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Stolen sliderule: From "Michigenda" in 1908
By Tim Anderson
L IKE THE REST of the students
who work in the Michigan Union
study Lounge, Anne Price didin't even
know they were there.
They are cabinetsalong the east wall
of the Union's study lounge that were
built to blend in perfectly with the
paneling along the rest of the wall.
When they were opened recently
during routine cleanup for the Union's
renovation, it was the first time in 30
years that anybody had examined their
Whenshe saw them opened, Price, a
sophomore pre-architecture major,
"It was really interesting to find (the
cabinets) there," she said, "to"'think
that I had been here for so long and I
hadn't known about (them)."
John Brockett, the associate director
of the Union, said that the Union always
knew that the cabinets existed but, "wc
just didn't know exactly what was in
It turned out that "what'was in there"
was a veritable archive of information
on the Union Opera, which in its day set
national records for proceeds earned
from an amateur production while
travelling to sixteen different cities.
The contents of the cabinets included
piles of old photographs, original han-
dwritten musical scores, programs to
most of the Operas, seven 80 rpm (not
78) records of the earlier Operas, and a
Sports Illustrated magazine from 1953
which, (judging from its thick layer of
dust) marked the last time anybody
had examined the cabinets.
And these contents provide a glimpse
of what was one of Michigan's major
theatrical events of the year, every
year, for over two decades.
THE UNION Operas were, an
outgrowth of earlier funding
projects designed to raise money for
the Union building.
In 1908, the concept of a Union was
new, and the formidable task of
building "Michigan's million dollar.
club house" fell primrily to students.
Beginning in that year, the operas
became a primary source of that fundi-
With few exceptions all the material
for the operas was written, staged, and
managed by Univerity undergraduates
who were members of the then all-male
Forexample, Roy Dickenson Welch,
a 1909 University graduate, was a
junior when he wrote the plot, the
lyrics, and all of the music to the first
This three act comedy (presented in
February, 1908) was about a land called
Michigenda where there are no
professors (a land students still seem to
be searching for).
In Michigenda students dress up to
look like specific faculty members.
This "faculty" becomes trapped in a
tunnel of the campus heating plant
which explodes due to hot air
(arguments) from the philosophy
The students feel that Ann Arbor is no
place to be with a dead faculty on their
hands and decide to go to magical
It turns out that the faculty is not
dead and they later show up at,
Michigenda to plead with the students
to come back to Ann Arbor, claiming
that a University without students has
The students consent to return to Ann
Arbor only on the condition that their
school work is made less strenuous -
and only once they have been assured
that there are "no cons" (tricks).
Michigenda was an enormous suc-
Hidden treasure: part of the east wall of the Un
its facade revealed.
cess. Along with proceeds from the
second Opera, Culture, students were
able to pay for the land on which the
Union rests today (completed in 1919).
The audience of Michigenda wouldn't
leave until the fifth encore, and
critically some have said that it sur-
passed the arger and more financially
successful Operas of the '20s.
One outstanding aspect of that first
Opera was its music. The song, "When
Night Falls, Dear," was written ex-
Knight Merrieless and the all male dancing ensemble: From "Come On, Dad" in 1920
with a I
in a Ch
was in t
m m... ,..
The "Faculty": Students impersonating their professors in 1980's "Michigenda"
:0 Weekend/Friday, September 28, 1984