Narrative Rearviews have been taking longer and longer to write as we’ve gotten closer and closer to the present, thanks to increasingly fracturing sourcing and, well, just a lot more going on besides “the main thing,” so perhaps features like these will become more common, since there of a common interest and relevant enough that we fill a T-Book with them every year.
Listen, I’m going to be honest with all of you. You probably won’t learn anything new in this column. Or, at least, nothing I say about Tech’s foremost live animal resident, and yes, there have been multiple, will shock your world. In my experience, it seems like even the kids at Tech who don’t really care about traditions, sports, history, or the rest of the topics us readers and writers here at From the Rumble Seat avidly follow know the basics about the “ever faithful and true companion of the student body at Ga. Tech.” Sure, the optimist in me can hope and dream that it’s because they read the T-Book, but, let’s be real: what is every student constantly chasing? Good grades. Or, at the very least, decent enough grades so after four, or five, or six years, they let you walk across the stage, get a piece of paper, and go get a job. And the reason Sideways still carries an outsized resonance in campus culture is because, at some point, a sweet, but maimed, dog died an untimely and mysterious death, and transcended this mortal coil, and become a legend.
In hindsight, Sideways’ time at Georgia Tech was a rather short one. Though the exact details differ depending on whether you consult the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, one of the Tech-adjacent websites, the T-Book, or Atlas Obscura, her origins weren’t particularly glamorous, no matter the source. One thing is not disputed: Sideways was certainly a white terrier with spots on her face. But, where the accounts differ, they all follow the same basic pattern. Having survived some harrowing injury stemming from expulsion from a car, either being thrown or falling out a window driving or stopped on North Avenue or the Varsity, and subsequently being nursed back to health or supported through surgery by either a local boarding house owner named Mrs. Schofield or students. Seeing as Georgia Tech Living History, probably the best-supported resource, coming mostly from compounding primary sourcing, explicitly supports the former caretaker and The Varsity parking lot explanation, and places the date to March of 1945, along with the assertion that the puppy was eight months old, let’s roll with that story.
Understandably, the dog’s nickname came from the permanent gait in her walk after the incident, causing her to walk with her head at a 15˚ offset to her body. Due to Mrs. Schofield’s house having proximity to Tech and its students, the young men at Tech took quickly to the dog. As Living History and the T-Book both state, “[the dog] was a popular figure on the campus, attending classes, marching with the drill teams, and often leading the football team onto the field.”
The Technique, as well as other sources, note that
“Sideways would often accompany students to and from their classes, displaying a preference for certain professors’ lectures. It was said that she would sit up and listen raptly to interesting lecturers, while she would curl up and sleep for a less engaging speaker. [She] would spend every night in a different dorm room, and would always get her meals at Brittain Dining Hall. [The dog] often had run-ins with the law and was frequently caught by the dog catcher, but was always bailed out of “prison” by her loyal student benefactors.” (Technique, 1998)
In a previous Technique, dated from while Sideways was still alive, they note it is not uncommon to wander into “the chow hall [Brittain Dining Hall] as Sideways (barking long and loud) is addressed as ‘Yes sir, chief. Yes sir!’”
In the days before the Reck leading the team out onto Grant Field, this was an unusual and high honor to bestow. It’s worth mentioning that, much like her successor, she was seen as a good luck charm for the team, which, after a 2-5 home record in her first year on campus, rocky in part because it was Bobby Dodd’s first as head football coach and the school was adjusting to the post-war scale down of military operations at the school, saw the Jackets go 6-0 in her sophomore season as Tech’s live mascot. The Jackets ended the year with a 9-2 record and a 41-19 Oil Bowl stomping of St. Mary’s of California and wins over top-20 LSU and Duke, as well as rivals Tulane and Auburn, peaking as high as no. 6 in the AP Poll.
