From his perch in the Science Room, where he hangs with a steel rod up his back to support him, Dooley has been able to observe and note the characteristics of every member of the College community.
It may be easier to describe the endearing aspects of Dooley because the history is somewhat clear, the traditional enactments fairly routine, and the cant easily adaptable. What is known is that in October 1899, the Phoenix, Emorys monthly literary journal of the day, carriedamid articles on the evolution of penmanship, the poetry of Sidney Lanier, and the Civil War prison at Andersonvillean essay titled Reflections of the Skeleton. Purporting to be from a specimen in the Science Room, the essay began with a lament of students return to campus: For three months I have had a rest up here among these silent specimens, pickled bull-frogs, canned quadrupeds and other reptilian vertebrates, but now these college boys are back again and I am miserable.
We learn certain facts about the skeleton in this self-introduction (he used to live in New York, for instance), but more interestingly we can infer something of his character. Ruminative (what else can he do, after all?), somewhat dour, he remarks that he is unsure whether he is doing any good in the world, because there is no element of love or work in my life. Presumably he once loved being alive, but he notes that times have changed; sophomores now disturb the silence by singing Hello, My Baby. He laments, I am real glad I am dead, since people have begun to sing such songs.
Then we hear no more from the skeleton until 1909. In the October issue of the Phoenix that year appears Dooleys LetterBy Way of Introduction. Somewhat at odds with the earlier bone-man, this letter writer distances himself from that spurious Mr. Dooley who lives and writes in New York. I am the only original, authentic, and genuine Dooley. He reflects on his life as the only son of a wealthy Virginia planter. Born during the Revolutionary War, he retired to Georgia after a long and eventful life. Bearing the scars of many battles, Dooley visited Emory College and has kept up with its history. I little dreamed then that my lot later in my experience would be cast with her as a member of her faculty.
Reaching old age and finding his strength of mind declining, Dooley was seized by an old habit which I learned while campaigningdrinking alcohol. Soon liquor ruined me, and Dooley passed from this life in the home for incurables; the homes doctor saved the skeleton for instruction and eventually found Dooley this position on the faculty at Emory. From his perch in the Science Room, where he hangs with a steel rod up his back to support him, Dooley has been able to observe and note the characteristics of every member of the College community.
In the 1909 letter Dooley relates in great detail his firstand so far onlyvisit to the chapel, when unidentified boys in the early hours of a dark and gloomy night carried him from the Science Room to the chapel, where they suspended him from the ceiling above the presidents chair on the rostrum.
Lighting into the assembled body for the frivolity at hand, President Dickey vented rage at the sacrilege of the skeletons presence in chapel. Dooley himself felt defended, at first, but then soon realized that he himself was the object of Dickeys rant.
No doubt that sentiment regarding chapel spoke for many of the boys.
Wishing he had more space for more such stories, Dooley promises to contribute regularly to the Phoenix. Before signing off, however, he utters his immortal parting line: Presidents may come and presidents may go; professors may come and professors may go; students may come and students may go; but Dooley goes on forever.
An invisible but vociferous commentator on College life in the last years of Emorys Oxford existence and the first years in Atlanta, Dooley published his observations in the Phoenix and, later, the yearbook the Campus while managing to maintain the anonymity of his amanuenses.
Not until 1941, apparently, did Dooley begin his campus appearances as a kind of Lord of Misrule. That year the trustees at long last permitted dancing on campus, and student activities coordinators planned a frolic to take advantage of the new freedom. Lending his name to the romp, Dooley himself appeared at Dooleys Frolics, a tradition that persists to this day as Dooleys Week.
In the ensuing decades a number of other traditions have grown up around the figure of Dooley. Contriving to appear on campus at the beginning of the week that bears his name, Dooley has made his entrance by every means imaginableone year coming through the Haygood-Hopkins Gate on a motorcycle, another year landing in a helicopter on the Quadrangle, and still another time rising from his very grave on the Quad. Custom has allowed him the privilege to arrive at a classroom and set students free. His peacekeeper is a squirt gun. Since an unpleasant incident in the impudent sixties, when a student attacked Dooley with the apparent intention of unmasking him, the visitor from Beyond is accompanied by a retinue of hand-picked students, whose black garb and shades appropriately complement the weird visitor from the grave.
Taking for himself the first name and middle initial of whoever happens to be the Universitys president, Dooley rises above the mutability of University life and, indeed, of life itself.
Which brings up the more excruciating aspect of Dooley. There was the moment preceding the Carter Town Hall Meeting in September 1996, when Dooley came to the Woodruff Physical Education Center to pay his respects to President Jimmy Carter and the gathered freshman class. Those who were there still recount the interminably long, painfully slow walk Dooley made from the back of the audience to the stage, and then, having had his statement read, the equally patience-wearing crawl back out the doors.
How is it that such a spirit of ironyat times whimsical, at times causticwith enough of a penchant for physical courage to ride motorcycles and helicopters (what has he got to lose, after all?) can have become the decrepit and unimaginative traveler of the 1990s? Does it have something to do with the decadethe infection of bones by a widespread American caution inspired by economic prosperity and anxiety about its end? Fear that the new millennium will bring the sound of Gideons trumpet, raising others long-dead from their graves too?
Who knows? But surely one can hope that Emorys Lord of Misrule, who once had the flexibility to clamber out of a coffin and the vitality to scamper in and out of classrooms, can learn once again to move with the speed of laughter.