The eagle normally perched atop Derryberry Hall has been removed in preparation for next year’s centennial celebrations.
Originally placed on Jere Whitson Building in 1954, the eagle was moved to Derryberry’s clock tower in 1961, but was taken down during summer to be refurbished and have copies made.
The Derryberry eagle has a complicated and criminal history unknown to many students. In 1952, three students at Tennessee Polytechnic, now Tennessee Tech, traveled to the Monteagle Hotel in Monteagle, Tenn. in an attempt to procure the eagle mounted in front of the burned-out hotel.
“It was pilfered in the night by a group of students,” said Mancil Johnson, archivist and associate professor in Library Operating. According to Johnson, the students responsible revealed the eagle at the pep rally against rival MTSU, then Middle Tennessee State College.
“When it first made its appearance at the pep rally, the students went wild,” said Johnson. “They thought it was the coolest thing they’d ever seen.”
Though many professors wanted to see the students involved punished, Governor Frank Clement said he would pardon them should any charges be laid against them, according to Johnson.
“Every institution has those little quirky tales about how they got the way they are,” said Johnson. “As legends and stories go, this is as colorful as most.”
According to Tech’s magazine “Visions,” President Derryberry had tried to buy the eagle from the owner of the hotel, John Harton, but he would not relent. The students didn’t know about his attempts before they stole the eagle.
Harton eventually sold the eagle to Tech for $500, but now some residents in Monteagle want it back.
“It needed to be evaluated for its condition and to see if it needed repairs and renovations to preserve it,” said Tech President Phil Oldham. “We also pulled it down to see if we could make a mold so replicas could be made in an effort to mend fences with the community of Monteagle.”
According to Oldham, Monteagle has been going through a kind of rebirth of its community and trying to recapture its roots and history. The eagle at Monteagle Hotel was a symbol for their community at the time, even though the hotel had burned down.
About two years ago, two residents of Monteagle contacted Oldham in the hopes of having the eagle returned to their town. According to Oldham, one woman said the town had lost its mojo, and they were trying to get it back. Oldham, however, wanted the eagle to remain at Tech.
“Clearly we’re not interested in relinquishing the eagle,” said Oldham. “It’s too much a part of the history and culture of Tennessee Tech.”
Oldham presented the idea of creating replicas of the eagle, so both communities can have that historical symbol; the residents of Monteagle were excited about the compromise.
Multiple replicas of the Derryberry eagle will be made. One copy is going back to Monteagle, while another will be placed back up on Derryberry Hall’s clock tower. The original eagle will be moved to RUC where it will be encased and displayed in the spiral staircase.