Unfortunately for the campus, the tale of Sideways ended abruptly and short of a full life on the morning of August 17th, 1947. Here’s the complete text of a rare Technique obituary for Sideways:
“Tragedy befell the Georgia School of Technology Thursday at 9:30 a.m. when the mortal life of Sideways came toa suddenend by the side of the Tech Hospital. While it is suspected that poisoning was the cause of death, no definite facts substantiate this belief as to the circumstances leading to the death of one of the most beloved figures ever to set foot on the Georgia Tech campus.” (Technique, 1947)
It is all but certain that Sideways shrugged off this mortal coil by accidentally consuming some rat poison left in the dorms to address the vermin problem.
It is interesting to peruse the sources available about Tech’s beloved dog. As with most things, there’s plenty of sourcing that gets about a thimble deep from outside sources, but the ubiquity of Sideways mentions in the Technique shows the true caché of her legacy. Just two years later, she was invoked in a lengthy article about a guy with a fruit/ice cream cart down by the Heisman Gym.
“For years now when “Apple Jim” Heard has turned from his apple cart to an Eskimo Pie wagon, students have known for sure that spring has arrived. In his seventeen years’ work here at Tech Jim has become quite a well- known figure. Only ‘Sideways’ surpassed ‘Apple Jim’ in prominence.” (Technique, 1948)
Similarly, it is frequent to see students in general using Sideways as a marker in either fledgling or flagging school spirit. With the end of the Second World War, it seems Sideways was the icon of an enthused and excited student body. Using sideways as a selling point for dances and social events was particularly commonplace. The needs of postwar campus were very different, and the tone of the student body seemed to change with its rapid influx of veterans, many married, after the GI Bill. This isnt to critique that, but it does reveal itself in the tone of invocation of the dog, or in the attitude of the papers. Using Sideways as a token in campus politics and power conversation, however, was surprisingly common while she was still alive, and continues to this day, prominently as a juxtaposition of values like relegating Stealing the T to “historic legend” alongside the dog and drownproofing (which is another story - I would have gladly taken that class for the heck of it if it were even still offered as an elective) rather than an active tradition in that recent debate.
There’s an irony in that, though, considering how active of a role that Sideways has in the student consciousness, particularly around finals season. The memorial to Sideways was donated by the McNeel Marble Co. of Marietta after a call by student leaders to have a tribute to the dog. It is noted that McNeel was the world’s largest supplier of monuments at the time, so a particularly interesting kind of synergy happened with that one. For a while, the monument was parallel to the sidewalk near the burial site but, fittingly, it was changed to be, well, sideways, and, after a brief spell of alignment with the sidewalk again post-renovation of Tech Tower, was restored to its fitting orthogonal position where it remains today.
It’s interesting to look at relatively recent outside sources’ pictures of the grave. A lot, frankly, don’t have all that many pennies on them, but go to the grave now and it’s a different story. There’s not a lot of history and sports stuff I can point to at Tech and say “that got better” in terms of grassroots student support, but putting pennies on Sideways’ grave absolutely did. Lately, it’s common to see an overflowing mound on the monument, with rain washing enough copper and zinc onto the gravel around the memorial to turn the slate-colored ground a tint of brown. Certain desperate times call for desperate measures, and things like painted rocks, rolls of nickels, quarters, and dimes, or the stray MARTA ticket are not wholly unusual.
When I went to the grave in fall of 2016, it felt lonesome and weird. Nowadays, it feels universal. Like we’re all in it together. That, in the end, is what Sideways meant. Though she was a stray, who meandered from situation to situation, home to home, and meal to meal, met an untimely death, and, in both death and life, was often taken by various sides to be Something Larger than Life, Sideways represents what we all strive for at Georgia Tech: Belonging as an outsider and a broken soul, being celebrated, and being remembered by the people around you, in your own special little - profoundly meaningful - way. Sideways, through her short but winding life, shows us that that is eminently possible.
All it takes is a little luck.
A special thanks to Dress Her in White and Gold, Engineering the New South, and the Georgia Tech Archives for the background information and images used in writing this column. Also, this one had a nice blurb on Atlas Obscura, so thanks to them, too.
If you have any events or ideas you would like to see investigated, leave a comment below and I will be sure to look into adding it to the schedule. In the coming weeks, we’ll look at some of the other events of the 1960s before we look at the Twilight of Edwin Harrison.