Many of you know one of the best stories of Little Brown Jug Lore happened during the early thirties when the jug disappeared from U-M Administration building on campus (now the home to the Ticket Office FWIW). When I dug deep investigating this legend back in ‘09 I learned pretty quickly that U-M didn’t quite have the story straight. After some vintage MVictors-pestering I convinced #1000SSS to change the summary of the events in the 1930s in the online history on mgoblue.com and in the weekly game program. Unfortunately the old version is still stuck in the weekly press release:
I’ll work on this next season. To summarize, no, the jug wasn’t missing between 1930 and 1934–it was actually 1931 and 1933. And saying “the actual jug was found behind a clump of bushes by a gas station attendant..” is mixing up two parts of the story and two separate reappearances of jugs in Ann Arbor. Seriously.
For those who don’t know the full story, here’s a remixed version of what really happened in the 1930s:
Sometime in mid-September, before the start of the football season in those days, the jug vanished from its home at the University of Michigan Administration building. News of the trophy’s disappearance made the headlines and U-M began a frantic search with the hope that it would be found prior to the Minnesota game that November.
It appeared as though the drama would be resolved early on. On October 29, 1931 the New York Times reported that the jug “was found late tonight after a strenuous search which started today when news leaked out that it had been missing for a month.” The story claimed that it was recovered at the Michigan Union “in an infrequently visited storeroom.” The same story noted the culprit was possibly a U-M employee who certainly was “insufficiently steeped in the traditions of Michigan” who had removed the jug from the trophy case perhaps not understanding its significance.
But the Times had it wrong. The next day the paper backtracked (inset left), reporting that the jug found in the Union “proved just another poor imitation.” The search continued, led by Phil Pack, U-M’s “publicity man”. Pack chased leads around town including a tip that led him to a local cider mill. While he may have got his fill of donuts and cider on the trip, Pack didn’t find what he was looking for.
It seems the brown jug wasn’t the only rivalry trophy that went missing back in those days. The Old Oaken Bucket, the prize to the victor of the Purdue-Indiana football game, went missing in 1925 and was still lost as the ’31 jug drama played out. It was stolen in Bloomington by a cocky thief who left a note that read, “I came to Indiana University this semester for the sole purpose of relieving you of this bucket.”
Pack’s search for the jug was fruitless and with just days before the 1931 game against the Gophers, the Wolverines started to accept that they might not be able to bring the famed prize to the stadium that Saturday. Two days before game day the Ann Arbor News reported that the following note was etched in the Michigan locker room:
If Minnesota defeats Michigan Saturday, the Gophers will be disappointed if they do not obtain the little brown jug. Let’s not disappoint them. Let’s win the game and that will give us another year in which to find the lost jug.
The Dark Goggle Gang
But just as hope seemed lost there was a major breakthrough. At around 7:15pm that Thursday evening a car pulled up to the two-level gas station at the corner of Washtenaw and what was then Jackson Avenue (today it is Stadium Boulevard and gas station is now the site of Bearclaw Coffee).
According to the accounts in the Michigan Daily and Ann Arbor News, four men wearing “dark goggles” and “hats pulled down over their eyes” were inside a large Cadillac that stopped and rolled a jug out of their car before speeding off. The gas station attendant on duty, a man named K.D. Smith (above), scooped up the crock and looked understandably puzzled as a local cameraman snapped his photo.
The original report in the Michigan Daily prepared on Thursday evening had at first reported that there was some question as to the authenticity of the gas station jug mentioning that Pack himself “was not at all convinced the jug found is the original.” But in what appears to be a last-minute update to the story before hitting the presses for the Friday edition, the Daily article was appended with a bulletin in which Pack announced that he was becoming “more and more convinced that the jug was the original.”
Others weren’t convinced. Mill Marsh, sportswriter for the Ann Arbor News, was beyond skeptical, writing on Friday “an inspection of the jug today reveals that it is a clever imitation” pointing out that the color on the Minnesota side seemed to be the wrong shade of maroon. Marsh concluded that if Michigan lost Saturday, the Gophers’ prize “will not be the original jug and Minnesota should be thus informed.” Other than the color, skeptics were fed by the fact that the jug apparently had a fresh coat of paint when it was recovered, so fresh in fact that some of the paint came off when the Dark Goggle Gang rolled it out onto the pavement.
Fortunately for Pack and the Wolverines, they didn’t have to hand over the suspicious gas station jug. Harry Kipke’s men prevailed 6-0 and according to Marsh, were “spared the embarrassment” presenting the imitation crock. The 1931-32 Michiganensian (the U-M yearbook) dedicated a page to the incident and the written summary closes with these words: “Whether the real jug had been juggled for a phony is an unsolved enigma.”
A 21st Century Clue
An interesting clue to the enigma actually surfaced in 2001. After reading a story on the history of the jug in a football program, a 1943 Michigan grad scribed a letter to the alumni magazine Michigan Today describing an incident from her youth. Marjory Killins Bentley of Santa Monica, California wrote that in the 1930s she remembers a visit from “four giggling men” in her home where they asked her father if they could stash a jug until they retrieved it the next day. She recalled two of the names: Bill Tuomy, of the Tuomy family that owned the gas station where the jug was dropped and Phil Pack whom Bentley described as “King of Practical Jokes.” Could it be that Pack himself was responsible for taking the jug and/or planting a fake jug at Tuomy’s gas station?
