Courtesy of Brooke Novak
Even today, with its brand-new athletic facilities, classroom renovations and replacement fencing, the focal point of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Atlanta campus is Tech Tower.
Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans. Courtesy of Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University
More properly called the Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Administration Building after the college’s greatest benefactor and the first female to sit on the Coca-Cola Company’s Board of Directors, the building sits at 225 North Avenue NW on the western side of the 75/85 highway locals refer to as “The Connector.”
Built starting in 1887 as one of the two original structures at what was then known as the Georgia School of Technology, the building wasn’t topped with the word TECH originally. In 1918, the Class of 1922 topped the tower with wooden letters painted white and gold spelling TECH on each side of the tower to “light the spirit of Tech to the four points of the compass.” In the 1930s, light bulbs were installed to illuminate the letters, and in 1949, neon lighting in metal frames was installed.
Inspired by a 1968 prank at Harvard University, a group of Georgia Tech fraternity brothers gave themselves the moniker the “Magnificent Seven” and stole a “T” from the TECH sign as a gift for outgoing Institute President Edwin D. Harrison’s retirement. In the book Engineering the New South: Georgia Tech 1885-1985, the authors write,
“A high point of the celebration came when Tech students unveiled and presented to Harrison a 5-foot-tall (1.5 m) T — a part of the four Tech signs around the top of the administration building that had mysteriously disappeared the preceding week — so that he would have what every Tech man needed, his own glowing yellow T for a conversation piece.”
John Crecice. Photo courtesy of Georgia Institute of Technology.
That started a tradition of stealing the eastern-most “T,” as it is the one visible from the Connector. The “T” would then be returned during halftime of the year’s homecoming football game. Some university presidents have gone so far as to endorse the theft, such as John Patrick Crecine who said, “I think stealing the ‘T’ off the Tech Tower is among the all-time greatest rituals.”
At one point, there were so many school groups that wanted to be a part of the ritual, each of the “T’s” were missing and students had begun stealing the “H’s.”
From 1997-8, Tech Tower was “T”-less for 87 days following a theft on Nov. 7. Student newspaper The Technique reported at the time, “The Georgia Tech Office of Facilities replaced the ‘T’ during the day on January 31. Workers also replaced the other three ‘T’s that were damaged in the incident, as well as repaired the roof.” According to Dean Friedman, at that time the damages from the incident cost the school $12,223.75.
Since the “Magnificent Seven,” theft groups have named themselves, including the “Mystic Marauders” or the “Sneaky Four.” When the culprits of the 1997 crime were apprehended, The Technique listed them by their nicknames: “Hunt ‘Bo’ McDannald, Will ‘Whitey’ Moore, Justin ‘Bandit’ Preyer, Scott ‘Pedro the Mexican Ninja’ Serbin, and Jason ‘Boney’ Brizzell.”
According to Wikipedia, one of the most theatrical thefts of a “T” occurred in 1999:
Courtesy of The Technique
“The ‘T’ on the north face of Tech Tower was stolen by a group of ‘six or seven people’ on the morning of June 3, 1999. The perpetrators wrote a letter detailing the theft to the editorial staff of The Technique, Georgia Tech’s student newspaper. The letter, an abridged version of which was subsequently printed in the summer issue of The Technique, described the process of stealing the ‘T’ by lowering it via a rope and moving it to a secret location. The letter also included a photograph of the ‘T’ ‘on vacation’ in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. Finally, the perpetrators indicated plans to return the ‘T’ during the Georgia Tech Homecoming Parade, according to tradition, as long as no criminal charges would be brought against them. The letter was signed by fictitious Georgia Tech alumnus George P. Burdell. However, the Institute released a notice that those who stole the ‘T’ would be harshly punished, and therefore the ‘T’ remains to this day at an undisclosed location.”
Thinking of stealing the “T” today? Climbing on any Georgia Tech structure is not allowed, while stealing the ‘T’ is strictly prohibited and is officially punishable with expulsion. Potential thieves should also know that there are security features now installed at the building commonly known as Tech Tower, including pressure-sensitive roof tiling, fiber optic cabling running throughout the letters, and an audible alarm.
* For a behind-the-scenes look inside Tech Tower (including some of the security features) see this Facebook album from the College of Engineering.
Eileen Falkenberg-Hull is a digital marketing professional based in Atlanta who first visited Georgia in 1994 and decided that when she graduated from college she would make Georgia her home. Since 2007 that dream has been a reality. She is the founder and executive director of Occupy My Family.