Gimghoul Coded Yearbook Messages

A portion of a yearbook page that says "The Order of Gimghouls" at top and features the Gimghoul icon of a creature behind a column holding a key. Its tail spells "Gimghoul." A message, in code, is below.
An excerpt from the Gimghouls page in the 1890 UNC yearbook.

If you were to examine a UNC yearbook, you would encounter the expected contents: sports pages, page after page of fraternities, and reminders of the year’s major events. However, there are more mysterious things lurking in those pages courtesy of the Order of Gimghoul: coded messages.

A bit of background knowledge is needed to understand any of this in the first place. The Order of Gimghoul, a males-only secret society, was founded in 1889 by Edward Wray Martin, William W. Davies, Shepard Bryan, Andrew Henry Patterson, and Robert Worth Bingham, all students at UNC-Chapel Hill. The legend of Peter Dromgoole was used as the basis for their society and it was founded as the Order of Dromgoole. The name was later changed to Gimghoul “in accord with midnight and graves and weirdness.” Martin created the initiation ritual, constitution, and bylaws, and as years passed they evolved. The order consolidated its beliefs and customs into a combination of the Dromgoole legend and the ideals of Arthurian chivalry.

Despite being secret, the Order frequently has a yearbook page. The first Gimghoul page appeared in The Hellenian in 1890. Since the Order’s creation, the Rex—the term for the  Gimghoul leader—has been expected to write a coded message in the yearbook each year, and a message has appeared in almost every yearbook produced since 1892. The Hellenian yearbook was replaced by The Yackety Yack in 1901, but the messages continued. On occasion, a message from a preceding year will be repeated.

The messages are almost always accompanied by the Gimghoul emblem, a ghoul that grins wickedly and spells out “Gimghoul” with his tail. In his left hand he holds the Mystic Key, in his right the Cross of Gimghoul. Each emblem also includes the moon, a group of 7 stars, and a column set on a triple foundation.

A selection of the decoded messages are presented in their entirety below.

1895: “Now let us all take caeer [cheer] and eook [look] to wxat’s [what’s] to come for tas’s a prospaeons [prosperous] year in whiya [which] we ael aape [all hope] wox to moy it be.”

The writer of the 1895 message made a minor alteration to the key used to code “Gimghoulese,” but even with this taken into account the message is garbled. The writer made mistakes in his use of the alphabet square, making it difficult to decipher. In addition, it was evidently handwritten: the typesetter misunderstood several letters.

1896: “On being tied to a tree in the initiatiop [initiation], Butlxr [Butler] desertbd [deserted] He was chughk [caught] in bed and initiated nevertheless. The Devil is hard to beat.

Yours–Valmar VIII”

The Butler mentioned here was a math instructor initiated in 1895-6. The process was a complicated one: neophytes would gather in Room 22 of South Building around midnight, awaiting their fate. Eventually, a robed and hooded figure would arrive and lead inductees eastward, on a path through Battle Park. A secondary, harsher path to Piney Prospect would be used to reach the final initiation point, Dromgoole Rock. There would stand the Rex himself, who would finally declare one a member.

The mysterious author, Valmar VIII, was the Rex William R. Webb. A Valmar is credited as authoring most messages.

1899: “In this, the tenth year, let every loyal knight renew his love for Gimghoul, and aid in continuing its noble work. Valmar X”

1901: “Read ‘Guinevere’ lines 460-480, in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. Valmar XI”

The lines referred to read as follows:

In that fair Order of my Table Round,
A glorious company, the flower of men,
To serve as model for the mighty world,
And be the fair beginning of a time.
I made them lay their hands in mine and swear
To reverence the King, as if he were
Their conscience, and their conscience as their King,
To break the heathen and uphold the Christ,
To ride abroad redressing human wrongs,
To speak no slander, no, nor listen to it,
To honour his own word as if his God’s,
To lead sweet lives in purest chastity,
To love one maiden only, cleave to her,
And worship her by years of noble deeds,
Until they won her; for indeed I knew
Of no more subtle master under heaven
Than is the maiden passion for a maid,
Not only to keep down the base in man,
But teach high thought, and amiable words
And courtliness, and the desire of fame,
And love of truth, and all that makes a man.

1902: “We saould not pass from the iarth uithknr trcces to corry oqd memonh xvb postesity.”

This message is supposed to read “we should not pass from the earth without leaving traces to carry our memory to posterity.”

1903: “The wise leader is he who knows when to follow.”

1904: “The great works in this world spring from the ruins of greater projects.”

