderson was present and wrote to his father about the incident, his arrest, and the subsequent trial. He stated in a letter dated February 19, ten days after the incident, that “suspicion of course fell upon the club and perhaps justly and we were all implicated and are as much guilty as another in the eye of the law” (Box 1, folder 6). In the same letter, Anderson went on to relate to his father that “counsel advised me not to answer anything that would show I was there … and he advised all the rest to the same”. Their refusal to testify landed the boys in jail, but only nominally. Anderson claimed that he spent most of his jail time studying and did not suffer any inconvenience, though it is not altogether clear whether this is a fact, or something added to reassure a potentially concerned parent. Anderson’s letters are rife with reassurances to his parents that everything at Yale is fine, so playing down his jail time wouldn’t be completely out of character or context.

Image of excerpt from letter from William Henry Anderson to his father following his trial, 6 March 1858 (MS 2018, Box 1, folder 9).

Excerpt from letter from William Henry Anderson to his father following his trial, 6 March 1858 (MS 2018, Box 1, folder 9).

As the trial moved forward it quickly became apparent that justice favored gown over town. Even though Anderson clearly knew who shot Miles, he asserted that “I have the consciousness of knowing that I did not injure a person that night, not so much as a scratch. That consciousness, you know, will be worth worlds to me for if I knew that I had killed the man, even in self defense as what was done by whoever did it, I could hardly bear the thought” (Box 1, folder 8). Anderson continually refused to testify, as did the rest of the rest of the Crocodile Club group. Their silence bought them their legal innocence, as no one was sentenced to jail time. Anderson believed that it was “a very fair verdict” (Box 1, folder 9), since there were no legal consequences.

That lack of legal punishment did not, however, free the Crocodile Club members from consequences at Yale. In a letter to his father dated March 24, almost a full month after the end of the trial, Anderson revealed that “[the faculty] talked it over till noon and there decided to separate from the college three members of the club, Carrington, Smith, and Lorichell. This separation is about equivalent to a dismissal” (Box 1, folder 11). This dismissal was accompanied by a reference to any other college of their choice, so the dismissal, while a bold action on the part of the faculty, was one with a golden parachute.

Events where town and gown were diametrically opposed were common in the 1850s, and they are equally common today. The details of this case were so odd though, and the first-hand testimony in letters home from one of the participants so palpable, that the incident is worth exploring. Looking over historical cases such as the rise and fall of the Crocodile Club can help us to contextualize and have a clearer understanding of the relationship between Yale and New Haven over time. In this case Yale students were absolved Yale of a terrible crime through silence, and did serious damage to the town-gown relationship. We struggle with similar incidents today and can use the rise and fall of the Crocodile Club as one lens for examining accountability and justice in the ongoing, evolving relationship between the communities of Yale and New Haven.

Mary Johnson’s Legacy of New Haven Activism

The following post was written by Michael Brenes, Senior Archivist for American Diplomacy, Manuscripts and Archives.

The events at the end of the summer in Charlottesville, Virginia, brought into sharp focus the ongoing and painful legacy of racism in the United States. But the marches led by white supremacists, including members of the Ku Klux Klan—now collectively rebranded as the “Alt-Right”—also generated a resounding and determined resistance against the violence witnessed around the world, which echoed the vibrant history of social movements in the United States. Indeed, as much as the horror at Charlottesville revealed the conspicuous bigotry that remains prominent within sectors of the country, it also offered an opportunity for historical reflection—to assess the significant progress made on civil rights and race relations.

News clipping from an unknown paper documenting the Ku Klux Klan in New Haven for the taping of Sally Jesse Raphael Show, 1987 June 16. Mary Johnson Papers (MS 2050), Box 15, folder 12.

News clipping from an unknown paper documenting the Ku Klux Klan in New Haven for the taping of Sally Jesse Raphael Show, 1987 June 16. Mary Johnson Papers (MS 2050), Box 15, folder 12.

For the Yale and New Haven community, the moment recalls the 1980s, when members of the Ku Klux Klan held marches and rallies across Connecticut. In May 1980, Imperial Wizard Bill Wilkinson of the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan came to Hartford, Connecticut, in response to “an influx of applications” received by the hate group. Days after Wilkinson’s announcement, ten Klansmen burned a cross in Hartford near Bradley International Airport. By March 1981, the Klan arrived in Meriden looking for a confrontation. The hate group planned a march to recruit new members, creating a tense standoff between the Klan and counterprotestors. The march quickly turned violent, with demonstrators pelting Klansmen with bottles and bricks. The Klan was chased out of Meriden, but vowed to return. As recent Yale graduate Nelson Reed (’17) wrote in his senior essay , “[t]he Invisible Empire was like a parasite in Connecticut: small and persistent, the Klan wreaked havoc, threatening the state’s racial immune system,” much to the dismay of the state’s residents.

