Lancelot and Elaine, the Iowa State Icons

If you have ever walked past Lake Laverne on Iowa State’s campus, it’s likely you spotted the two striking swans lounging in the water. It is no accident that Iowa State houses these two swans, seeing as they have been a symbol of the University since 1935.

Photo of Lancelot and Elaine, the swans, from Iowa State’s LAS blog post found here.

The white swans were introduced to Iowa State in 1935 during the now discontinued VEISHA celebrations. A large, swan shaped float glided across Lake Laverne and released 4 swans, two of which had been named Lancelot and Elaine (referencing the two lovers from the epic poem Idylls of the King) as a result of a contest on campus to name the swans. As the tradition goes, the swans on campus are still named Lancelot and Elaine. This is the case today, even though we have a pairing of two female swans instead of the typical female-male pairing. The introduction of these swans was arranged by the VEISHA Central Committee and you can find more information here regarding that historic event.

Photograph of the VEISHA swan float on Lake Laverne from 1935, image call number: RS 22/12/G

A concept of the campus swans I never quite grasped was what they do in the winter months. It may be hard to picture on a 90 degree day like today, but in a few months Iowa State will once again be freezing and blanketed by snow.

In the archives, we have several news paper articles regarding the winter plans for Lancelot in Elaine in 1993. Typically, the swans were housed at a local farm by Homer Smith- dubbed the “Swan Man”. Smith’s farm had a bubbler in his pond to keep it from freezing over for the birds, but after 15 years of caring for and supplying Swans to Iowa State, Homer retired for health purposes (“Swan man honored in ceremony.”, RS 13/5/58, Box 8, Folder 34).

Homer Smith, and his wife Lois with a swan on their farm. Can be found at RS 13/5/58, Box 8, Folder 34

George Knaphus- dubbed “ISU’s unofficial swanmeister” and the “swans’ unelected mother hen” was in charge of finding a new home for the two swans during the winter of 1993 after Smith’s retirement. Knaphus eventually came to the solution of giving Lancelot and Elaine the privilege of taking a winter vacation in an indoor pool in ISU’s Veterinary Medicine building (“Two swans won’t rough it this winter at Iowa State.”, RS 13/5/58, Box 8, Folder 34).

Since 1995 there has been an aeration system installed at Lake Laverne that keeps the swans’ lake from freezing over. Contrary to popular belief (and my belief), swans are completely “equipped to withstand cold weather”, according to the swanmeister himself. Knaphus recalled in a news paper article that he would even get phone calls about the swans needing to be taken inside during cold or blizzards at 2 am (“Iowa State’s Lancelot, Elaine are in search of a winter home.”, RS 13/5/58, Box 8, Folder 34).

Lancelot and Elaine pictured in 1993, can be found at RS 13/5/58, Box 8, Folder 34

Next time you take a stroll by Lake Laverne, be sure to say check out Lancelot and Elaine and remember that they once had an all expenses paid winter vacation at Iowa State.

1995 – 1999: Trumpeter Swans

Lancelot and Elaine have been an Iowa State tradition since 1935, when a pair of white swans was introduced during VEISHEA. The history of each generation of these majestic creatures is well chronicled throughout the University Archives (open to students and members of the community, if anyone is interested in further research). One story I find especially interesting is the brief period from 1995 to 1999, when a change to the species of swan kept in Lake LaVerne backfired spectacularly.

ISU trumpeter swans have ‘no sense of fear’ article.

In 1995, as part of an effort to rebuild Iowa’s trumpeter swan population, the new edition of Lancelot & Elaine came in the form of trumpeter swans. However, the trumpeter swans caused a lot more trouble than the mute swans that had previously occupied the lake. The trumpeter swans proved to have no fear of students, nor oncoming traffic. The swans regularly ventured away from Lake LaVerne and wandered all around campus, creating more than a few hazards.

In 1999, the decision was made to remove the Trumpeter swans from campus due to the fact they had not been able to acclimate to the environment. The decision to remove the trumpeter swans from Iowa State is explained in more detail in the internal memo from August 27th, 1999, which is shown below.

