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Discovering the Legend of Auburn’s War Eagle

September 16, 2010 by · Comments Off on Discovering the Legend of Auburn’s War Eagle 

At The Raptor Center

The War Eagle Flies

When I moved to Florida in ’97, a neighbor asked, “Are you a gator or a dawg?”  Having no idea what the reference meant, I simply replied, “A dog,” since I owned a lovable golden retriever.  Only later did I realize he was talking college football and mascots– a sport ranking legendary in Florida.

Over the years I have learned to read referee’s signals; move my arms in the Florida gator chomp; met Uga –the University of Georgia’s bulldog; toured the Bear Bryant football museum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and attended the Gator Bowl- held in my hometown of Jacksonville.

But, I’ve never had a special allegiance to any of these SEC (Southeastern Conference) schools until now.  My daughter enrolled as a freshman at Auburn University (class of 2014) so I’ve become a Tiger fan. I’ve also mastered the phrase, “War Eagle,” the battle cry or greeting used when meeting a student or alumnae.

How did Auburn come to have two animal symbols, particularly a War Eagle?

I discovered the answer when I visited the Southeastern Raptor Center on Auburn’s Veterinary School campus.  Or did I?  Numerous myths surround the iconic eagle at AU, but the most popular seems to be the one dating back to the Civil War.

According to printed legend published in 1960 in the Auburn Plainsman:

A soldier from Alabama was the sole Confederate survivor of a bloody battle. Stumbling across the battlefield, he found a wounded young eagle, kept it and nursed the bird back to health. Several years later the soldier, a former Auburn student, returned to college as a faculty member, bringing the bird with him. For years both were a familiar sight on campus and at events. On the day of Auburn’s first football game in 1892 against the University of Georgia, the aged eagle broke away from his master during the game and began to circle the field, exciting the fans. But at the end of the game, with Auburn victorious, the eagle fell to the ground and died.

Reminds me of the story of the runner, Pheidippides, the messenger who ran back and forth to Sparta (150 miles) and was then sent from Marathon to Athens (25 miles) to tell of the great victory. He completed then run, then died.

The first documented live eagle on campus arrived in November 1930. He was a golden eagle who swooped down on a flock of turkeys and became entangled in vines. Some individuals including cheerleaders DeWit Stier and Harry “Happy” Davis helped care for the rescued bird. They put it in a cage and took it to the Auburn football game against the University of South Carolina on Thanksgiving Day.

Nova returns to his trainer

Auburn, having not won a Southern Conference game in four seasons, was expected to lose. However, the Tigers managed a 25-7 victory over the Gamecocks. The student body could only conclude that the eagle’s presence on the sidelines was responsible for the victory.

The legend seems to continue today. A lady seated in the stadium said, “If the eagle sweeps over the crowd, Auburn will win.”  If the eagle flies directly to the trainer and its food stationed on the 50 yard line, well… victory is not guaranteed.

Whatever you believe, the Southeastern Raptor Center is a place of pride for the University.  Dr. Jimmy Milton founded it in the mid-1970’s to rehabilitate and release injured birds of prey. Over the years endowments and funding have enlarged the facility which now boasts  24 state of the art mews, a hospital, rehab building and educational center.

The Eagle has Landed

Nova, the golden eagle known as War Eagle VII and Spirit, a Bald Eagle, are trained at the Raptor Center along with other hawks, owl and vultures unable to return to the wild. The eagles continue to amaze spectators, flying free at the start of games in  Jordan-Hare Stadium. I must admit, watching Spirit soar prickled my spine. Their presence adds a unique touch to school  tradition and War Eagle history. When 90,000 fanatical fans pack in, the place rocks. And like the famous lunar  landing, when you go to Auburn’s game, you can  truly say the eagle has landed.


For anyone interested in learning more and viewing these birds up close, consider the ‘Football, Fans and Feathers’ show at the Raptor Center’s amphitheater on the Friday afternoons before Auburn home football games. Donations of $5.00 per person help support their educational programs.

Southeastern Raptor Center

1350 Raptor Road
Auburn University, AL 36849-5524

Barred Owl


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Stepping Backward and Leaping Forward

August 15, 2010 by · Comments Off on Stepping Backward and Leaping Forward 

Sending Your Kid to College

Auburn University

I’d been through this three times before, but needed to gather my inner strength to approach the process again. The act of matriculating a child into college calls for foresight and patience, and guarantees the addition of more than a few gray hairs. Guidance counselors usually push teens to get involved around the junior year of high school, perhaps earlier. Why, some parents even plan the choice before the child is born.

