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A Wahoo walk through time

Over 100 years ago, the University had a different face: In the Civil War era, upon hearing that Fort Sumter had surrendered in 1861, students in the Southern Guard broke into the Rotunda at night and, climbing along the dome, grasping a lightning rod, hung a hand-sewn Confederate flag.

Sixteen years later, Brooks Hall, home today to the anthropology department and various studio art classes, served as a natural history museum -- complete with a dinosaur skeleton and a Siberian mammoth.

University history has sparked plenty of debate among scholars and students alike, but a new book adds pictures to the University's storied past. Encompassing nearly 200 years of Wahoo history, "The University of Virginia: A Pictorial History" reflects the collaboration of the University Press and the University Bookstore, as well as the work of regional photographers and author Susan Tyler Hitchcock.

"We are drawing from every resource we could imagine," University Bookstore Director Jon Kates said. He described the collaboration of all those involved as "truly remarkable."

According to Kates, the 250-page book, which contains 369 black-and-white and color photos, took about two full years of planning and editing to complete.

"We got to watch the book evolve," he said. "It's as if you're giving life to


The book is divided into nine different chapters, with subjects covered from the founding of the University in 1819 to the present. Written by Hitchcock, a freelance writer who now lives in Albemarle County, the book also includes short narratives between chapters on topics such as honor, athletics and Greek life at the University. Hitchcock, who received her

Ph.D. from the University in 1978, also taught humanities in the Engineering School for 11 years. Seeing the need for an updated history of the University, Hitchcock said she agreed to work on the book.

"There was something missing in the bookstore," she said.

So she began to write, working closely with photographers to accurately portray the history of the University.

"The goal was to make a big, colorful picture book with a reliable history of the University," Hitchcock said.

In addition to having the opportunity to work with many different people while creating the book, she said she felt she learned a lot more about the history of the University -- especially the history of the honor code.

"The history is so much more complicated than I originally thought," she added. "I feel as if I have even found out about the stereotypes at the University."

Writing the final chapter in the book was the most difficult, Hitchcock said, because it deals with the present and John T. Casteen III's presidency.

She said today's events aren't as clear cut and concrete as history is, but writing about the present offers its own challenges.

"It's harder to focus on who we are and what we are today," she added. The University "has a distinctive, fascinating character ... and the more I learned about U.Va and its history, the more I saw to be celebrated."

Jim Gibson, owner of Gibson Design Associates of Charlottesville, designed the book's jacket and photo layout, and said a wide variety of photographs illustrate the text.

"It's amazing what is in the collection," Gibson said.

Pulled from sources such as the Special Collections Department at Alderman Library, the Alumni Association and various buildings around the University, the photos visually trace the University and its people since its founding in 1819. Additionally, local photographers and University graduates shot some of the photos.

"It shows they really love it," Gibson said.

According to Gibson, the most interesting photos are not necessarily those that have the most beautiful scenery. Instead, photos that show something significant about the University or portray a unique perspective are the ones that stand out in the book.

For instance, pictures of both the first black student to gain admission to the University in 1950 and the first to graduate in 1953 are included in the book. Other historical photos include two people riding horses in front of Brooks Hall and the anatomical theater -- the only original building at the University that no longer exists. Contemporary photos of the University also are included in the collection.

"The list of fascinating images could go on forever," said Gibson, a 1995 University graduate.

Kates said he believes "The University of Virginia: A Pictorial History" especially will appeal to alumni and may even be a popular Christmas gift this year.

In any case, he described the book as "very well done" and "a labor of love." "The University of Virginia: A Pictorial History" is now on sale at the University Bookstore for $39.95. During family weekend Oct. 22-24, Hitchcock will be autographing copies at the bookstore.