1911-1914: “Sir Knights, remember noblisse oblige and be courageous, be loyal, be true. Valmar XXII”

1915, 1918, 1919: “To all Sir Knights the world around, greetings from Hippol Castle, Glanden.”

1921: “To Sir Knights the world over — greetings!”

1922, 1923: “Never let nothing get you down.”

1924: “Fight to the finish and never say die.”

1925: “One thing is forever good; that one thing is success.”

1930: “Courage, loyalty, truth, love: these four badges, Sir Knights, you must ever wear.”

1935: “The power to meet life with love and courage is all that makes life worth living.”

1944-1946: “Speed to all ye Sir Knights of the Order who have entered the service of our great country.”

A yellowed page featuring a square of letters and instructions for deciphering a code.
The alphabet square used to decipher the messages until 1895. [From the Order of Gimghoul Records, University Archives]
These translations come from Gimghoul Pages, an unattributed collection of Gimghoul yearbook pages found in the Records of the Order of Gimghoul. The book also includes a cipher for anyone who might want to do decoding for themselves, but most decoding will be fruitless; in 1895 the Order changed the alphabet square in an unknown manner. Additionally, the codes are frequently garbled thanks to the typesetters’ difficulty in understanding the messages.

Due to the secret nature of the Order, Gimghoul records in Wilson Library that are less than 50 years old are closed to everyone but members of the Order and those with written permission from the current Rex. However, records older than 50 years (including the materials referenced here) are open for research in Wilson Library.


“Papers (Open), 1832-1996” in the Order of Gimghoul of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Records, 1832-2009 #40262, University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The Hellenian and Yackety Yack yearbooks, North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (View online via DigitalNC)

Order of the Golden Fleece: Frank Porter Graham Lecture on Excellence Speakers

Founded on April 11, 1904, the Order of the Golden Fleece is the oldest and highest honorary society at UNC. The presiding officer of the organization is called the Jason, and members of the order are called “argonauts.” Membership in the club was closed to women until 1972. Initiates to the society are classically inducted in public “tapping ceremonies,” an event where “giants” (the name for members of the Order disguised in black hoods) roam the audience of a campus event “tapping” those chosen for membership. After the ceremony, a guest speaker is called onto stage to give a lecture. Prior to the 1960s, the ceremony did not always include a lecture. In 1980, the guest lecture was named the Frank Porter Graham Lecture on Excellence. The following list is an incomplete timeline of speakers hosted by the Order of the Golden Fleece.

1930: Harry Woodburn Chase, UNC President

1942: Dr. Urban T. Holmes reads “Jason and the Argonauts”

1954: R. Mayne Albright

1955: Justice William H. Bobbitt

1958: Clifton L. Moore

1959: Lenoir Chambers

1960: Albert Coates

1961: Terry Sanford, NC Governor

1965: Frederick Henry Weaver

1966: Lennox Polk McLendon, Jr.

1967: Edward M. Yoder, Jr.

1968: Professor Walt Spearman

1969: Charles Kuralt

1970: Tom Wicker of the New York Times

1971: Richardson Preyer, NC Congressman

1972: William D. Snider, Editor

1973: James B. McMillan, Federal District Court Judge

1974: Julius L Chambers

1975: Howard Lee, Mayor of Chapel Hill

1976: Ed Yoder

1977: Hamilton Hobgood

1978: Samuel R Williamson

1979: McNeil Smith

1980: Charles Kuralt

1981: Richardson Preyer

1982: Hargrove Bowls, Jr.

1983: Jim Hunt, NC Governor

1984: James Cooper, U.S. Congress, Tennessee

1985: Dean Smith

1986: James Leutze

1987: Terry Sanford, U.S. Senate, N.C.

1988: Anson Dorrance

1989: Alexander Heard

1990: Judith A Hines

1991: Julius L Chambers

1992: Willis Padgett Whichard

1993: Richard Allen Vinroot

1994: Marie Watters Colton

1995: Chuck Stone, Jr.

1996: Shelby Foote

1997: Dr. Julius Chambers

1998: Edwin M Yoder, Jr.

1999: Erskine Bowles

2000: Benjamin S. Ruffin

2001: Richard J. Richardson

2002: Doris Betts

2003: Robert Kirkpatrick

2004: Dr. Francis Collins

2005: Phillip Clay, MIT Chancellor

2006: Woody Durham


2008: Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat

2009: Jonathan Reckford


2012: F. Taylor Branch


2014: Mia Hamm

2015: Carol Folt

2016: Thomas W Ross, Sr.

2017: Kevin Guskiewicz

2018: Bland Simpson



Daily Tar Heel (articles cited above).

