Towson U. needs a mace for an added bit of grace

This Just In...

April 08, 2002|By Dan Rodricks

I PITY the Towson University mace-maker. Poor, anonymous fellow. One imagines that he was swelling with ideas, the likes of which the mace-making world has not seen since Canadian Rufus E. Butterworth attached a toilet tank float to a length of pipe and presented it for the opening ceremonies of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta in 1906. We can only imagine what scheme of shaft-and-orb the Towson mace-maker might have come up with had plans for the ceremonial utensil not been put on hold.

"There is no mace," Susanna Craine, the university's spokeswoman, told The Sun the other day. "The project is off the docket."

But, one hopes, not for good.

A ceremonial mace at Towson University is long overdue - in the way a sterling tea service is long overdue in my club basement.

At long last, the university president has a $25,000 gold medallion to wear to commencements (or just around the house), as well as an $850,000 fixer-upper mansion several miles from the campus. Add to this a total of $595,000 - and possibly, sources told The Sun, several hundred thousand more than that - in taxpayer-paid improvements to the taxpayer-paid mansion, including a $25,000 home-entertainment system and $30,000 in Persian rugs, and you have a nice package of amenities that brings Towson University into the modern age of academic decadence.

Some are appalled at this conspicuous spending.

I was, too, at first - as when I see some nouveau riche palooka flashing lots of jewelry and a bad toupee as he struts through Harborplace with a trophy wife on his arm.

But now, seeing and appreciating the grand plan - dress up the new president and you dress up the university - one frowns at the lack of ceremonial mace and hopes the project will be reconsidered.

Why stop at the medallion and big house? Why not do the mace?

Certainly some successful Towson alumnus can be cajoled into funding a gold-and-opal (Towson colors) mace instead of making another boring contribution to the library or school for the arts.

And certainly this can be done quickly - and relatively cheaply - with as little notice as possible to the Board of Regents.

Consider the example of Rufus E. Butterworth.

According to an official history of the Alberta legislature, jewelers in Calgary hired Butterworth, a Canadian Pacific Railway employee, to fashion a mace, symbol of the authority of the assembly. Butterworth pulled off the job in only a few weeks' time, making the mace from scrap: "Its shaft was plumbing pipe mounted on a toilet tank float, some ornamental decorations around the orb were made from old shaving mug handles, and bits of an old bedstead and other scraps of wood formed the rest. A piece of red velvet and a coat of gold paint provided the finishing touches, and the mace was sent to Edmonton in time for the Legislature's March 15, 1906 opening ceremonies at the Thistle curling rink."

Butterworth's mace lasted 50 years.

In this country, many universities have maces for commencement and, I should say, they are a source of endless delight. Graduates love to be photographed with them. At Cornell in the early 1970s, a distinguished mace-bearer smashed a protester on the head with one, calling to mind, for that one brief, shining moment, the mace's original use as an armor-crushing weapon in the time of Richard the Lion-Hearted.

Indeed, Towson's longing for a mace reflects that very American longing for things that relate more to British ceremony and tradition than to our own. The British still lead the world in pomp and circumstance - not to mention doilies - and we're still suckers for that culture. We admire their style. We try to copy it, but what we end up with are pretense and mere imitations.

It's sort of what Martha Stewart is all about. We know American culture is enormous and numbing and grotesque, so we like dried flowers in a copper kettle by the front door, or perhaps a nice fox-hunt print over the Laura Ashley settee. It makes us feel civilized. We might see the monarchy as anachronistic and silly, but we kind of dig all that House of Windsor stuff.

So give Towson University a mace.

Call the president's installation a coronation.

Give him a heavy, expertly crafted robe and big, ornate medallion so he looks like Henry VIII for a day.

A restored 1937 Vauxhall, chauffeur-driven from the mansion in Guilford to the office in Towson, would be a dandy touch.

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