The Klan resurfaced in Connecticut again in 1987—this time, in New Haven. The talk-show host Sally Jesse Raphael invited members of the Aryan Youth Movement and James Farrands of the Shelton chapter of the Ku Klux Klan to a taping of her show in New Haven, ostensibly to discuss why they maintained such repugnant ideas. One of the leaders of the resistance against the Klan was Mary Johnson, a longtime activist in New Haven since the 1960s. Johnson argued that Raphael was sensationalizing white supremacy. Johnson told the New Haven Register, “The Klan has not made any attempt to come to New Haven in many years and [Raphael] has the gall to invite them, to give them a platform.” Johnson and fellow activists shouted down the Klan at the taping, forcing white supremacists in the audience to leave the stage.

"We Support the Unions at Yale," poster, circa 1980s. Mary Johnson Papers (MS 2050), Box 20.

“We Support the Unions at Yale,” poster, circa 1980s. Mary Johnson Papers (MS 2050), Box 20.

Mary Johnson’s run-in with the Klan represented only one moment in a lifetime of fighting against injustice. Her papers in Manuscripts and Archives—donated to Yale in 2016—demonstrate Johnson’s longstanding interest in a range of social issues, from dilapidated housing and poor public transportation in New Haven, to immigrant rights and union organizing. Johnson was also involved with the group Greater New Haven Coalition for People, whose records came to Manuscripts and Archives in 2014. Now processed and accessible to researchers, both collections offer multiple possibilities for researchers looking to discover more information about the history of social activism in New Haven and its connections to the Yale community.

Mary Johnson died on August 13th, 2017, but with her archival collection in Manuscripts and Archives, her storied and extensive legacy in New Haven activism and politics will endure.

"El Grupo Moncada" event poster, circa 1980s. Mary Johnson Papers (MS 2050), Box 20.

“El Grupo Moncada” event poster, circa 1980s. Mary Johnson Papers (MS 2050), Box 20.

Nuclear Formation: The Foundation of the International Festival of Arts and Ideas.

Residents of New Haven, Connecticut are most likely aware of the International Festival of Arts and Ideas. The International Festival of Arts and Ideas was founded in 1995 and incorporated in 1996, bringing lectures, art shows, and performances to the people of New Haven. Types of performances include theater, solo performance work, music, puppet work, slam poetry and photography exhibitions. Ideas related programs are equally as varied and has included such programs as comparing and contrasting literature in the United States and China, analysis of music about wars and soldiers, using the arts to help high-risk youths, and the state of the ecosystem of Long Island Sound. The city of New Haven is heavily utilized for the festival, with venues including Yale University, the Shubert Theater, the New Haven Green, shopping centers, and even street corners. There is also family programming, tours of different neighborhoods and institutions in the city, and master classes on a variety of topics.

By now, New Haven residents have gotten used to seeing festival flags on light posts, signs on the street pointing to venues and parking, and the massive soundstage that takes over the Green. However, a lot of folks may wonder how the Festival became such an event in the city. The answer is documented in Manuscripts and Archives recent acquisition of their records from 1988 to 2013 (International Festival of Arts and Ideas Records, MS 2021). Among fundraising records, staff files, board meeting materials, festival programs and ticket sales, and video recordings of several festival events, I found a group of files marked “Nucleus Committee.” Dating mainly back to 1995, it contains correspondence, reports, and presentations about bringing the festival to life.

The festival was started by a group of three community leaders: Anne Calabresi, Jean Handley and Roslyn “Roz” Meyer. Anne Calabresi is a social anthropologist and writer, with many philanthropic interests. She has ties with the Yale community as the wife of Second Circuit Appeals Court judge Guido Calabresi, who also serves as Sterling Professor Emeritus of Law and Professorial Lecturer here at the Yale law school and used to serve as their dean. Jean Handley, who sadly passed away in 2010, worked in public relations and corporate relations with companies such as the Southern New England Telephone Company (SNET) and AT&T. She also served on the Executive Board of the Long Wharf Theater. Dr. Roslyn Meyer is a psychologist who received her doctorate at Yale and decided to stay in New Haven, and worked with her husband to donate and help with many philanthropic causes in the area. She also tutored children in the community.

The three women had experience working in their communities.  Calabresi and Meyer had also already collaborated on bringing another group to life, Leadership, Education and Athletic Partnership (L.E.A.P.), which provides counselors to children in need in the New Haven area. Handley became involved in that organization as well. However, what interested the women just as much was bringing an arts festival to the New Haven area. They also were not content to leave it as simply an arts festival. They were also interested in bringing in academics and authorities on different topics to discuss ideas of historical, cultural, literary, political and scientific natures.