Sounds like relocating the trumpeter swans and bringing back the mute swans really was the best course of action. All of the information in this post can be found in collection RS 4/8/4 Box 24.

CyPix: Memorial Union in snow

Students returning to campus this week for the start of spring semester were greeted by a campus scene not unlike the photo below:

A five-story building is in the background on the right side of the image, with a frozen lake in the foreground.
This photograph shows the Memorial Union overlooking an ice-covered Lake LaVerne, unknown date. RS 4/8/4.

With sub-zero wind chills, frozen lakes, and piles of snow, it seems a long, cold trudge until spring break on sunny tropical beaches! Special Collections wishes everyone warm thoughts and a prosperous and productive semester!

CyPix: Spring at ISU

It’s official – spring is here! The weather may not be cooperating, but the season has to win out eventually, right? In the meantime, enjoy this photo taken during Iowa State’s favorite spring tradition – VEISHEA. Here, the swans are taking advantage of an ice-free Lake LaVerne.

The swans at VEISHEA, 1936
The swans during VEISHEA, 1936, RS 22/12/G

Two of these swans are (presumably) the original Lancelot and Elaine, who were first introduced at VEISHEA in 1935. VEISHEA, for those not in the know, is a long standing tradition at Iowa State which this year will be held the second week of April. We’ll have more on this annual celebration in a few weeks. For more information on traditions at Iowa State, see our collection on traditions and legends, 00/16, which can be found in our subject guide. We also have collections devoted entirely to VEISHEA, including our digital collection, along with an online exhibit. And of course, tons of photos, including several featuring our swans, can be found on our Flickr page! This should all help pass the time while you’re waiting for the weather to catch up with the calendar.

Skating on Lake LaVerne

The days are getting colder, and if you have walked past Lake LaVerne lately, you may have noticed ice beginning to form on it.

Here is an early picture of ISU students playing a game of hockey on Lake LaVerne:

Students playing hockey on Lake LaVerne
Students playing hockey on Lake LaVerne.

The creation of Lake LaVerne was funded by LaVerne Noyes, an 1872 graduate of ISU who made a modest fortune as a businessman, manufacturer, and inventor of farm machinery. He wished to beautify the campus of his alma mater and hired the landscape gardener O.C. Simmonds. Lake LaVerne, as it came to be called, was created between 1914 and 1915. You can find out more from the LaVerne and Ida Noyes Collection, RS 21/7/235, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library. A finding aid is available online.

Don’t try skating on Lake LaVerne today! The lake no longer freezes over in winter because aerators are used to keep the water open through the winter months for ISU’s beloved pair of swans, Lancelot and Elaine. If you want to glide across some ice, try heading to the Ames/ISU Ice Arena instead. 

Swans on Lake LaVerne during VEISHEA.
Swans on Lake LaVerne during VEISHEA, 1936.

Check out these photos and others of Lake LaVerne on our Flickr site.

Navigating Your Research Using Special Collections and University Archives Resources

Crowds watching canoes navigate Lake LaVerne during the 1934 VEISHEA.

As American Archives Month draws to a close, we thought we would write one final post about how to find materials here in the Special Collections Department.  Our previous post provides examples of online resources for figuring out what archives are all about, but we thought we should provide you with something specifically for our department here at Iowa State!

We receive a whole wonderful variety of questions here.  Sometimes researchers know exactly what they want, and at other times only a general idea.  We sometimes receive questions such as “what do you have about the history of agriculture?” and “what do you have on the history of the university?” (the entire University Archives contains records and books documenting the university’s history).  However, more often than not they are more specific questions such as “what can I find out about the person Lake LaVerne is named after?”  Hopefully after reading this post everyone will be more familiar with the resources we have to help researchers find what they need in the Special Collections and University Archives!

