It was a rainy night in the fall of 1952 when 18-year-old freshman Tom Moran made the decision to steal the Derryberry Eagle.
Ever since that night, the eagle perched on top of Derryberry Hall has become a symbol of Tennessee Tech. For over 60 years, students and faculty have looked at the golden eagle with a sense of pride.
It all started in 1952, though. Moran entered into his freshman year after spending his summers helping with his father’s telephone company, which was where he first discovered the eagle.
“I looked across this road,” said Moran, “and in this green spot here, with an abandoned building behind it, was this eagle.” Sitting in a diner in Monteagle, Tennessee, Tom saw the eagle perched in front of an abandoned hotel. The eagle was sitting atop a stone base rusting from the inside.
“I saw that,” said Moran, “and I said, ‘What’s that doing over there?’”
Moran just happened to see the eagle several weeks before Tennessee Tech played MTSU – Tech’s biggest rival at the time.
“Somehow the two came together in my twisted mind,” said Moran. Moran bided his time until three weeks before the game when he told two of his freshmen friends, Roy Loudermilk and Lewis Brown, about his plan.
On that rainy evening, the boys drove a Chevy pickup truck to Monteagle with intentions of stealing the eagle.
To avoid the suspicion of local police officers, Moran told Loudermilk and Brown to drive around town while he removed the eagle with a pair of tin snips. It took Moran nearly an hour to cut the 70-pound eagle from the stone. He climbed up onto the rocks and placed his hands under the eagle’s 6-foot wingspan, attempting to lift it.
“I should’ve had a selfie of me doing it,” Moran said. “I’m standing up on the outside of the eagle, my arms under the eagle … it wouldn’t move.”
Moran said this was the only time he was nervous about getting caught stealing the eagle.
“I still sweat a little bit about that,” he says. “What if the police are driving around?”
Moran was unaware there was a pipe inside the hollow eagle connecting it to the cement base. Fortunately for Moran, the pipe on the inside of the eagle was rusted at the bottom, which allowed him to twist the eagle back and forth until the metal broke.
Moran waited for Brown and Loudermilk to return with the pickup truck and made their way back to Tech’s campus.
Upon their return, the three boys took the eagle to Bill Francis, student body president at the time.
That was the last Moran and his friends knew about it until two weeks later when Francis revealed the eagle to Tech students during a pep rally in Memorial Gym, where it was met with cheers from the student body.
Moran said Everett Derryberry ran onto the stage asking where Francis acquired the eagle. Moran, and the rest of the student body, was unaware Derryberry was in the process of negotiating a deal to obtain the eagle for Tech.
After the initial reveal of the eagle, it found several homes before finally resting on top of Derryberry Hall.
On Thursday, Aug. 16, the eagle was restored to its perch on Derryberry. Last year, the eagle was taken down for restoration and refurbishment after sitting atop Derryberry Hall for 62 years.
Tech alumni Daniel Warden renovated the eagle.
“Metal actually fatigues,” said Warden. “And the metal just gets old and brittle. That’s what happened to it.”
The original eagle was made out of pot metal, which is a cheap mixture of several other metals. After inspecting the original, Warden decided to recast the eagle, making a new one for the top of Derryberry Hall. The eagle sitting on top of Derryberry today is made out of fiberglass and filled with foam for stability.
Since Moran stole the eagle in 1952, he went on to become the first full-time director of Alumni and Development at Tennessee Tech.
The original eagle is in the process of being refurbished. The details about where the original eagle will be placed are still being determined by university administration.