Alumni photo collection depicts life when Cubs won 1908 World Series
Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Editor’s note: The Old Gold series provides a look at University of Iowa history and tradition through materials housed in University Archives, Department of Special Collections.

By now Old Gold is sure that you have heard the jokes. “The last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, [fill in the blank].”

It could be:

“…Gustav Mahler made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera.”
“…radio was called ‘wireless’ and consisted of Morse code.”
“…the upright vacuum cleaner was just invented.”

Indeed, these historical facts—and many more—remained so until Nov. 2, when the Cubs broke their 108-year drought. The year 1908 was a long-referenced benchmark for long-suffering Cubs fans, and the historical significance of the 2016 World Series was not lost on anybody who follows base ball, as it was spelled over a century ago.

To appreciate the milestone from a Hawkeye perspective, Old Gold turned to the University Archives’ photographs and tracked down the John R. Black Collection. Why this one? As it turns out, it’s a grand slam: Mr. Black (1883–1962) was a Hawkeye, born and raised in Jefferson, Iowa; he was an avid photographer; he loved Chicago; and—hitting it out of the ballpark—he was enrolled at the UI as an undergraduate in 1908.

His collection of photographs, dated Nov. 7, 1908, was assembled only three weeks after the Cubs took four games out of five to defeat the Detroit Tigers. It includes UI campus and Chicago scenes, depictions of student life soon after the turn of the 20th century, and long-lost examples of Chicago’s urban landscape. The city’s tallest building at the time, for example, was 19 stories high. Iowa City street scenes are included as well. Mr. Black’s wry sense of humor is revealed on some of the pages.

After completing his undergraduate studies at Iowa, John R. Black graduated from the Northwestern University School of Medicine and returned to his hometown to practice medicine. He married Mary Bussey in 1918 and they raised three children: Thomas K., Ruth Elizabeth, and Margaret Louise. In 1945, at age 62, he retired from his practice, continuing his many hobbies and travels until his death at age 79.

We can come up with Cubs-isms of our own, fellow Hawkeyes. “When the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 1908…”

“…there were homes on North Capitol Street.”
“…the Old Armory, razed a long time ago, was new.”
“…students gathered on the Pentacrest.”

Well, we hope that that last one will never change.