DENTON, Texas (UNT) — A literal mammoth find, a touchdown boogie in a great football comedy and the near resignation of a jazz icon – these unique and sometimes quirky anecdotes make up the storied history of the institution now known as the University of North Texas and, along with more traditional tales, will be unveiled in a commemorative book celebrating UNT’s 125th anniversary.
“Independent, Original and Progressive: Celebrating 125 Years of UNT” follows the university’s history and the experiences of students, faculty and staff from its first classes, held in a space above a Denton hardware store on Sept. 16, 1890, to the present day.
To celebrate the launch of the book, the UNT Libraries will feature a live performance by Brave Combo, a two-time Grammy-winning band with UNT roots featured in the book, and a series of live readings and short lectures on UNT culture and history. The free reception will be from 6 – 8 p.m. April 12 (Tuesday) in the Forum of the Willis Library, located at 1506 W. Highland St. in Denton.
“UNT is a very special place, and to appreciate that you really have to know some of its history,” said Morgan Gieringer, head of the UNT Libraries’ Special Collections and editor of the book. “In 125 years, we have gone from a small teachers college to one of the largest research universities in the country, but the characteristics that define the university – determination, creativity and diversity – have grown stronger over time.”
The new publication includes expanded content from the 125th anniversary blog created by Special Collections, new stories exclusive to the book, and photography, newspaper clippings and other images from UNT’s University Archive.
Gieringer said her team was not focused on creating an “official” history of UNT. Instead they “wanted to share stories about people, places and events from UNT’s history, drawing on primary sources, such as photos and documents, to tell the stories.”
Among the narratives in the book:
- The Mean Green once shared UNT’s longtime football stadium, Fouts Field, with the fictional Texas State Armadillos in the 1991 football comedy “Necessary Roughness.” The star-studded cast included Scott Bakula, Sinbad and Jason Bateman, with famous athletes in cameo roles, UNT students as extras and the university as the backdrop for one of the greatest football comedies of all time.
- UNT’s early jazz ensembles – diplomatically referred to as “dance bands” – often captured the attention of critics who disliked the lifestyle associated with the music and its deviation from classical style. When the esteemed Leon Breeden took over direction of the One O’Clock Lab Band, hate mail and late-night phone calls nearly forced him to resign after just two weeks of employment. However, Breeden persevered through the resistance and led the bands to a series of successes, including two of their seven Grammy nominations.
- Bones protruding from the dirt led to the discovery of a mammoth near Denton in 1953 — an estimated 10-foot-tall, three-ton Parelephas columbi. Dozens of university students and faculty donated their time to help excavate the 10,000-year-old find, which was temporarily displayed on campus in a converted “cave room.”
The book will be available for purchase in mid-April. Potential readers can sign up to be notified when the book is available by providing an email address.