History Museum exhibit depicts Notre Dame Stadium history
SOUTH BEND — As giant construction cranes are changing forever the exterior appearance of Notre Dame Stadium, now is the right time to look back on the history and lore of that famous football shrine.
Visitors can travel back in time to the stadium’s early days in the current exhibit, “The House That Rockne Built: Notre Dame Stadium,” which opened in August at The History Museum.
Visitors will see the original 1929 blueprints of the stadium by Osborne Engineering Co. of Cleveland and the signed contract for construction at a price of $506,000. (The total cost for the project was more than $750,000.)
It was quick work: excavation started in summer 1929, work on the foundation began in April 1930, with completion four months later.
Some Fighting Irish fans may be dismayed to learn that Notre Dame Stadium was modeled, on a smaller scale, after the University of Michigan Stadium, constructed in 1927.
Tragically, famed Irish coach Knute Rockne led the Irish for only one season in the new stadium. He died the following March at age 43 in an airplane crash in Kansas.
The exhibit includes some rarely seen artifacts: a green wooden original box seat (in 1930 each box seat cost up to $2,000 to reserve), early game tickets, early helmets, original steel lockers that were removed during the 1997 renovation/expansion, and photos of Cartier Field, the 30,000-seat facility where Notre Dame home football games were played from 1900 to 1928.
The exhibit pays tribute to some of the great Irish coaches: Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian, Devine and Holtz, as well as such gridiron legends as the Four Horsemen and George Gipp.
There’s a wonderful 1924 letter, signed by Rockne himself, warning students who didn’t buy tickets or who “were foolish enough to sell their Nebraska tickets” to not attempt to crash the gate for that big game under penalty of “severe disciplinary action.”
Fans who thinks the shiny golden helmets or gold shoes the Fighting Irish players don these days are too flashy must take a close look at the 1935 uniform on display that was worn by William “Bill” Shakespeare — nicknamed “The Bard of South Bend” and “The Merchant of Menace” — who played for Notre Dame from 1933 to 1935. It’s vivid yellow with red and navy blue details.
There also are details about the current $400 million Campus Crossroads construction project that is adding three academic/student life buildings to the exterior of Notre Dame Stadium and room above for luxury seating.
It’s an exhibit worthy of a visit for those wanting to look back — or forward.
“The House that Rockne Built: Notre Dame Stadium” exhibit continues through Aug. 6, 2016, at The History Museum, 808 W. Washington St., South Bend. Admission charged.www.historymuseumsb.org or 574-235-9664.