Order of the Golden Fleece of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Records, 1904-2017
Finding Aid:

G. Nicholas Herman, The Order of the Golden Fleece at Chapel Hill, 1904-2004 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library, 2005), 58.

Carolina Gay Association Southeastern Conference, 1976

From April 2-4 of 1976, the Carolina Gay Association (CGA) hosted the first annual Southeastern Gay Conference, a conference dedicated to “furthering the feminist and gay movements.” Tom Carr, the CGA Conference Coordinator, called it “a celebration of the gay lifestyle.” A major theme of the conference was how the gay identity, whether open or hidden, influences society, and that theme was addressed by three out of four of the major spokespersons.

The three spokespeople in question were Dave Kopay, Loretta Lotman, and Perry Deane Young. Dave Kopay was a running back for the Washington Redskins and one of the first professional football players to come out as gay (in December 1975). The Daily Tar Heel reports that in a press conference, Kopay said:

Many athletes are trapped by the feeling of macho heaped on the male in the U.S. To be homosexual and an athlete in unheard of. Hopefully there will be more athletes to come out now.

Young was a former writer for the Durham Morning Herald who was collaborating with Kopay on a book about homosexuality.

Lotman was the media director for the National Gay Task Force, a videotape producer, and additionally founded G-MAN, the Gay Media Alert Network. In her panel she discussed the discrimination faced by lesbians in the workplace and how they dealt with both sexism and homophobia.

The convention’s keynote address was delivered by Franklin Kameny, “the first self-acknowledged homosexual to run for Congress.” Though unsuccessful, he was nonetheless a man described by The Daily Tar Heel as “the country’s leading gay activist.” At the time the article was written, two gay congresspeople had won their seats since Kameny’s campaign. In his address Kameny stated that his campaign, even though it didn’t end with him in Congress, was beneficial to the gay community, partially because of its impact on the government’s political structure and partially as an effort to shift how queer culture was perceived by the minds of the general populace.

Read more about the Carolina Gay Association here.


The Daily Tar Heel 4/05/1976


High Noon Society, 1974

On November 19, 1974, a group of parents took it upon themselves to write Chancellor Ferebee Taylor an ultimatum: “It is the consensus of my husband, myself, and a large number of our friends (including several attorneys), that if action is not taken to stop this illegal activity on state-owned property that we may bring suit against the university…”

An image from The Daily Tar Heel opinion page. (DTH, 10/18/1974)

The source of the writer’s ire is an organization known as the High Noon Society. The purpose of the club, as reported by its 227 members in the October 25, 1974 issue of The Daily Tar Heel, was to gather at the Bell Tower or Forest Theatre and “take it easy.” Students would form a crowd and just get to know each other, relaxing and taking a moment to unwind from the stress of academics. So why did the club attract so much attention from concerned parents?

Mostly it was because of the marijuana.

The Daily Tar Heel reported that the club was a group that “smoke[s] pot and socializes on Fridays at noon,” and they certainly weren’t wrong. (DTH, 1/10/1975) “To imply that there is no marijuana smoked would be less than candid,” admitted even a letter defending the club. (DTH, 10/25/1974) High Noon quickly became famous as High Noon, and the publicity caused it to blossom from a dozen members at its formation to a large gathering approaching 300 members.

Typed news release.
News release from the Dean of Student Affairs Donald Boulton, 9 January 1975.

By early January 1975, press coverage and public interest had pushed UNC’s administration into action. A mysterious plan was announced to “halt the marijuana use of the High Noon group,” but its members were unphased. The club met that Friday and smoked pot anyway, and the university put its plan into action. Several photographers were placed atop Wilson Library to photograph around 50 of the Nooners entering the Bell Tower lawn. The Daily Tar Heel reported that an assistant dean of student life admitted that surveillance was part of the plan to end the smoking. (DTH, 1/10/1975)

At the same time photographers were spying on them, leaders of High Noon held a conference with 30 members about alternatives to smoking pot. A High Noon with beer or liquor rather than weed was an idea tossed around for a while. The group then remembered that public consumption of alcohol is also against North Carolina law. Around half the Nooners smoked pot after the photographers left, blazing it even in the face of adversity. (DTH, 1/13/1975)

Several Chapel Hill lawyers declared that the photos would have no value in court, mostly because it was impossible to tell whether the club was smoking tobacco or weed. One lawyer went so far as to call photographing High Noon “the most incredible, mind-boggling invasion of civil liberties [he’s] seen in a long time.” (DTH, 1/17/1975)

The Chapel Hill town council later met with the police to discuss the photos. It’s unclear how the meeting ended, but the High Noon Society disbanded shortly thereafter, ending its short (but dramatic) life. It’s not easy being green.


