LIFE Magazine photos from 1947 U-M Homecoming on view at UMMA | Arts & Culture

LIFE Magazine photos from 1947 U-M Homecoming on view at UMMA

LIFE Magazine photos from 1947 U-M Homecoming on view at UMMA

A couple strolls during Homecoming Weekend at U-M in 1947. Photo by Ralph Morse.

In October 1947, just two years after the end of World War II, the popular weekly news magazine LIFE sent staff photographers Lisa Larsen and Ralph Morse to cover homecoming weekend at the University of Michigan.

The subsequent article, “Michigan Homecoming,” which brought national attention to U-M’s athletic program, featured a seven-page spread with photographs of the campus during a much-anticipated football game between the number-one ranked Wolverines and the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. Here’s how LIFE  set the scene:

“The autumnal calm of the campus was suddenly and noisily disrupted by an influx of cars, special trains, and private planes, all crowded with faithful alumni, patient wives, and plain fans. There for one sunny day the coeds were prettier, the chrysanthemums were bigger, and the old grads were more garrulous than they had ever been before.”

The pictures taken by the LIFE photographers that day are on view at the U-M Museum of Art until Nov. 18. The installation provides a unique opportunity to view 21 images of that weekend, many not published in the original article.

Jennifer Friess, assistant curator of photography at UMMA, says the photographs, which are presented alongside a copy of the magazine loaned from U-M’s Bentley Historical Library, “depict fervent fans, strolling couples, alumni making their annual pilgrimage, and the game itself, and present LIFE’s view of a giddy postwar public enjoying a return to American pastimes.”

Michigan football player, Chalmers W. "Bump" Elliott (No. 18). Photo by by Lisa Larsen, LIFE Magazine, 1947; courtesy the University of Michigan Museum of Art.
Photo by by Lisa Larsen, LIFE Magazine, 1947; courtesy the University of Michigan Museum of Art.
Fans in the Michigan Stadium during Homecoming weekend 1947. Photo by by Lisa Larsen, LIFE Magazine, 1947; courtesy the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

John Harvith (AB ’69, JD ’73) and Susan Edwards Harvith (MMP ’73), who recently donated the photographs to UMMA, began collecting photography during their graduate school years at U-M.

Inspired by exhibitions of photographs at UMMA, they wanted to learn as much as possible about the photographers that shaped the history of the medium.

“I was working at U-M Information Services and writing music criticism for The Ann Arbor News when one day the U-M news writers were told that old news files were being culled and they could take whatever they wanted from the out-of-date materials on top of the filing cabinets,” John Harvith remembers. “I walked over, leafed through the piles, and saw old LIFE magazine photographs among them; as a photography historian I was immediately struck with their quality and decided on the spot to preserve them by adding them to our collection.”

The spread is a delightful time capsule: women in hats and skirts, men with flasks and bow ties. Alumni young and old share steins of beer, tailgate in the shadow of a much smaller Big House, and generally horse around as people do on football Saturdays.

According to LIFE, the 1947 homecoming game was a nail-biter. Though Michigan was expected to win, Minnesota did not make it easy, and the Wolverines squeaked out a 13-6 victory in the fourth quarter.

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