The road to enrollment follows a jagged course; one that bumps along, occasionally hitting potholes like SAT tests, college visitations and those dreaded application essays.  (AutomotiveTraveler.com readers may recall my somewhat ill-fated spring break odyssey two years ago.) Once the admissions paperwork is submitted, relax and idle the engine while waiting for a green light. Will the checkered flag of acceptance unfold or the agony of rejection?

By the end of the senior year, the path narrows, a selection is made and deposits sent. Post graduation plans include road trips to orientation and shopping for what my daughter calls necessities: extra-long organic sheets, memory foam mattress topper, futon, flat screen TV, coffee maker, i-Pad, computer and books. Seems she slants towards conspicuously posh.

And so last Thursday, my husband, daughter Laura and I made final preparations. Our car(s) were jammed like the Beverly Hillbillies, albeit with higher priced items. Laura packed clothing for  every imaginable occasion and essentials for the entire freshman class; and then, she crammed in a little more. Hubby Jay would drive our BMW along the 350 mile sojourn to Auburn University in Alabama and I would follow in Laura’s car.

About two hours into the trek, we entered Interstate-75. Suddenly, a warning light alerted Jay to low tire pressure. (Yes, the car was unusually weighted down.) He maneuvered onto the highway shoulder and I proceeded likewise. Whoa, one of the rear tires was a shamble, a near blow-out. Thank goodness, he avoided an accident.

Getting to the spare tire, hidden in the lower well, required the removal of all the suitcases, duffels, lamps and assorted items stashed within the trunk (think– a garage sale on the side of the road). No sooner had the bags been unloaded when it started to rain. Alas, the travel gods were not happy, opening the clouds with a torrential downpour; the type that stings worse than a failing grade. Jay quickly restashed the luggage and called BMW Assist.

A decision was made for Laura and I to proceed on while dear old Dad stayed behind to mount the spare, then purchase a replacement tire at the BMW dealer in  Albany, Georgia. This plan safely brought us all to our destination by nightfall. Funny, but one of Laura’s classmates, who was also in transit, sent a text message saying her Mom was nabbed for speeding.  As I mentioned, the fates were swirling that day.

Next morning dawned hot and humid with overcast skies.  The heat index called for another 100 degree scorcher; after all, this was Alabama in August. We followed university directions and unloaded the immense pile of belongings at 11 am. Then I, and a number of other Moms, guarded the stacked assemblages as the cars were parked.

When Laura entered the dorm to check-in, we discovered a wrong key had been given out earlier in the morning. A student who was not supposed to move into the assigned four-girl suite had already done so.  What?? And another suite mate had moved into the side where Laura and her roommate were to share the space.

Much confusion followed and move-in came to a stand still. Read – I sweltered in the sun waiting with the bags. Just when I thought I would expire, we got the go-ahead to haul her belongings to a lobby. We paced and waited for the resident director to sort out a solution. This was our chance to meet Laura’s roommate and her parents, who were the epitome of southern charm and easily rolled with the drama. Finally, at 2:00, we began to fill Laura’s new digs.  She had chosen a lofted bed; one which Auburn hires installers to construct– of course, at added expense. Long gone are the days when my sons used concrete blocks to raise the beds in their dorms.

By now the atmosphere has transformed from high anxiety to family friendly; parents planned future tailgates and football weekends. Jay was in charge of piecing together modular storage units, a project reminiscent of Christmas Eve toy construction. The Moms made a run to Wal-Mart. By 6:30 pm, we’d all had it; dinner and drinks called.

On Sunday morning, Jay and I stopped by with foodstuffs and good luck wishes for a successful year. We found four girls a flutter, wearing dresses that would stir male hormones, yet they had donned them for the first day of sorority recruitment or rush. My, they looked beautiful (yes I’m biased), but the insecure girls worried about their shoe selection and make-up smudging in the heat. To be honest, my daughter almost forgot to give us with a good-bye hug. So much for poignant moments

Shortly thereafter we left for the six-hour journey home. The desired transition was not what you’d call stress-free or uneventful, but our daughter was officially a college coed with a school address. That meant we were empty nesters. For the first time in 36 years, I did not have a child living at home.

Stepping back to pre-parenting days afforded a sense of relief and freedom, but leaping forward left me with an empty laundry hamper and a permanent wrinkle in my aching heart.

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