Gainesville’s Own Sherlock Holmes

His name is Carl Van Ness. It’s his business to know what other people don’t.

He is the University Historian here at the University of Florida where he conducts his Sherlock Holmes — like investigations, collecting historical artifacts and diving into some of UF’s oldest traditions. The son of a history buff, one of his favorite research projects was the origins of the school traditions.

You sing the songs, sport the colors and chant the name but where did it all come from? What are the origins of the Gator Nation? Which are true and which aren’t?


Today, when you say “Gators” everyone knows whom you are referring to. But years ago there was no mascot, no Albert and no Gator Nation. Through investigation Van Ness came to find the name Gators has many stories. The most commonly seen is the story of Austin Miller and his dad’s shop. His father started selling pennants with Alligators on the in 1908 when Miller decided that was the mascot to feature on them.

The other popular story and probably the closest to the truth is the story of Neil “BoGator” Storter, the captain of the 1911 football team. Roy Corbett, captain of the 1907 team and Thomas Bryant, president of the 1912 senior class attribute the name to Storter in an article written to the Gainesville Sun. Storter, however, denied it, saying the name originated when the team played the Mercer Bears and a headline of the Macon newspaper said the town had been “invaded by alligators”.

Detective Van Ness, however, said the truth is it remains a mystery for now.


Every home football game the crowd sings “We are the Boys” between the third and fourth quarter. Truth is the tune isn’t theirs original.

Our detective made the mistake of attributing the song to Bobby Swaton in his official investigation but after contacted by a friend who brought his attention to another school using the same tune and similar lyrics he reopened his investigation. His conclusion came to be that Swaton was in a military band and the tune was shared between bands and perhaps originated in Toledo.

A maintenance van here on campus sports the traditional colors.

Ever wondered how UF became the school of Orange & Blue? In 1910 a Gainesville woman put the to colors together from the two schools that united to form the new school. The University of Florida at Lake City had school colors of blue and white and East Florida Seminary in Gainesville had orange and black. For a long time it wasn’t clear if the color was orange, gold or a very ambiguous color mix so gear was printed in all three.

Did you know that University of Florida used to be located in Salt Lake City? From 1853 to 1905 the school was known as the East Florida Seminary. The Buckman Act in 1905 was designed to “revolutionize higher education” as Van Ness puts it.

Century Tower is a famous campus landmark.

It created two new schools Florida Female College (renamed Florida State College for Women) and the University of the State of Florida (renamed University of Florida). Eventually the Gainesville campus was made official.

While it may seem trivial to know this stuff Van Ness said “ We care because we crave accuracy. It’s fun also we often hope for the truth. “The detective is far from over in his investigations of the school. His next big project is to write the early history of the university focusing mainly on who governed the institution and how it moved from the Board of Control to the Board of Education. If you want to read or learn more about investigations by Van Ness take a minute to read his book “Honoring the Past, Shaping the Future.”

The “Detective” Carl Van Ness.
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