Almost a century ago, Charles E. Boll stashed three keepsakes from his freshman year at UF underneath a pair of wool pants. He painted them shut inside of a purple drum.
A month ago, Kathy Carney, 58, and her son Ryan, 26, bought three drums for $5 each at a thrift shop in Hurricane, West Virginia. It was a typical day for the avid thrifters.
As the shop owner lugged the purple, red and yellow drums to the car, he noticed something inside one and said, “Well, you got something extra.” When Carney got home, she used a screwdriver to pry open the lid.
“We came back to the house, and we had lunch. Quite honestly, I didn’t even think about the drums,” she said. When the purple drum popped open, she “got hit in the face with the aroma of the past.”
Inside, a complete World War II Marine’s uniform covered a rectangular UF banner and triangular pennant and two small beanie-like hats called “rat caps,” one from UF and one from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
“The colors were so brilliant. The felt was wonderful,” Carney said. “I couldn’t really say anything. If you knew me, that’s a big deal for me to be speechless.”
The UF items were donated to the University Archives at the George A. Smathers Libraries on June 18, where they will be used for exhibits and research, university historian Carl Van Ness said. They are currently being conserved and are not on display.
“We did not want to sell it because it had so much historic value to the university. It was not a money-maker,” Carney said. “This was something valuable in itself as what it represented.”
Van Ness said Boll’s rat cap is the oldest one in the university collection, and his pennants are among the oldest, if not the oldest, in the collection. The orange UF rat cap had the year ‘33 sewn in blue on top and the words “Rat Boll” and “Ironton, Ohio” handwritten on the inside.
“Prior to World War II, and even briefly after World War II, first-year students were required to wear a rat cap,” Van Ness said. “It was part of a quasi-hazing process whereby freshmen were admitted to the university and accepted by the Student Body.”
Along with the caps, Van Ness said other traditions were common during the 1930s at UF. Freshmen had to attend every football game and were not allowed to walk through the Plaza of the Americas. Instead, they had to walk around to go to class.
Freshmen also had to beat sophomores in a game called “flag rush” where they had to wiggle 13 feet up a greased pine tree outside of Thomas Hall and retrieve the flag, Van Ness said. If they won the game or Florida beat the University of Georgia in football, they were allowed to remove their caps early.
Van Ness said it is typically difficult to date items like these, but he confirmed Boll’s items were purchased in 1929 because he only attended UF for one year before returning to his hometown in Ohio.
“For something that was sold in 1929, it was really amazing how well (the pennants have) been maintained over the years,” he said. “Usually you see fading in these kind of materials, but because they were stored probably forever in the dark, they haven’t faded very much.”
Since donating the items, Boll’s son, Charles E. Boll II, contacted Carney about her and her son’s find. Carney said she is meeting up with him soon to give him his father’s Marine uniform and a baby rattle that was also in the drum.
In 2006, Charles E. Boll died in Stuart, Florida, at 97 years old. Van Ness said he plans to have Boll’s rat cap on display in the Reitz Union once he takes down the current display of a younger rat cap and jacket on the first floor.