Recently, a couple of representatives from a Monteagle women’s group gave Tennessee Tech University president Dr. Philip Oldham an interesting and very unexpected proposition, an offer to buy back the legendary golden eagle that sits on top of the school’s administrative building, Derryberry Hall.
“Monteagle is going through a resurgence of community identity tied to its unique history,” stated “Monteagle Woman for a Better Tomorrow” (MW4BT) member Iva Michelle Russell. “The Monteagle eagle always seems to come up when we talk about our past, so we did some research on the old story that reminded us of an Animal House prank, and just got to thinking. Of course, some of our thinking involved camo, ropes and some awesome power tools, so us gals thought we would be a little proactive and have a sit-down with the school president before things got out of hand,” laughed Russell. “I was just thinking in my head, Lord, I wonder how many bake sales it will take to buy the eagle back if they actually agree. But heck, I am in anyway, let’s go for it,” said Kay Ramsey, another MW4BT member who attended the meeting.
Apparently, Tennessee Tech is like-minded, with its 100 year anniversary coming up in 2015. “Traditions are important on any college campus, and we are seeking ways to embrace our history as we approach our Centennial Celebration,” said Oldham. “The Monteagle eagle is one of our greatest legends, with many alumni from the 50s retelling their memories of how the eagle came to campus.”
For many, the Monteagle eagle story is a golden memory of guts and glory and political intrigue in Tennessee. Legend has it that during the 1952-53 school year, several Tech students braved a driving night rainstorm to pilfer a huge eagle statue from the charred ruins of a resort hotel in Monteagle. It is said, they painted the creature, with a wingspan of over six feet, a glistening gold, and brought it out to rally the crowd for the big football game against rival MTSU.
Then Governor Frank G. Clement, a lifelong friend of the hotel owner John W. Harton, worked out a “compromise” between his friend and the school students, who wanted to retain the eagle as their mascot. Harton officially donated the eagle to Tech on June 5, 1958, in exchange for $500 from TTU president Everett Derryberry. The unofficial story still lives on in the hearts and minds of all involved.
Although Oldham graciously declined the Monteagle ladies recent offer to buy back the eagle, a compromise may be in the works. “The rich histories and traditions of Monteagle and Tennessee Tech are forever intertwined,” Oldham said. “It seems appropriate for us to find ways to celebrate that for future generations to enjoy.”
What do the gutsy women think? “Carpe Diem indeed,” stated Russell. “Although the thought of our mountain brethren pulling off a black ops version of a Duck Dynasty episode still tickles me to death, I would love to see our eagle celebrated and remembered in a meaningful way. Her spirit is a part of all of us here on the mountain. We look forward to working with Tennessee Tech on this incredibly fun mutual history project.”