Virginia may be for lovers, but Charlottesville is for the scholar. At least that’s what one might think about this city that thrives from its local campus, the University of Virginia. Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 as the first nonsectarian university as well as the first to use the elective course system, since Jefferson’s days the University has had many a famous name (or fame-in-the-making) grace its halls. President Woodrow Wilson is an alum, and William Faulkner served two terms as the university’s first writer in residence in 1957-58. And then there’s the West Range 13 room, set up as a memorial to one student that attended but never graduated—Edgar Allan Poe.
In all honesty, this city, named for the wife of King George III of England, Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, has produced three Presidents and a score of artists and musicians (including Charlottesville favorite Dave Matthews Band). But it’s no secret that U of V has plenty of secrets of their own. Which is why all but one of our little known C’Ville (as the locals call her) tidbits come straight from University of Virginia halls. We wish we could give you some information on one of the university’s secret societies: we hear you won’t know a Seven until his funeral. Still, here are a few things you just may not know about one of Virginia’s favorite cities.
- Only the best and brightest seniors at the University of Virginia get rooms without bathrooms Fifty-four students are selected each year to live in one of Jefferson’s original rooms, right on the Lawn. Each room is equipped with the basics – bed, desk, rocking chair and sink (photo courtesy of Karen Blaha)
So much of life at the University of Virginia happens on the Lawn, the sprawling grassy area at the center of Jefferson’s Academical Village. The original plans made for a place where academic and everyday life were one, with homes surrounding the lawn for faculty and rooms for students, along with classrooms. Each room opens directly onto the Lawn, the life center of Jefferson’s university. Those original student rooms are still in use today, but there’s a waiting list a mile long. Many apply, but only fifty-four rooms are available. This 1826 engraving done of a drawing by Jefferson shows his plans for what was known as the Academical Village
Not just any University of Virginia student gets to live a year in the rooms designed by our country’s third President. These rooms are reserved for the best and brightest senior students the university has to offer. And these aren’t just any rooms, they’re about as basic as student housing can get. Each rooms comes equipped with only a bed, desk, rocking chair, and sink. The Lawn rooms don’t have air conditioning, but they do have fireplaces. Sorry, no bathrooms here. All bathroom facilities are located in a separate building. Which is why it should come as no shock to see a senior dashing from a door on the Lawn in their pajamas. A small price to pay for rooming in the shadow of a Founding Father.
- The old elk antlers at Monticello are the last of their kindMonticello was the home of Thomas Jefferson, University of Virginia founder and third president of the United States (photo courtesy of Martin Falbisoner)
Shortly after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned forty-five men to discover the Northwest Territory at the command of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The expedition ended in 1806, with the entire crew (minus Sergeant Charles Floyd, who died of an infection from a ruptured appendix) arriving in St. Louis. Through their descriptions, Lewis and Clark introduced Jefferson and the newly formed United States of America to a variety of birds, plants, and animals, along with information on the native tribes inhabiting the land.
In addition to documenting what they found, Lewis and Clark sent Jefferson many “souvenirs” from their journey, including a live prairie dog and a magpie. Of the souvenirs, many were kept by Jefferson himself, including several red fox skins and the elk antlers. The antlers were moved to Monticello and are now the only remaining artifact from the Lewis and Clark expedition. The elk antlers still hang in the entry hall of Monticello today.
- Students at the University of Virginia are a bunch of Wahoos The Cavalier is the official mascot of the University of Virginia, but U-of-V-ers are commonly and affectionately known as “Wahoos”
Officially, the University of Virginia mascot is the Cavalier, a supporter of King Charles I in the English Civil War, but around campus they’re “wahoos,” or more simply “hoos.” The story goes that back in the 1890’s there was a strong rivalry between the University of Virginia and Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. Washington and Lee baseball fans gave the Cavaliers the nickname as an insult. The Wahoo is a fish that can be caught in many places but are often found in the mid-Atlantic waters off the coast of Virginia.By the 1940’s the term had become a source of pride for the student population, proudly proclaiming to be Wahoos. Years later, “Hoo” became commonly accepted as well, and the Wahoo even had a brief stint as the mascot in the early 1980’s, although he had ice thrown at him during his first season appearance.
- Dr. Seuss had an issue with the Whos down in Whoville Theodor Seuss Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss, was denied admittance into the University of Virginia
Speaking of Wahoos, one Theodor Seuss Geisel—you know him as Dr. Seuss—applied to the University of Virginia three times. He was denied acceptance each time. Apparently this was a sort of sore thumb with Seuss. After he began his career in children’s literature with favorites such as The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, he reportedly bought a large home on a mountain looking down on the University of Virginia. Now he could literally look down on the university that denied him. This was not long before writing How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Rumors say Seuss bought the Lewis Mountain House to “look down” upon the university that denied him
They say all the “hoos” down in “hoo-ville” liked Christmas a lot. Or was it “whos” in “whoville”? Most Hoos believe it, but most outside the university say it’s strictly legend, that Seuss never lived in the house looking down on the university. The house is actually called the Lewis Mountain House and has no record of being owned by Theodor Geisel, but it makes for great story telling. And besides, hoo knows?
- Streaking is tradition at the University of VirginiaThe traditional streaking route is down the Rotunda steps, across the Lawn to kiss Homer, and back to the Rotunda to peer through the keyhole to catch a glimpse of Jefferson’s statue
Streaking has been around since at least the 1960’s, and college campuses seem to be the place to streak. So where do streakers go at the University of Virginia? The Lawn, of course. Streaking the Lawn is a long held traditions for University of Virginia seniors (photo courtesy of Karen Blaha)
Streaking the Lawn has been a tradition at the university for decades. The earliest record of this clothes-ditching activity goes back to 1937. According to the University of Virginia magazine, a group of first-year male students ditched their pajamas and made a run for it when they arrived back at their dormitory. Thirty years later, no senior year was complete without streaking the Lawn. And there is a specific way to do it. Before receiving a degree one must (by rules of tradition only) streak down the steps of the Rotunda, across the 740-foot Lawn to kiss the statue of Homer, and back to the Rotunda to peer through the keyhole to see the statue of Jefferson. Why streaking, you ask? Because they’re college kids. Enough said.
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