By Bridget Sjoberg | Staff Writer
The BU History Tours program seeks for students and visitors to gain knowledge and appreciation for Baylor by highlighting facts about the university’s founding and rich traditions.
Starting in spring 2018, BU History Tours started giving pilot tours, hiring tour guides and creating a script. The program officially began giving tours this summer and planning regularly scheduled tours this semester. The best way to register for a tour is through www.Baylor.edu/BUHistoryTours, with time slots available for 75 minutes, 60 minutes, 30 minutes or a customizable tour to view specific locations.
BU History Tours coordinator and Ph.D student Zach Mills has been at Baylor since July 2018 and appreciates how the tours highlight Baylor as a spot rich in historical significance.
“Baylor is the oldest university in Texas — older than the state of Texas itself. This comes along with a rich history, and we want to tell this history with the places and faces that got us here,” Mills said. “The goal is to immerse as many people as we can through the Baylor community and anyone who wants to learn more about our story and history.”
BU History tours visits a variety of spots on campus, including the bear habitat, the Bill Daniel Student Center, the Immortal 10 statue, Burleson Quadrangle, Founders Mall, Waco Hall, Pat Neff and other locations. The tours aim to highlight the significance of these campus spots, as well as campus founders and figures like key board member B.H. Carroll and Baylor’s longest-serving president R.C. Burleson.
“I was surprised how Baylor came to life knowing all this information,” Mills said. “In a short period of time I felt connected to and more grounded in Baylor — it’s more than a school I’m studying at or cheering for at football games. I know the founders and where we came from. We have an impressive history and there’s a lot to be proud of.”
When Mills began working with BU History Tours upon coming to Baylor, he learned about the university’s institutional history from several sources, one being the Texas Collection on campus.
“It’s the largest privately-owned collection of Texas history,” Mills said. “It has everything from Baylor’s history to documents about the Republic of Texas down to even Texas cookbooks. The goal is to be a repository of Texas history and knowledge with primary sources.”
Mills hopes BU History Tours appeal to not only students and alumni in the Baylor community, but also to campus visitors and Waco residents.
“We try to include something for everybody,” Mills said. “The tour is geared to be interesting even if you’re not interested in history at all and just want to have fun, or if you really want to know the minutia, we have that on the tour too — we can refer them to campus resources as well. It’s for Baylor and beyond — the Baylor community and as many people in Waco as we can reach.”
Mills said the tour includes a variety of Baylor fun facts — some that even students may not have heard about.
“We’re always trying to find fun facts. One of my favorites is that our mascot is the bear, but some of our other options were the ferret, the antelope, the frog or the bookworm,” Mills said. “Another one is that in 1928, Baylor almost moved to Dallas since finances were unsure. The city of Waco raised $400,000 dollars in three weeks, which is about $6,000,000 in today’s dollars to keep it here and build Waco Hall.”
Frisco sophomore Alyssa Zuercher works as a tour guide for BU History Tours, and heard about the position through a job listing in a What’s New BU email. She appreciates BU History Tours as a way to showcase Baylor as a university with unique traditions.
“Being a tour guide makes me appreciate the traditions of Baylor so much more,” Zuercher said “Running the line, homecoming, Chapel and so many other traditions become richer when you have context and realize the generations of bears who have come before and done the same things.”
One of the Zuercher’s favorite little-known Baylor facts involves a football buried in the Burleson Quadrangle.
“One of the most interesting facts I learned as a tour guide is that there is actually a football that was buried somewhere in Burleson Quad,” Zuercher said. “In 1906, Baylor temporarily halted their football program because the sport was deemed too dangerous, so the students buried the football as a symbol of the death of the football program and even gave it a headstone reading something like ‘here lies the Baylor football program’. The following year football returned to campus so the headstone was removed, but there is still a football buried in Burleson Quad somewhere.”
Zuercher hopes the Baylor community and campus visitors who attend a BU History Tour leave with a greater appreciation for the university and its history.
“I hope that visitors leave the tour with a newfound love for this university,” Zuercher said. “It’s so easy to view Baylor only in its present context, but digging into the past and seeing what’s made Baylor different from other universities since 1845 is not only fun, but gives a new light to the modern Baylor. I hope that guests leave feeling like they got an inside look into the story of a university which has stood the test of time.”