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Remembering the Immortal Ten

By Todd Copeland

Editor, The Baylor Line

Back in the middle of November, I traveled down to Round Rock to talk to the Rotary Club chapter there about the Immortal Ten. Around Baylor, most folks know about the Immortal Ten tradition, which honors the ten Baylor students (most of them athletes) who died on January 22, 1927, when the Baylor athletic bus was hit by a train in Round Rock en route to a basketball game in Austin against Texas. The story of that tragedy and of the Baylor spirit represented by the students is told every fall during the Freshman Mass Meeting.

However, in Round Rock the memory of that accident is a dim memory. At the time of the accident, Round Rock citizens rushed to help the surviving victims of the crash, contributing their bedsheets as bandages. But afterward, the incident probably seemed like a nightmare that most people wanted to avoid thinking about. Today, a small plaque near the crash site is the only indicator that such a horrific event ever took place in Round Rock.

The cheery fellow from the Rotary Club (at least his e-mail sounded cheery) said the chapter’s members were interested in learning more about this chapter of Round Rock’s history. People had heard about it, he said, but the details were fuzzy. I told him I would be happy to sketch out the particulars and tell them the story of what happened.

What happened . . .

It’s hard to tell the story of what happened that cold, drizzly day in January more than eighty years ago.

Hard, because it’s grizzly and unavoidably heart-rending. A story that involves watching your best friend trying to escape from an open bus window and seeing him get hit by a train traveling sixty miles an hour (which is what Weir Washam saw, with Abe Kelley as the victim) is one tough story to tell without the back of your throat tightening up.

Hard, because something always gets lost in the translation when you try to explain to non-Baylorites why the tragedy still has meaning to Baylor today.

And hard just because there is so much to tell that can’t fit within thirty minutes, which was the amount of time I had with the Rotary Club.

In any event, after a nice lunch during which I met several Baylor grads in the crowd (most of them friends or relatives of the Rotarians in attendance), I talked about some of the more dramatic parts of the Immortal Ten story and showed pictures of the crash scene and of some of the friends who died together on the bus. In essence, I boiled down the narrative parts of the book I wrote last year for the Baylor University Press (which can still be purchased on Amazon, with half the proceeds going to the Baylor Alumni Association).

I also shared with those in attendance why I thought the tragedy had turned into a tradition that continues to be observed on Baylor’s campus, with a remarkable Immortal Ten memorial (shown above) having been installed last year beside Pat Neff Hall.

Beyond just keeping the memory of the ten students alive, the tradition is an opportunity for all Baylor folks to be reminded of the incredible gift of life that we have been given and of our obligation to do the most with our “one wild and precious life” that we can (to use the poet Mary Oliver’s words) before our time also comes to pass from this earth. The tradition also reminds us of the great opportunity it is for anyone to be a Baylor Bear — to have the chance to gain a wonderful education and embody the Baylor spirit.

During this time of year when traditions and ceremonies become more prominent in our lives as we progress through the holidays, I was glad to be able to visit Round Rock, where the people were indeed cheery, and to be reminded myself of what the Immortal Ten means as part of our communal lives.

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