“High Noon, 1974” in the Office of Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Nelson Ferebee Taylor Records #40023, University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Finding aid:

Various articles from The Daily Tar Heel cited above.

Now Available: Edie Parker Papers

We are pleased to announce a new addition to University Archives, the Edie Parker Papers.

Edie Parker (then Edie Knight) attended UNC from 1947 to 1949. As a student, she was active in student government, Greek life, and the Model United Nations. The collection — mostly in the form of a scrapbook — includes materials from the Women’s Intercollegiate Government Forum that Parker planned, orientation booklets, rush invitations, clippings about the Model UN from the Daily Tar Heel, and letters from male suitors. While at UNC, Parker also participated in a conference about the U.S. role in European recovery from World War II that Mademoiselle magazine hosted in 1948. Her notes from the conference are included in the collection. Parker’s scrapbook and accompanying papers provide insight into the life of a woman student at UNC during the late 1940s.

Below, we’ve highlighted just a few items from the Edie Parker scrapbook, including photographs of UNC students and the 1949 UNC Commencement program.

Now Available: Records of the UNC Cardboard Club

University Archives is pleased to share a newly processed collection – the records of the UNC Cardboard Club. The Cardboard Club, started in 1948 by UNC cheerleader Norman Sper, coordinated and produced displays at UNC football games, using colored cardboard squares to form words and images in the stands.

Animated GIF made from photos from a 1967 football game between UNC and Wake Forest, in the Records of the UNC Cardboard Club (#40354), University Archives.










Members of the club planned out their designs on gridded paper, and placed cardboard squares and cue cards listing the upcoming “stunts” on the seats of the “card section” of Kenan Stadium the night before football games.

GIF made from photos of a 1966 UNC versus Duke game from the Cardboard Club Records (40354), University Archives.
GIF made from photos of a 1966 UNC versus Duke game from the Cardboard Club Records (40354), University Archives.










The club was funded by the Carolina Athletic Association. It was discontinued in 1987, in part due to safety concerns–students often sent their cardboard panels flying towards the field at the end of games, hitting fellow spectators.

See more photos of the Club’s game day stunts in the collection finding aid.


Update: The Curious Case of the Cuban Club

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the Cuban Club, a short-lived club for Cuban students at UNC in the early 20th century. This week, I came across a letter written just months after the Spanish-American War in which Major General Joseph Wheeler, president of the Cuban Educational Association, tells UNC President Edwin Alderman that he “note[s] with pleasure that you state that the University of North Carolina would easily give scholarships, remitting all tuition to several [Cuban students].”

The Cuban Educational Association operated from 1898 to 1901 and partnered with colleges across the United States to send Cuban and Puerto Rican college-age students to school in the United States. Universities and colleges offered one to two students a full scholarship to cover books, tuition and fees. The students and their families had to cover the cost of living, usually $200 – $300 annually. Therefore, most of the students coming to the United States were from the middle and upper classes. The scholarship mandated that the students return home after graduation.

Over the four years it was in operation, the Cuban Educational Association and its over 50 partner institutions helped to send over 2,500 students to school in the United States. When these students returned home, most became teachers, doctors and lawyers in their communities.

This letter was written 10 years before the Cuban Club appeared in the Yackety Yack, but it suggests that the influx of students from Cuba in the early 20th century may have been related to work begun by the Cuban Educational Association.

Letter to Dr. Alderman from Joshua (from the University Papers, #40005, University Archives).

Original Post: The Curious Case of the Cuban Club

“All Dances Will Be Suspended”: The Effect of Prohibition at UNC in 1925

While national prohibition was voted into law in 1919 with the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, North Carolina had been dry since it passed a state-wide prohibition law in 1908. As the sale and consumption of alcohol in North Carolina had already been banned for twelve years when enforcement of the 18th Amendment began in 1920, prohibition had little direct effect on the University.

German Club Executive Committee, from the 1926 Yackety Yack,
German Club Executive Committee in the 1926 Yackety Yack, from DigitalNC

However, a 1925 German Club dance held around Thanksgiving prompted a harsh response from President H.W. Chase. Despite its name, the German Club was not related to the nation of Germany or the German language. Rather, the club, organized in the late nineteenth century, planned formal dances and other social events for its members. A ‘German’ was a kind of social dancing that became popular following the Civil War.

