Auburn may be the "loveliest village of the plains," as Oliver Goldsmith wrote, but on Saturdays in southeast Alabama after the War Eagles have won another football game it becomes the rowdiest, especially in that part of the village known as Toomer's Corner. Toomer's Corner is not just where the drugstore is, and has been since the turn of the century. It is, after a victory, where the students are, building a fire in the street, painting automobiles orange and blue (the Auburn colors), turning the automobiles around, and then painting the small buildings on the corner, including Toomer's Drug Store. "It's washable paint," explains Auburn Publicity Man Bill Beckwith. "The merchants expect their buildings to be painted, and they always have them clean and ready." Some owners are not exactly overpleased to find their cars painted in gaudy new tones, and buses have been known to drive miles out of the way to avoid Toomer's Corner after an Auburn victory.
Avoiding Toomer's Corner, or Auburn, for that matter, is not that much of a much, for there is, in this day of giant universities, comparatively little of Auburn. The university, as distinguished from the town, has an enrollment of 9,844, of whom 2,848 are girls and 9,844 are enthusiastic football followers. Auburn, in fact, has the largest student following of any Southeastern Conference school—two thirds of the students by actual count who faithfully attend all the games, at home and away. And each one is a true-tempered War Eagle. The origin of that nickname goes back to Auburn's first football game in 1892 against Georgia which, incidentally, was also the first collegiate game played in the South. According to the preposterous story, three Auburn students went to a war (presumably the Civil War), and only one returned—wounded and with an eagle he had picked up on the battlefield. He took the eagle to that first game and, as Auburn won 10-0, the eagle made several warlike flaps—which even Auburn's staunchest followers must admit is pretty good for a 27-year-old eagle. Auburn's impassioned rooters have been flapping and yelling "War-r-r Eagle!" ever since.
For today's Auburn students, most of whom find themselves in classrooms of engineering, science, literature and agriculture (doctors and lawyers go to Alabama), giving the War Eagle and hying down to Toomer's Corner to paint cars are the major diversions outside of study. They can drink coffee ("We're the biggest coffee-drinking school in the South," says Beckwith) in the Student Union, eat turnips at The Grill, get a 15� hamburger at the Hungry Boy, swim or have a cookout at Chewacla Park four miles away, drive three miles out on the Notasulga highway to the nearest beer at The Plainsmen or get "dressed up" and drive seven miles to The Town House in Opelika, Ala. for an elegant dinner.
From about that distance, Auburn's smokestacks and unfettered campus buildings conjure up the impression of a factory set in the midst of an Alabama plain. But within the shaded boundaries of the town, inhabited by 18,000 nonstudent residents, there are rows of fraternity houses (sorority girls live in the dormitories), some fine old southern homes and five new motels.
The campus was given the unromantic name of East Alabama Male College in 1856, 20 years after Judge John J. Harper and his son, Tom, settled the town which got its name from Tom's fianc�e Lizzie Taylor. She named it for the "Sweet Auburn" of Goldsmith's poem. In 1899 the school took on the still unromantic title of Alabama Polytechnic Institute, and it was not until 1960 that the name of the town and the university officially became one. This was just another facet of the improvement Auburn has enjoyed under retiring President Dr. Ralph B. Draughon, who strove mightily to enlarge the university and enhance its image. Since the 1940s, he has been the most popular figure on the campus—next to a game-winning quarterback.
At quiet, isolated, intimate Auburn, athletes are familiar faces and campus leaders, inheritors of lusty traditions dating back to cherished victories over the Carlisle Indians (1914) and Centre College (1922)—traditions that bring up names like Coach Mike Donahue, John (Barleycorn) Shirey, Ed (Shine) Shirling, C.C. (Fats) Warren and, soon to be added, Jimmy Sidle.
For although Auburn is first a college, and a college town, it is, in its atmosphere and its interests, more like Green Bay, Wis., the home of the Packers, than almost any other campus town in the U.S. "I would say," admits Beckwith, "that the fortunes of our football team is the most important thing at Auburn."
It was precisely in the AUBURN spirit that late one evening during the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga. last spring, a reveling Southerner leaned out from a hotel window and shouted to no one in particular, "War-r-r-r Eagle!" Seconds later, from a different floor in the same hotel, another Southerner's head came out of a window and he, as if answering a mating call, shouted, "Ro-o-l-ll, Tide, Roll!" They were, of course, Auburn and Alabama football enthusiasts, the kind who never allow the season to end. Such is the institution of college football in the Deep South.