Exhibit Traces History of VMI and Corps of Cadets
LEXINGTON, Va., Nov. 5, 2013 – It’s about the founders and the faculty; it’s about rifles and rings; it’s about classes and cadets.
The new VMI heritage exhibit evokes memories in alumni and their families and introduces to tourists the anomaly that VMI is – a state-supported institution of higher education founded at an arsenal by scientists and engineers important in their day and preserving still a tradition of blending military discipline with education.
The exhibit includes many symbols of VMI and the relationships of its founders with the current events and scientific discoveries of their day. Among these items is the sword presented by the very first graduating class, the Class of 1842, to the very young and new superintendent Francis Henney Smith, who would remain 50 years. Also among these items is a pocket compass carried by Claudius Crozet, an engineer who built the longest tunnel in the United States at the time, through the Blue Ridge, and was the first president of the VMI Board of Visitors.
Visitors will see a U.S. Model 1819 Hall rifle, similar to the 1836 Hall breech-loading carbine believed to have been the first long arm carried by the Corps of Cadets. They will also see a Springfield Model 1896 Krag Jorgensen rifle, issued to the Corps in 1907.
The intimate lives of cadets are portrayed in artifacts such as the class ring of John Waddy, Class of 1843. His ring, like those of his approximately 20 classmates, opened so that the cadet could insert a photo or a lock of hair. Waddy’s ring, open on display, contains a tiny daguerreotype of his mother.
A VMI beanie – 1920s “barrackswear” for the 1st Class only -- bears the names of female acquaintances.
VMI Museum employees acquired period-style toiletries so they could arrange a metal locker from the 1960s per regulation sure to evoke memories of inspection days in alumni from those years.
Also evocative is a red chair, which will remind most who graduated before 1980 of the family-style meals and the rule against standing in the mess hall for all but 1st Class cadets. These alumni, said one of them, Col. Keith Gibson ’77, will still hear in their heads the noise of the chairs scraping the floor as cadets scooted around on them and the shouts of “You’re [sent] up” when a cadet fell over and then had to stand to right his chair.
“These rules taught the lesson to respect those who have seniority and to work toward the right to privileges,” said Gibson, executive director of the VMI museum system.
Even more recent alumni will recall class dyke like that on display worn by Megan Smith ’01, a member of the first VMI class to graduate women. Her class dyke includes the belt loop-free trouser now worn only with coatee.
Visitors to the museum may see the more than 200 artifacts on display and then turn the exhibit hands-on as they enter a current cadet room and touch the items arranged for room inspection.
Said Gibson, “If they want to dress up as a cadet as part of their experience here, they may.” – Sherri Tombarge