“I see you’ve found my scrapbook from Yale,” reads a letter recently sent from the grave by Julius Kruttschnitt, Jr. The talking letter suddenly appeared after this blogger opened Julius’s decrepit scrapbook of his undergraduate college years, 1903 through 1907. “As you can probably see, I had a pretty good time.”
To say the least. Kruttschnitt received his degree in philosophy, did a year of post-graduate work, and went on to great success as a miner. He even earned the honor of a biography, “The Man from Asarco,” chronicling his professional accomplishments. But during his college years, the young man found time to serve as coxswain of the rowing team, debate important issues of the day, serve in student government, see a championship boxing match, and go on a grand mining adventure.
Julius, Jr., was a social creature, to be sure. Nearly every page of his scrapbook, decomposing in my lap as I write this, contains torn tickets for theatrical productions or sporting events, including legendary Harvard-Yale football games. He attended “The Game” the first three years he was enrolled, including one at Cambridge.
To be sure, Kruttschnitt found time for more intellectual pursuits. He belonged to the ancient literary and debating club, Linonia, founded in 1753, whose alumni included Nathan Hale and William Howard Taft. “I argued against abolishing the jury system in one debate,” he remembers. A certificate reveals that Kruttschnitt was also a member of the Ex-Libris Club, which ostensibly concerned itself with collecting bookplates, and the Yale University Club. He served as secretary and treasurer of the Class of 1906.
Born in New Orleans, though educated in California, Kruttschnitt also belonged to the Southern Club at Yale. Started in about 1895, the club was devoted to furthering the interests of Southern men in college. That meant a lavish annual banquet. One year the menu included chicken gumbo creole, squad chicken, stuffed Virginia style, and southern shad. Though the recipes no doubt made the young man feel at home, “The cooking wasn’t as good as my mother’s,” he remembers.
Based on the volume of what he included in his scrapbook, Kruttschnitt was most proud of being coxswain on the Yale rowing team of eight, the top squad at Yale, during his junior and senior years. This may not sound like a big deal today, but it was huge at Yale in the early 1900s. Crew was an important tradition at Yale. Fifty-odd years before Kruttschnitt got to Yale, the crew teams of Harvard and Yale faced off in the first competition between American colleges. The rivals met on August 3, 1852 in a two-mile race on New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee.
Kruttschnitt guided the varsity team of four as a sophomore. When he was trying out for the team of eight, a newspaper article dubbed him the favorite, calling him “one of the coolest youngsters who ever handled the rudder of a Yale shell.” The high-point of Kruttschnitt’s athletic career must have been Yale’s victory over Harvard in 1905 by a close two and a half seconds. Yale finished the downstream race in a very fast time of 22:33.5.
The victory was especially sweet, since Harvard had enlisted a ringer as its coach, Jim Wray, a professional sculler from Australia. Yale was led by the formidable LeRoy Whitney, who had defeated Harvard the previous year. As one historian remembers, Yale won the race by half a boat length in a grueling pace “with the shells lapped all the way.”
Unfortunately, Yale lost to Harvard in 1906 in another extremely tight race. It was only the third Harvard victory in 20 years. There’s no mention of that race in the Kruttschnitt scrapbook.
Kruttschnitt had success during his sophomore year as well, when the team of four won the 1904 Yale Spring Regatta. According to a newspaper report, Yale beat a Columbia team that, though a little lighter, had been rowing in good form. “We had a time of 6.45 , against the wind,” remembers Kruttschnitt, who weighed only 116 pounds at the time.
That was probably less than half of what his father weighed. Legend has it that Julius, Sr., general manager of the Southern Pacific Railroad, was so large a section out of the dining room table was carved out so that he could reach down and eat his meal. Father and son traveled together to Yale for Jr.’s freshman year in a special private car, Guadaloupe, the N.Y. Herald reported on September 22, 1903, according to a newspaper clipping of the event. One can only imagine the spectacle created by young Julius’ arrival.
A receipt on his notebook shows that Julius paid $6 a week that first year for a back room at 391 Temple Street in New Haven. Before long he traveled to Boston for the Harvard-Yale football game, sitting in Section 35, Row K, Seat 8 . “We won the game 17-0,” he remembers. He attended the games in 1904 and 1905 as well. Not only did Yale win both these games, but Harvard didn’t score any points.
But what researchers really want to know is who is the Allison he danced with four times during the Germantown Easter Vacation dance as a freshman and two more times his sophomore year. Could she be the one pictured in the photograph that fell out of the tattered notebook with crumbling craft paper? Maybe she was the one pictured in the photograph at right. Could the pair have gone together to Westbrook, Connecticut in the summer of 1904? Researchers want to know.
“I’m not telling,” says the handsome and muscular, though diminutive Kruttschnitt. Later in life, Julius was known for his fine dress–he always wore a coat and tie to work, even on the hottest days in Australia. Judging by the pictures he left behind, this was true of his dress during his college years as well.
Kruttschnitt was forced to dress down, however, when he travled with eight other Yale students on a grand mining adventure during the summer after his sophomore years. According to a New York York Times article, the group traveled to Flat River, Mo., to gain mining experience. The group spent five weeks “roughing it,” wearing overalls and working in the mines side by side with day laborers. The article singled out Kruttschnitt as the son of a Chicago railroad man and a great grandson [he was actually a nephew] of Judah P. Benjamin, attorney general in the cabinet of Jefferson Davis.
Later that summer, Kruttschnitt took a special train to attend the September 8th gruesome lightweight title fight between Jimmie Britt and Oscar “Battling” Nelson. He sat in the second row for the one-sided fight that went 18 rounds. According to Jack London, who covered the fight, Britt apparently held his own during the first round. But Nelson kept boring in, landing punch after punch.
Eventually, wrote Ashton Stevens for the San Francisco Examiner, Nelson beat Britt to a bloody pulp. Blood gushed from his lips as the fight ended. “This duel…had a nerve-wrecking shudder for every moment of the 52 minutes of actual fighting,” Stevens wrote. “It was such a sight as I hope never to see again.”
The gruesome fight notwithstanding, Kruttschnitt loved his college years. Even when he lived in Australia, he would regularly return for reunions to reminisce. “They would usually give me an award, for traveling the farthest distance to attend the event,” he recalled.