The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday January 20th

Pit Talk

A satirical look at one of UNC's most timeless photos

Chapel Hill in winter is not a pleasant place to be, especially when it’s snowing. It was probably worse back when this picture was taken, when the bare-bones branches of the quad had shed their leaves and the only source of water on campus was a rickety old well surrounded by muddy gravel path. 

Then again, it wasn’t like Mack O’ Reilly, the man on the right, had to stay there. He probably popped back in time to pose for a pic — maybe share a few spirits before the drinking age was raised to an unseemly 21 years — before returning to the present with a bottle of antique moonshine and the first light bulb ever made by Thomas Edison.   

Who is this mysterious man? This dark, steely-eyed stranger? Well, he’s a time traveler, of course. And he’s the fourth man from the right in the above picture, standing just outside the wooden circle of the Old Well with a UNC sweatshirt and a beat up old baseball cap. 

This picture, circa 1892, is the only surviving image of the Old Well from before Eugene Harris slapped the neoclassical rotunda over the fountain in 1897. An enduring symbol of the university, our Old Well is a shapely silhouette on university merchandise and a sight of friendly rivalry vandalism before the Duke-UNC game.

If you’re a history buff (like me) you’re probably already gushing over this photo. It’s surprisingly high quality for a nineteenth century picture and it’s incredibly gorgeous in black and white (the cloudy sky in the background really makes the tree branches pop with their criss-crossing twigs and stretching dark vines). 

But if you’re getting ready to click off this blog and reread UNC majors as Harry Potter houses, take a good long look at our friend Mack O’ Reilly. Look deep into his soulful piercing eyes. Then look at his shirt and his hat. His modern-esque sweatshirt and roughed up baseball cap look fairly 21st century to me. 

While Mack’s sweatshirt and hat aren’t the best argument for time traveling I’ve ever seen, it certainly makes a lot more sense than a big blue box sketched in the back of prehistoric cave drawings or an outline of a silver car drawn on the horizon of pictures of the wild west. 

Marty McFly he is not, but Mack is very real and probably a time traveler. The only thing that remains is for me to track him down and get him to take me on a tour of the Grand Palace at Versailles. I’ve got a paper due in ANTH 123 and I’d really like to take a look at those French Rococo designs up close.

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