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Collections | Digital Collections | Vanderbilt University History

Uncle Remus

Reprinted from the Vanderbilt Alumnus Magazine v5 n7 (May 1920): 203-4

In a musty little room in the basement of Wesley Hall, surrounded not only in memory but in reality by the faces of hundreds of students of other days, old Remus still fills his unique place in the life of Vanderbilt.

John "Uncle Remus" Fulton Nearly thirty-five years ago John Fulton, now known as "Uncle Remus," came to Vanderbilt. Shortly after his arrival on the campus, he was made body-servant and general factotum to the IV Club, then in the full flower of its professional youth. The members of this old club of bachelors — Dr. J. H. Kirkland, Dr. William L. Dudley, Dr. A. H. Merrill, Dr. W. H. Schuerman, Dr. J. T. McGill, and Dr. F. W. Moore — appropriated John's services and a large place in hits heart; and still you can see the large framed picture of those dashing bachelors hanging over Remus' mantel.

When Cupid put the IV Club to rout, Remus became the servant of Dr. Dudley, and it was in this capacity that he stayed on at the University and found his place among university men. Remus took his abode in the little room which he still occupies in the basement of Wesley Hall, beneath Dr. Dudley's suite above, and when the old negro's duties of entertaining young people did not press upon him, he gave somewhat of his time to looking after Dr. Dudley's business.

When Vandy men started giving Remus their photographs back a third of a century ago, they did not know that they were beginning a custom that was going to all but outgrow Remus himself. Succeeding grads have left their likenesses with Remus until now they are as the sands of the sea. The four walls of his little room are literally [papered] with them — and have been for years, for that matter. Only about two-thirds of his pictures, though, are able to find room on the walls; the rest are in his trunks. He has no idea how many pictures he owns. He says he started to count them once, but gave it up as a hopeless task.

Figuring from the number on one wall and the number Remus says he has in his trunks, it must be that he has fully one thousand pictures of Vanderbilt men of other days.

But this is not the most remarkable thing about his collection. That distinction is that he can tell you the names of every one of those thousand men.

If you don't believe that is some job, just get out the picture of your graduating class of five or ten years ago and see how many of the old friends of yesterday you can name. You will be surprised, not to say ashamed of yourself. Then think of Remus remembering the names of one thousand men whose time at the University extends back to thirty-five years.

"I used to sit here during the war and just think about them," said Remus. "I'd think, 'Well, all of my boys are in the war,' and I was surely proud of them! I could look around my room and see all these fine young men and I knew they were fighting somewhere."

It is a strange coincidence that, out of the hundreds and hundreds of men whose pictures Remus has, and who fought in the world war, not a single one was killed.

Remus started once to frame his pictures, but soon found that wouldn't do.

"I sat down one day and figured how much I had spent for frames, and would you believe it, I had spent $105! I had to stop right now!"

Old pictures of Chancellor Kirkland, proving that he once had hair to comb; old pictures of young men in standing collars, proving that times are changing for the better; and old pictures of men who have since fought and won, and fought and lost, make Remus' room a storehouse of memories.

Just now Remus is having a grand rush from the Ward-Belmont girls. He has always been equally well known on the Vanderbilt and Belmont campuses, but his popularity as an entertainer is still growing with the young ladies. Hardly a week passes that a delegation of them, well-chaperoned, of course, does not come out to fill the little room and listen to Remus strum his guitar and sing ancient ballads.

"Would you believe it," he asked, "I had forty-two in this room at one time not long ago? So many young ladies I never saw! They could hardly get in."

How forty-two of them got in at one time is a mystery.

Since Dr. Dudley's death, Remus is a sort of caretaker for Mrs. R. F. Jackson. His duties keep him at that place during the day, but when night comes he flits back to his little room in the basement of Wesley Hall, where, as he says, his receiving hours are from 9 to 12.

If you can take time off some evening to visit him, you will find him there, hospitable as ever and appreciating your visit so much that it does your heart good to be there. He will talk over your days in college as if they are still going on, and it's ten to one that he will remember more about your old class than you do. He will insist that you let him play for you on his guitar, and, as you did five or ten or fifteen years ago, you will sit and listen to him sing "I Wish I Was Single Again," and "Seeing Nellie Home." He will read to you those old "Uncle Remus stories," from which he got his name, and as he reads about Bre'r Rabbit and the Little Boy, your thoughts will wander to those other days when you heard him read and dreamed the hours away.