The Immortal Twenty-One
Editor's Note: The Bootleg is proud to present this article as it originally appeared in Editor Peter Grothe's outstanding, but long out-of-print 1952 compilation of essays, Great Moments in Stanford Sports. The Bootleg is profoundly grateful to our longtime friend, the late Mr. Grothe, for personally having given us permission to re-publish these wonderful, long-forgotten articles and open them up to a new generation of Cardinal fans.
Larry Cahn is sports editor of the Stanford Daily and a contributor to Skyline Magazine. A member of Sigma Delta Chi, professional journalism fraternity, he is art editor of this book. Here he describes the most daring and cunning theft in sports annals.
THE STANFORD AXE, a symbol of tradition, was captured by California on Saturday, April 15, 1899, following a baseball game.
And Cal kept the Axe for thirty-one years, frustrating attempt after attempt by Stanford students to regain it. Then, along came twenty-one Stanfordites with a daring scheme. Let's trace the events leading to the Axe recovery.
On Thursday morning, April 3, 1930, the twenty-one went over their plot for the final time. At 4:30 that afternoon three cars, with seven men in each, left the Stanford mausoleum and headed for Berkeley to get the Axe.
One car, driven by Eric Hill, '29, went directly to Alston Way, east of Shattuck Avenue. There, the occupants dressed and acting like true Californians, joined the Cal frosh in their march to the bank vault to get the Axe for the ensuing rally.
In another car, Barry Likens, '31, and his crew drove directly to South Berkeley to the Axe Rally. Meanwhile, Donald Kropp and James Trimingham, '29, sped to Hertz Drive-Yourself Service and there rented a Buick roadster, the get-away car.
Kropp then picked up his own car, and with Arthur Miller went to Sather Gate to await the departure of the armored car carrying the Axe back to the safety of the bank. Upon seeing it, they were to hustle back to the bank and ready the others. Trimingham, Warren Gage and Raymond Welch proceeded to the bank, backed the car onto the sidewalk, set up a camera, and posing as photographers, waited.
Suddenly Miller and Kropp were back at the bank. The Axe was on its way. Kropp parked his car at the rear of the camera car in such a way as to ward off any cars that might pursue the roadster and the prized Axe. Miller, concealing a tear gas bomb under his coat stood at the entrance to the bank.
It was 7 p.m. when the black-steel armored car came into sight. Riding with the Axe were Norm Homer, custodian, an armed guard, and a driver. But more important were the Stanford men who had climbed aboard as the car left the rally.
As the armored car rolled to a stop in front of the bank, the fake cameramen ordered room to be made so a good shot of the Axe could be taken. California frosh, who had arrived and were acting as guards, smiled politely and stepped back.
Then Custodian Homer stepped from the car, Axe in hand. At that moment an overloaded shot of flashlight powder was discharged with a blinding flash. Scarcely had Homer touched the sidewalk when Howard Avery, '31, dropped from the roof of the armored car, wrested the Axe from Homer, and passed it through several hands until the treasure reached Bob Loofbourow, '29.
Loofbourow tucked it under his sweater and calmly walked to the camera car, got in and, with Trimingham at the wheel, the Axe was on its way back to Stanford.
As the roadster sped away, Miller let his bomb fly, scattering the now excited, ever-increasing crowd. Avery, attacker of Homer, escaped in the melee.
Stanford men now mixed freely with Californians, shouting in protest against the theft and voicing the idea of gathering at the Campanile to form a pursuit party. This ruse delayed the immediate chase of the car now speeding toward Palo Alto.
Meanwhile, the remainder of the twenty-one finally faded from the Berkeley mob and headed home as best they could. No one was captured by the infuriated Californians.
At 7: 50 p.m. on that memorable April 3 evening, the Axe was back on the Farm and safely in the hands of jubilant Stanfordites. And the twenty-one Stanford patriots went down in Stanford's hall of fame, never to be forgotten, always to be revered as the Immortal Twenty-One
"The Immortal 21"
Gerald Bettman, ' 31
Glenford Brunson, '31
John Coons, '30
William Eberwine, '31
Louis Ferrino, '31
Robert Gordon, '31
Eric Hill, ‘29
Donald Kropp, '26
Matt Lehmann, '31
George Likens, ‘31
Bob Loofbourow, ‘29
Arthur Miller, '31 (the last surviving member, who passed away in July of 2007)
Henry Powell, ‘29
Edward Soares, ‘30
Gordon Snodgrass, ‘30
Robson Taylor, '32
Jim Trimingham, ‘29
Raymond Welch, ‘30
Thank you, gentlemen! At The Bootleg, we never forget!