The Story Behind this Early Stadium Photograph

I walk at the University Mall several times a week. Over the years I've become acquainted with, Mary Bennett, who manages the Penney's Menswear Department. We usually exchange a few minutes of conversation whenever I pass her station.

About a month ago, she made a special point to stop me to tell me that her husband had accepted a new position and as soon as they sold their home in South Bend they would be moving to Butler, PA. It was then I learned that she lived within a block of our own home, as the crow flies, but our paths had never crossed before. She proceeded to tell me that in the process of sorting through their things in preparation to move she happened upon an old photograph of her grandmother taken in front of the old stadium when it was under construction and she would try to remember to show it to me before she left.

She knew I had been researching the Grotto for the past four years, and since it concerned another aspect of Notre Dame, she thought this early photograph might interest me. She said when she found it she asked her husband if he'd take a picture of her in front of the new one -- which was also under construction at the time -- before they left. But he said, "Oh that's hokey." I told her to tell her husband it wasn't hokey that I was sure the University Archives would love to have a copy of the old photograph and that she might like an enlargement of it herself. That the color copiers at Kinko's made very good enlargements of the old 1" x 3" black and white photographs taken at that time.

Several weeks went by and the time drew close when she would be leaving. I had told her I would make a point to see her before she left. On her last day, she met me at the door as I came in. "I have something for you," she said. I'd forgotten all about our earlier conversation. She took the stadium photograph out of its envelope and handed it to me. It brought an immediate smile to my face, as it has, with everyone I've shown it to since. And she wouldn't even let me pay her for it. When I told her Notre Dame just might want to use it for their new stadium celebration she said they were welcome to use it any way they wanted to. She then told me the home she grew up in was built on a parcel of land on Juniper Road, once owned by Fr. Sorin, known as Indian Village. It is now adjacent to Notre Dame's new Warren Golf Course and a half mile from the stadium.

She identified the lady on the left in the photograph as her grandmother, Mildred Jacquays Shelley. She could not identify the couple on the right. The straw hat on the man and the short sleeves and cloche hat on the woman would indicate it might have been taken in late spring or early summer of 1930 in the middle of construction.

The stadium contract was awarded to the Sollitt Construction Co. On September 12, 1929 with work to start in a week to ten days. It was completed and dedicated on October 11, 1930 which was also the date of the first football game played in the new stadium.

Dorothy V. Corson
September 18, 1996

The Journey this Photo has taken since its Discovery

Before Mary left for Butler, Pennsylvania I learned of plans being made to put a request, similar to the Grotto Stories request, in the Notre Dame Alumni Newsletter asking alumni and fans of Notre Dame to write down their fond football memories and amusing stories associated with the old stadium and send them to the Newsletter to commemorate the newly renovated stadium when it opened. Thereafter, like the Grotto Stories, they were to be preserved in the University Archives for future generations to enjoy.

When I asked her if she would be willing to give them her permission to use her photograph to illustrate the Stadium Stories request, she was tickled and gladly agreed. And she said her husband, a great Notre Dame fan, would be pleased too. She left soon after and I never expected to ever see her again. But I promised her that when the Stadium Stories request was published I would send her a copy of the Newsletter in which it appeared. Several months later, in September of 1996, the Alumni Newsletter used a small version of her photograph to illustrate the Stadium Stories request and Mary was one of the first to receive a copy.

A year later, in the fall of 1997, during preparations for the first football game in the new stadium, a news anchor from a local television station stopped by the archives looking for a picture of the old stadium to highlight their Friday night 6 o'clock newscast of the pep rally to be broadcast from the new stadium. I was at the archives that day and happened to walk by when he asked for it, and noticing that no photograph seemed to be the right one, I asked him if he would like to see one I had that might interest him. His eyes lit up when he saw it and he immediately said it was just what he was looking for. He thanked me and assured me he would send a tape of the broadcast to the archives for the courtesy of providing it.

When the September 5, 1997 six o'clock news came on a huge enlargement of the photograph was the first thing that appeared on the screen followed by the newsanchor exclaiming what a great photograph it was and adding that everyone in the viewing audience should put on their Sunday best, like the people in the picture, and come out to the pep rally, and have their photographs taken in front of the new Notre Dame Stadium. The enlarged photograph appeared again at the close of the newscast with the announcer again praising the photograph and urging viewers to come down and have their picture taken in front of the new stadium.

Because the station was going to send a copy I didn't bother to tape it, but I did remember that Mary had a sister. It took a few phone calls to locate her, but I finally did just in time. I called her the day before thinking she might like to see it live. She was pleased to hear about it and said she would be glad to make a copy of it and send it to Mary for me.

I waited and waited for the station tape to arrive at the archives but several reminders produced no tape to record the photograph's story. Several months went by and I finally gave up and chalked it up to experience. Many times since, I have wished that I had taped it myself and not relied on someone else's promise, if for no other reason than to be able to see it again myself and have the moment captured on video tape with the other Stadium Stories preserved at the archives.

Another three years went by. One day I was walking again at the University Mall when something told me as I went by Mary's old station to ask if there was any news from her. The smiling face behind the counter just seemed to invite that kind of inquiry though I had no way of knowing if this person had even heard of her. She looked surprised at my question and said, "Oh, didn't you know? Mary moved back to South Bend a couple weeks ago and she's working again at Penney's, only this time on the upper level."

We were both delighted to see one another again and laughed at the perfect timing of my inquiry. The first thing I asked Mary was how she liked the tape her sister sent her of the television broadcast of her photograph. To my surprise, she said she hadn't seen it. I told her the circumstances of how I'd missed getting a tape of it for the archives and that I was sorry that I wouldn't be able to copy it for her myself. "That's all right," she said, "I'll ask my sister if she taped it and if she still has it I can make a copy of it."

A number of weeks went by before I saw Mary again. As I approached her station she smiled and said, "Just a minute I've got something in my locker for you." Curious what it was, I couldn't believe it when she returned and placed the video tape of the broadcast in my hand. "My sister forgot to send it to me," she said, "so I borrowed it to make a copy for myself. But I want you to have it first so the archives can make a copy of it to keep with the Stadium Stories." The words, "Be careful what you wish for . . ." echoed in my thoughts, and along with them came a joy-filled reminder: Never give up on life's infinite possibilities.

It was seeing Bob's colorful, fall, before-and-after photographs of the original stadium and the newly renovated stadium when I was compiling the Notre Dame Traditions page that reminded me of Mary's old family photo taken in front of the old stadium when it was under construction. What better place to share it, I thought, than on the pages of this Notre Dame Photo Gallery where it can go out in the world again and make many more people smile.

Dorothy V. Corson
October, 2001