July 2, 2002
Purdue's Big Bass Drum makes long-awaited return to Chicago
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. When the heated football rivalry between Purdue and the University of Chicago was at its boiling point in the 1920s, The Purdue "All-American" Marching Band's Big Bass Drum visited Chicago many times, appearing in halftime shows at UC's Stagg Field and in parades through the streets of the Windy City.
The drum also appeared at a few Chicago Tribune sponsored charity games on Thanksgiving weekend between Purdue and Northwestern at Soldier Field. After UC dropped its football program in 1939, the Purdue Marching Band stopped traveling to Chicago. Decades later, the drum will be showcased again at Purdue Day on Navy Pier on Saturday, July 20.
Purdue's drum, known as the "World's Largest," made its first major football road trip to Chicago just a few months after its creation in 1921. Fans from the Windy City reportedly were quite impressed when they saw the size of the drum and demanded that the University of Chicago build a similar drum. The Conn Company of Elkhart, Ind., was engaged for that purpose.
That was the beginning of a rivalry that exists to this day. UC's big drum, built in 1922, was taller than Purdue's but skinnier. The title of "World's Largest" has always depended on how one measured the drums.
Purdue thought the debate over bragging rights was a moot point when UC dropped its football program. The Chicago drum was all but forgotten, stored under the Stagg Field stands where scientists performed the first nuclear experiments.
In the mid-1950s, the UC drum was sold to Dallas oilman Harold Byrd, who had it decontaminated and restored for the University of Texas Longhorn Band, which nicknamed it "Big Bertha." With both Purdue and Texas claiming to have the largest drum, a heated controversy arose. Members of the band fraternity Kappa Kappa Psi attempted to settle the question once and for all in 1961.
That year Purdue members of Kappa Kappa Psi challenged their Texas fraternity brothers to a drum showdown at the fraternity's national convention in Wichita, Kan. Purdue kept its promise. They loaded the drum on its truck and headed west. At every large city Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City and Topeka crew members took the drum off and pushed it through city streets to show it off.
Arriving at the convention, they found the Texas students failed to bring their drum. So, with the default, Purdue students declared their drum as the "World's Largest Drum." Since that time, the exact measurements of the Purdue Big Bass Drum have been kept secret to preserve the mystique surrounding it.
Now that drumheads can be made synthetically, it is possible for other big drums to exist, but challenges to Purdue's title are rare. Many of the same problems that existed in the 1920s still exist today. Big drums are expensive to build and maintain. They are awkward, hard to house and harder to transport because of their size.
CONTACT: Kathy Matter, Purdue Bands public relations director, (765) 496-6785, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; email@example.com
A publication-quality photograph is available at ftp://ftp.purdue.edu/pub/uns/chicago.drum.jpeg.