The incident caused by this dance was investigated by Andrew Henry Patterson, a professor of physics and Dean of the School of Applied Sciences. In his report to President Chase, Patterson noted that the conditions for illegal drinking were perfect as there were, “hundreds of visitors brought here by the game, and many of them with liquor. The wonder is that more drinking was not done[….]” The game to which Patterson referred was the annual Thanksgiving Day game against the University of Virginia. According to Patterson, “no estimate on the part of anybody as to the number of men who had taken a drink would run over 20 or 25% of those present,” and that “no shadow of a rumor that any girls were drinking has been found, which is encouraging.”

Patterson to Chase
Report on German Club dance incident by A.H. Patterson, from  University of North Carolina Papers (#40005), University Archives

On the day this letter was sent to President Chase, December 4, 1925, he delivered an address to students in chapel discouraging the use of alcohol. Chase emphasized “the problem of the influence of drinking on the future business and social relations of the young men who make up the student bodies in our colleges today.” He went on to state “his opinion that drinking is now a thing for the vulgar and lower classes to indulge in” and that alcohol use was something “invariably leading to unmannerly and indecent conduct.”

This incident and its investigation prompted President Chase to suspend all dances at the University until the end of Easter holidays. This suspension also extended to “the giving of any dance by any University organization or student at any place outside the University campus.” When the suspension ended in April of 1926, the German Club adopted new bylaws that made its executive committee responsible to the University for the conduct at all dances, regardless of the clubs or groups hosting them. According to the Daily Tar Heel on April 15, 1926, these bylaws also imposed regulations on dances. These included no smoking on the dance floor, no girls leaving the dance hall without a chaperone, and strict end times for dances. Most dances were required to end by 1:00 AM, while Saturday night dances had to end by midnight. Some German Club dances were permitted to last until 2:00 AM. The German Club continued to organize dances and concerts until the late 1960s.

[President Chase’s letter to the German Club suspending all dances, from the University of North Carolina Papers (#40005), University Archives]

The Curious Case of the Cuban Club

Yackety Yak, 1908
Yackety Yack 1908

In the 1908 Yackety Yack, among the pages for “county clubs” (clubs for students from the same county or high school in North Carolina) a new club appeared – the Cuban Club.

A club for Cuban students at the university, the Cuban Club was short lived (1908 to 1910) and represented a brief surge in the enrollment of Cuban students at the university. While the club never had more than 11 members, that was a significant number – the total enrollment of the University was then 778, with only 55 out-of-state students.

Most of the students from Cuba were studying engineering, medicine, and pharmacy and the last of the group graduated in 1911. Issues of the Daily Tar Heel from around the time suggest that in the years that followed the university had no more than one Cuban student enrolled each year. We aren’t sure what drew this group of Cuban students to UNC between 1908 and 1911, or why the enrollment of Cuban students dropped in the following years.

Yackety Yack 1909 and 1910

 Update (4/19/2016): See this post for additional information.

Black Student Movement Demands, 1968

Black Student Movement Demands, 1968.
Black Student Movement Demands, 1968.

At the Town Hall meeting about race and inclusion held at Memorial Hall last night, students from The Real Silent Sam and other activists presented a series of demands to university administrators. The demands referenced a similar document from the Black Student Movement in 1968.

On December 11, 1968, representatives of the Black Student Movement presented a list of 23 demands to Chancellor Carlyle Sitterson and other campus administrators. The demands included changes in admissions and financial aid policies, the establishment of a department of African and Afro-American studies, administrative support for black students, and a commitment to address the low wages and inadequate living conditions of African American employees and the local black community.

Daily Tar Heel, 12 December 1968.
Daily Tar Heel, 12 December 1968.

Chancellor Sitterson responded the following month with a 19-page, point-by-point reaction to the demands.  He wrote of a desire to promote “free and frank discussion” on campus.  Sitterson’s responses addressed specific issues in the demands, often pointing out that the changes requested were either partially underway, needed further elaboration, or fell outside the responsibilities of the Chancellor’s office.

People interested in learning more about the 1968 demands and the ongoing discussions they provoked can find good coverage in the Daily Tar Heel. The Chancellor’s response and the reactions of some alumni are documented in the Sitterson papers in the University Archives. The role of the Black Student Movement is documented in Black Ink, which began publication in late 1969, and the records of the Black Student Movement in University Archives.

Visit Wilson Library, or contact us for resources and suggestions for researching UNC history.


Black Student Movement Demands, December 1968.

Sitterson Response to Black Student Movement Demands, January 1969.

Daily Tar Heel, 12 December 1968.

The Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History: Exhibit on The Black Student Movement at Carolina.

Learn More:

Office of Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Joseph Carlyle Sitterson Records, 1966-1972 (collection number 40022), University Archives.

Black Student Movement Records (collection number 40400), University Archives.