Suppression of Moss in old Buildings

So Lois posted something involving moss, so I had to post this and get it out of my web browser.

6 years before the infamous pranque, a different scandal happened at “the Indiana College”. This time the students were clearly on the right side in my opinion.

The prezident of the College in 1884 was some dude with the crusty sounding name Lemuel Moss. I already don’t like him because he is styled by WikipediA (quoting an offline author) a “preacher president”. I do not know what the late 1800’s Baptist theology was like, but have read some published tracts of the time and cannot recommend them.

Anyway, six students and the janitor determined to spy on this dude in his office. Whether they did so for “the fun of it”, because they wanted to validate a rumor, or for another purpose I cannot tell. They used a hatchet, hand saw and manual drill to poke a hole into the ceiling of his office (!!) and applied themselves to watching.

Before getting to the sad results, take a look at them:

Left to right in back: James Zwingle Alexander McCaughan (junior); David Kopp Goss (sophmore); Joseph Woods Wiley (junior); Lucian Rhorer Oakes (senior). Left to right in front: Edward A. Hall (unknown); Thomas Spicer (1885 hon caus); Morton William Fordice (junior)

The janitor in the middle is something else to me. The term “janitor” has long had an insulting, depreciatory connotation. One of the interviewed janitors in “Color it Clean” mentions the contemptuous public belief of someone who (3:15) “hasn’t got enough brains to come up out of the cellar”. A bit further back in time, a series of boys’ books set at a private boarding school has his characters mercilessly make their sport of “Peleg Snuggers” for his presumed illiteracy. I have to wonder if this janitor’s nickname, Uncle Tommy, has shades of that.

Here he is the central figure, both in the color of his suit (with tie!) and position in the arrangement. The railroad lantern he holds is a reminder of his work duty during only/mostly dark times and places at cleaning and maintenance. His wearing a suit is something totally out of character for the stereotypical “bib overalls and sloppy pants” (3:20) wearer and he comes across as the most dignified of the seven.

Because this was the era when colleges only taught classical matters and technical education was for (sneer) “tradesmen”, Latin – and Greek, as we shall see – was rife. Someone wrote on the back of this photograph:

– Septem Muscicidae – | Hic videas Septem Muscicidas | Et Aspice Tela Muscicidarum

or in the English language:

– Seven Moss Killers – | Here you may see seven Moss Killers. | And look at the weapons of the Moss Killers.

What this lead to is detailed in the New York Times of November 17, 1884:


Charges Against the Rev. Dr. Moss, President of the State University.

Indianapolis, Nov. 16.—Nothing has created a more profound sensation in this State than the allegation of scandal affecting President Lemuel Moss, of the State University, formerly of the Chicago University, and President of the National Baptist Association. The lady involved was assistant Professor of Greek, a beautiful and accomplished girl, of one of the best families of this city. She has a brother in the navy, Lieut. Grayden, who has just resigned to take charge of a naval school at Hong Kong for the Chinese Government. The doctor has been President of the university about nine years, and for some time there have been reports affecting the discreetness of his conduct. The charges do not go so far as criminal intimacy, but it is confessed that he, over 50, and the girl, about 25, were over fond of each other, and indulged in dalliance, which was observed by students who had punctured holes through the ceiling of her recitation room. The doctor has resigned, pending an investigation, which will probably be made by a church council of leading men of the Baptist Church, some from New-York City and State having been invited to participate. The national reputation of Dr. Moss gives the trouble unusual importance. He is still in Bloomington, and, while declining to talk of the details of the matter, said: “It is a complicated case and involves many interests, especially the interests of the lady. Every step taken has been in her interest. I have the highest regard for her, and wish to shield her in every way I can, at whatever cost to myself. Of course, I know there has been no sin between us and no gross immorality. It is questionable whether it would be wise for me to say anything. I should not be willing to do so without a conference with the Trustees, as the interests of the institution are as dear to me as they ever have been. So far as a personal vindication is concerned, that will take care of itself. Whatever may be sworn to, there is nothing of that sort on my conscience. There is nothing that I want to conceal. I don’t propose to vindicate myself at the expense of other interests. There will be an investigation of the matter in some way in a very short time. As far as I am personally concerned, I can wait until it comes.”

The Rev. H. L. Stetson, one of the 12 Trustees and a Baptist minister, publishes a card in which he says: “I still have so much confidence in Dr. Moss that I don’t propose to help bury him unless future developments shall prove him worthy of burial. I believe that I know all that there is to be known.”

In this spirit Dr. Stetson opened his pulpit in Logansport to Dr. Moss last Sunday, but more recent advices from there indicate that serious trouble has arisen from the incident. Dr. Moss is about 55 years of age. He has a wife and three grown children, two of whom are married. The third is keeping house for him in the absence of his wife, who has been away since September. He ranks high as an educator, and is a man of unusual force and ability. The lady involved avers that he used his position as President to compel her to accept his affectionate advances.

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A hopefully entertaining blogger, frequently of technical things, but some artistic commentary too.

3 thoughts on “Suppression of Moss in old Buildings”

  1. Don’t stop now!!! I want to know what happens next – even it’s what you imagine happens next!! Gosh, what an intriguing story, and what a photograph!


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