The women had a feeling that the New Haven area could and would sustain a festival of large size, especially after seeing the success of the Special Olympics World Games in town in 1995. According to the Festival’s website, Jean Handley started work before the Games, commissioning market research to figure out potential for a festival and even researched the time of the year where the weather would be best for such an undertaking. The data from this research was encouraging. In 1995, the women began reaching out to various contacts to help get this festival off the ground.

Contact List

The organizers, having experience in community work, had a fair idea of who they needed to speak to.

 

The reason why they decided to form it in the first place was from both a community building standpoint and an economic standpoint. The women in their various professional and philanthropic positions and roles in the community had seen the variety of people in New Haven and the variety of problems as well. They felt the arts could be a strong unifier for all. Additionally, they were interested in the impact the ideas part of their festival could have on the wider community. Economically, the founders had studied the impact of arts festivals like the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland and the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. Both festivals had transformed their host cities from sleepy towns to tourist attractions with increases in business, employment, and income all around. The women felt this could help New Haven, which often has large amounts of residents struggling financially.  There was also simply the fact that they could allow artists and thinkers the chance to present and perform to a wide audience made up of many different people who come from many walks of life.

Logo design

One of the prospective logo designs for the festival

The three leaders formed what they called the Nucleus Committee. These committee members started considering budgeting, fundraising, types of programming, structure of staffing, and even naming and logos. By August of 1995, the committee had 19 members. They had made the decision that the festival would last five days the first year (1996) and would continue to grow larger as they continued to fundraise and establish stable financing. Many of the larger institutions and venues of New Haven were approached about programming, including Yale University and the Shubert Theater. They also hired a Festival Director, Norman Frisch, who kept resigning repeatedly because he did not think they could mount a festival in a year and a half with the lack of funding and staffing.  However, when he finally settled into a consultant role, the committee moved forward despite his fears and mounted their festival with performers such as the Shanghai Quartet, Le Cirque Baroque, and Bread and Puppets Theater. It turned out to be a success.

In 2015, the Festival celebrated its 20th year in New Haven and lasted from June 12 to June 27. It’s safe to say that the people behind the organization have not flagged in their drive, passion, or intensity.

Festival programs

Programs from the 1997 and 2006 festivals.

Researchers who wish to use the collection may view the finding aid here. To learn more about researching at Manuscripts and Archives in general, visit our website here.

‘Bulldog and Panther’ Exhibit Opens

Bulldog and Panther: The 1970 May Day Rally and Yale – Memorabilia Room, Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University

Bulldog and Panther exhibit poster1969 and 1970 were politically tumultuous years in the United States and indeed around the world. Unrest in U.S. urban areas and on college and university campuses focused on racial and gender inequalities, the ongoing U.S. war in Vietnam, and demands by students for more responsive and inclusive campus decision making. On 19 May 1969 Black Panther Party (BPP) member Alex Rackley was kidnapped and killed in New Haven by other BPP members who believed he was an FBI informant. In a time of intense FBI counter-intelligence focus on neutralizing the BPP’s influence in U.S. cities, the broad swath of indictments for the murder seemed an overreach to many. The defendants were referred to as the New Haven Nine, an allusion to the famous Chicago Seven, and included Bobby Seale, national BPP Chairman, who had spoken at Yale the day of the murder. Seale was extradited to Connecticut on the approval of California Governor Ronald Reagan, and the trial was set to begin in May 1970. A large protest rally was organized for the New Haven Green, scheduled for 1-3 May 1970. This exhibit explores the events leading up to the New Haven May Day rally, and its impact on Yale, the New Haven community, and beyond.

The exhibit is curated by Sarah Schmidt, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and Bill Landis, Manuscripts and Archives. It is free and open to the public Monday-Friday, 8:30 AM-4:45 PM, through May 16, 2014.

For additional resources on the exhibit see the New Haven Register article on a discussion panel, part of a collaborative series of events inspired by the exhibit hosted by the Yale University Library and Pierson College. The panel, held on February 26th, was moderated by Yale history professor Beverly Gage and featured Kathleen Cleaver, Ann Froines, and John R. Williams. Yale TV also did a feature on the exhibit, with interesting interview segments with Henry “Sam” Chauncey, Jr.