It seems far-fetched but worth mentioning. If nothing else, it seems plausible that if the jug left at the gas station was indeed a fake, it would have been planted by someone at the University to cover up the embarrassment of having lost it on their watch. [Ed. note: I attempted to contact Ms. Bentley through the U-M Alumni Association but sadly she passed away in 2005.]
Does it look Like a Phony?
A year later when the Wolverines arrived in Minnesota for the 1932 game, many of the key characters from those 1903 and 1909 games that started the rivalry were present. L.J. “Doc” Cooke, described as Minnesota’s Grand Old Man, received an honorary Gopher ‘M’. Michigan’s own living legend, Fielding Yost, made the trip as well, and spoke to a group of Michigan alumni and fans at the Lowry hotel.
Michigan brought the gas station jug with them on the trip, but its presence didn’t stop folks from talking about. The papers reported that “talk of the genuineness or phonyness of the jug waxed hot in barber shops and fraternity houses.” The media wanted answers and Yost “didn’t even wink” when asked about the authenticity of the jug his team purchased nearly 30 years prior. “Why sure, it’s the real jug,” he assured upon arriving in Minneapolis. “Take a look at it. Does it look like a phony?”
Yost also tried to explain away some changes on the trophy from its last visit to town. He told reporters, “It looks differently than it use to because it’s been painted, but it’s the same jug just the same.” Phil Pack echoed Yost’s assurances, telling the press, “So far as I am concerned that is the little brown jug.”
Once again the media wasn’t sold. One Associated Press writer summed it up bluntly, writing, “Pack bought a substitute and had it painted to look like the original, but that fooled no one.”
Oscar Munson, the man who found the jug in 1903, was still on campus and wasn’t buying it either, in fact suggesting that the sleight of hand stretched back longer than the previous season. “They’ve been passing a phony off on us since 1927,” he snarled. On top of that, Munson thought he knew the man behind the whole scandal. “[Yost] wanted the jug for himself and he took it,” Munson matter-of-factly told the press. “It was never lost.”
Oscar wouldn’t get his hands on the jug as Michigan prevailed 3-0 that Saturday. Harry Kipke’s men left Minneapolis with more than the suspicious jug–the Wolverines finished the season undefeated in eight games surrendering just 13 points along the way. Later they were named national champions for the 1932 season.
As the 1933 school year approached, there was another major event in this mystery. On August 21, 1933 another jug appeared in Ann Arbor, this time found “in a clump of bushes near the medical building” on East University. It seems a gentleman named Al Thomas was watering some shrubs when he spotted the crock and promptly returned it to the athletic offices.
From Michigan’s standpoint, this was the real jug. Yost effectively admitted he deceived the people of Minneapolis the year prior by accepting its authenticity. He told reporters, “I hope that some day the person who had the jug the two years it was missing will write me a letter and tell me the story of what was done with it while it was gone. I’d like to have its complete story.”
Despite Yost’s plea, it doesn’t appear anyone stepped up to explain why it was taken or better yet, why they decided to dump it in those bushes.
The chief skeptic, Oscar Munson, stepped in once again to question the whole story. And surely Yost’s assurances that the jug toted to Minneapolis the season prior now gnawed at Oscar. “They’ve been shoving a spurious water container on us for years,” he told reporters. He further suggested that if the real jug was found under some shrubs, “they were Mr. Yost’s bushes.”
While Phil Pack didn’t offer much explanation for the events of the past two years, he didn’t hesitate to fire back at Munson. “Our friend Oscar hasn’t even seen the jug since 1929, when Minnesota turned it back,” Pack said. “The jug is now in the vault, and it won’t come out of hiding until and if Minnesota beats Michigan. Mr. Munson, now a venerable gentleman, may not live to see it back in Minneapolis, and he will have to show a pass signed by President Roosevelt to get within ten feet of it until then.”
Pack nearly had to eat his words. The teams renewed the rivalry on November 18, 1933 and played to a scoreless tie. Thankfully for Pack and the Wolverines, the jug would remain in Ann Arbor for another year. More importantly for Michigan, the deadlock against a strong Minnesota team was enough for Michigan to retain its hold on the national championship for the second year in a row.
Oscar Gets it Back
Munson didn’t need that note from President Roosevelt after all. Despite coming off back-to-back national championships, Michigan experienced its worst season in history in 1934, winning just a single game and getting soundly handled in the others. The Gophers were no exception, hammering senior Gerald Ford and rest the Wolverines 34-0 in front of 59,000 fans in Minneapolis.
When he finally got his hands on the jug, Munson was satisfied that it was the real deal. The New York Times noted that the custodian tucked the jug away saying, “I got it hid,” adding, “Everybody wants to pick it up and the first thing you know they’ll drop it and there you’ll be.” Before making the return trip to Ann Arbor the following season, Munson validated the authenticity saying, “It’s the original jug, all right, and I’m the only one who knows.”
So there you go. I don’t care who you are, that there is a hearty chunk of Little Brown Jug Lore. Get the rest here.
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