LaVerne Noyes (from University Archives Photographs, Box 1532)

This post will focus on that last question:  what can I find out about the person Lake LaVerne is named after?  Let’s assume we do not know the LaVerne’s full name.  On our homepage, if you simply type “LaVerne” into the search box, the Laverne and Ida Noyes Collection is one of the first collections which appear.  After reading the finding aid for this collection (from which you will learn that LaVerne was a member of Iowa States first graduating class (1872)!), you may wonder about the history of Lake LaVerne itself.  Are there any photographs, films, or other records about Lake LaVerne?  One place you might want to take a look at are our subject guides, which can be found from our homepage (these are an especially good place to go if you just want to see the types of collections we may have on a certain topic; they often contain brief abstracts on the collection and its creator(s)):On the subject guides link, you will see a broad range of subject areas.  Once you click one that fits your research area, there will often be a variety of subject guides from which you can select.  For Lake LaVerne, the “ISU Campus Master Planning Resources in Special Collections” would be a good one to select.  There you will find that the Facilities Planning and Management, Buildings and Grounds Division Records (there you will find a folder on swans and ducks – which primarily contains news clippings on the Lancelots and Elaines which have graced Lake LaVerne since 1943). The Philip Homer Elwood Papers have a number of papers about the Iowa State campus, and you might find something in there about Lake LaVerne or about the campus planning which was going on at Iowa State in the early part of the 20th century.  (You will also find this mentioned in the Laverne and Ida Noyes Collection.  Box 1, Folder 10 has a letter which mentions the report written by the Olmsted brothers – for more on the Olmsted Report read this blog post.)

Landscape architecture students sketching at Lake LaVerne in 1942.

Another place to go for information on our collections and the history of Iowa State is our exhibits page.  For Laverne Noyes and the building and history of Lake LaVerne, a good place to go would be the Iowa State University Sesquicentennial Exhibit, where the second link on the right will bring you to Iowa State University Campus and Its Buildings, where you can go to the section about Lake LaVerne.

Interested in finding out about other alumni collections we may have, or finding other papers of people associated with Lake LaVerne?  (For those who are not aware, archives keep papers and records of creators together for a whole variety of reasons.  Here in the United States this is often called the “principle of provenance” and more on this can be found in the Society of American Archivist’s Glossary of Archives and Records Terminology).  People associated with Lake LaVerne include President Raymond Pearson (who was president during Lake LaVerne’s construction and his papers contain the Lake LaVerne-O.C. Simmonds report; Simmonds was the landscape architect Noyes hired to investigate possible improvements to the campus) or Anson Marston (Marston helped restore Lake LaVerne, and a number of documents relating to this are in his papers).  You can either search our website or look at the appropriate record series (arranged hierarchically) under our University Archives listing.

Looking for photographs?  You can visit our Flickr site.  Other sites can be found from here. On Flickr, if you type “Special Collections Department, ISU Photostream” into the search box and click on our name in the selection which appears, you can search the photographs we have upoaded.  You will then see all of the photographs of Lake LaVerne we have on Flickr (however, please note that we HAVE NOT scanned all of our over one million university photographs; if you would like to see more, please come and visit our department). Although most photographs are on Flickr, you might also find some (including documents) on the Digital Collections website.

Lake LaVerne area under construction in 1933, when attempts were made to reduce the silt and other sediment build-up in the lake.  This photograph, along with many others, can be found on our Flickr site.

How about films?  You can either search our Films subject guide available here, or just check out our YouTube channel (however, please note again, that this channel DOES NOT contain all of our university films, but only a small selection).  You will find a variety of films, such as this one from around 1946 which includes Lake LaVerne:

Or this one of campus scenes from around 1936 which shows the filling of Lake LaVerne:

In addition to the University Archives, our department holds manuscript collections.  Our manuscript collections contain records by creators not necessarily related to the university, but often are related to the university’s research strengths such as agriculture, science and technology.  In your search for collections related to Lake LaVerne, you may want to just search the search box on the manuscript collections listing page, or take a look at our manuscript subject guides and look under landscape architecture.

There is a lot to explore on our website, so please do so if you are interested!  Of course, you could also search the library’s search system (where you can find books, films, and other resources on Lake LaVerne…or your research topic) or come on up to the fourth floor of Parks Library to visit our department and/or ask us your question(s)!  If you are interested in finding out about our main collecting areas, you could also take a look at our mission and collecting policy, available online.

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