Yale Alumni Magazine | The Lincoln Tree and the bones

In the current edition of the Yale Alumni Magazine, Chief Research Archivist Judith Schiff writes about the Lincoln Memorial Tree on New Haven Green and what its toppling last fall during Superstorm Sandy revealed about the history of the Green. Her column begins:

A massive old oak tree on the New Haven Green, across from the Old Campus, was toppled by Superstorm Sandy on October 29. It was the historic Lincoln Memorial Tree, and the unfolding story of its loss and the discovery of the macabre contents revealed in its tangled roots captured the attention of the media and became Halloween headline news. On October 30, a passerby spotted a skull and partial skeleton in the upturned root ball; on closer examination by the state archaeologist, more bones were found. The skeletal remains—possibly representing two adults and two children—are now in the Yale laboratory of Gary Aronsen ’04PhD, a research associate in anthropology and archaeological studies, for further study.

The remains represented a few among the thousands of interments that took place in the period when the Green, especially the area behind the First Church (now Center Church), served as the town burying ground—from 1638, when New Haven was founded, until 1797, when the Grove Street Cemetery was created.

For the full column, see “The Lincoln Tree and the Bones” in the March/April 2013 edition of the Yale Alumni Magazine.

Earth Day and May Day Cross-fertilization at Yale, 1970

In the heady days of the spring of 1970, Senator Edward M. Kennedy came to Yale on Earth Day (April 22, 1970) to speak, on the occasion of the nation’s first Earth Day, at a Yale Political Union luncheon in Commons. In the afternoon after Kennedy’s speech, a teach-in on “The Politics of Pollution” was scheduled in the Yale Law School auditorium.

Earth Day in 1970 coincided with the pre-trial proceedings for the “New Haven Nine” trials and increasing tensions in New Haven and on the Yale campus over the heavy-handed response of the Nixon administration and the FBI’s secret Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) to the 1969 kidnapping, torture, and murder by members of the Black Panther Party of Alex Rackley, a New Haven Black Panther member who was suspected of being an FBI informant. These events ultimately led to the May Day strike/rally on May 1-3, 1970, and the temporary suspension of academic activities at Yale.

Student protests over the Black Panther trials spilled over into the Earth Day events when Ralph Dawson, Class of 1971 and moderator of the Black Students Alliance at Yale (BSAY), and Kurt Schmoke, Secretary of the Class of 1971, interrupted the Yale Political Union luncheon to appeal for support for the jailed New Haven Black Panthers. That cross-fertilization of activism was captured in this image from the May 1970 issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine, and can also found in the collections of Manuscripts and Archives.

Discussing New Haven History

Chief Research Archivist Judith Schiff took part in a discussion on the history of New Haven and the New Haven Register on the WNPR radio talk show Where We Live. Click on the link that follows to listen to the broadcast (Judith enters the discussion 6:25 into the show).

    Where We LIve (December 6, 2012)

Manuscripts and Archives offers dozens of collections pertinent to New Haven history. Among the more heavily used are:

  • Oral Histories Documenting New Haven, Connecticut: http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/mssa.ru.1055. The materials consist of audio recordings and transcripts of oral histories conducted by New Haven Oral History Project staff with New Haven, Connecticut, citizens.
  • Buildings, Grounds and Landmarks in New Haven Photographs: http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/mssa.ru.0685. The materials consist of maps, photographs, engravings, drawings, slides, and lithographs of New Haven, Connecticut scenes, residences, buildings, and landmarks. The bulk of The materials consist of photographs of New Haven and surrounding environs from 1860-1930s. Included are aerial views, scenes of the New Haven Green, photographs of streets, and various individual residences. Of particular interest are the snapshots of houses used for tax purposes, or as documentation of the structure before demolition.
  • Yale Student papers Collection: http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/mssa.ru.0331. The collection consists of research papers and essays by Yale students. Included are many prize-winning essays on New Haven and Yale history.
  • Richard C. Lee Papers: http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/mssa.ms.0318. The papers contain correspondence, memoranda, position papers, reports, speeches, appointment books, photographs, scrapbooks, and films documenting the career of Richard C. Lee, mayor of New Haven, 1954-1969. The Lee Papers document the professional and public life of Lee, not his personal life. The papers contain correspondence and other materials on the practice of urban politics, urban renewal, New Haven’s efforts in the war on poverty, civil rights and race relations, town-gown relations, and his interaction with local and state Democratic Party leaders. The papers also include campaign files covering the period 1949-1968, appointment books, photographs documenting the course of redevelopment, a small amount of material on Lee’s life after he left office, and political scrapbooks.
  • New Haven Redevelopment Agency Records: http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/mssa.ms.1814. Project files, minutes, correspondence, and property records, documenting the work of the New Haven Redevelopment Agency, primarily from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Another valuable resource for New Haven History is the New Haven Museum, located at 114 Whitney Avenue. Collections related to the founding of the New Haven colony to its present are accessible at the Museum’s Whitney Library. To plan a research visit, please see http://www.newhavenmuseum.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=38&Itemid=103.