It was the dark of the last-quarter moon on September 26, 1948 in the university town of Athens, Georgia. At the midnight hour two carloads of young men waited in silence near a chain-link fence. They wore dark clothing and navy blue wool watch caps. One man studied a piece of graph paper, double-checking what he had earlier committed to memory. Satisfied there were no security guards, they approached the fence and boosted one another over along with four twenty-pound sacks of seed.
Once inside they made their way through the concrete structure to a grassy courtyard of nearly two acres. The courtyard was divided into twelve large rectangles.
They gathered at the edge of the courtyard.
“You guys all know which team you are on. We have 17 letters to do. You’ve all memorized your paces and turns. Each team has one problem letter. The “G” will be the trickiest, the “W” and the “A” is just a matter of getting the angle right. The “O” should go well once you get the starting point.
OK, everyone, find your starting coordinate and begin. We want to be out of here in ninety minutes tops.”
The teams took their positions and busied themselves walking off the letter shapes and tossing handfuls of seed as they went. The work went fast . . . until a set of headlights swept the field. Everyone dropped to the ground and buried their white faces In the grass. A second set of headlights aimed at the field backlighting a number of uniformed officers against the fence. Time slowed almost to a stop. Each man’s heart registered a distant drum beat, an eternal pause, and the next beat. . . until the police drove away. Minutes passed, no one moved. There was only the sound of heavy breathing
Then one man rose and went back to work, then another. And another. Thirty minutes later the job was done. Without a word they moved quickly to the fence, over, and to the cars. There was a quick head count before they drove away thirty seconds apart at no great speed. Silent until they crossed the city limits, when in unison they let out the a tension-busting war hoop.
Winter rye sprouts in sixty days, more or less, depending on temperature and moisture. This planting sprouted three days before the date intended on November 21, 1948, three days before the traditional Thanksgiving football game between the visiting Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and the Georgia Bulldogs. Fifty-foot tall letters sprawling eighty yards across the field was the chorus of Tech’s traditional battle hymn of the day.
*In the intervening years no one has come forward with any knowledge of this incident which was reported with an aerial photograph on the front page of the Atlanta Constitution.
Thanks to Lew Levenson, Georgia Tech Class of 1951, for his eyewitness account.