Annie Lisle is her name. We know nothing about her except that she died sometime in the 1850s back east, perhaps of “consumption” as it was called then, tuberculosis as it it known today. She was never a student at the University of Missouri or at the University of Kansas as far as we know and perhaps never crossed the Mississippi River before the disease ended her young life. But Annie Lisle sprang from my television set and into my mind Saturday afternoon during the MU-KU football game. And Annie Lisle is one of many reasons this sporting rivalry between two proud universities should continue. MU and KU share Annie Lisle.
Maybe you noticed what I’m talking about if you also watched the game. We confess being so engrossed in the game’s drama that we were almost winning a fight against drowsiness when Annie Lisle brought us back to full alertness. We couldn’t believe what we were hearing during one of the television cutaways from the action that showed some of the few KU fans that had driven half an hour from Lawrence to watch their 2-9 team battle Missouri’s 6-5 team to the death—–at least that’s what those who thumped the tub were trying to convince us it would be.
Our sports director, Bill Pollock, went to the much-ballyhooed “Border Showdown” game in Kansas City. To hear him talk, it was a whelming experience. Certainly not an overwhelming one. Close to an underwhelming one maybe, but generally just whelming.
The Tigers won as they were expected to do but did their level best to keep some suspense in the game by letting the Jayhawks lead at the half. But mediocrity can be so tiring. In the second half Missouri decided to show enough spirit to run off three touchdowns and win.
KU says it doesn’t want to play MU anymore after Missouri joins the Confederacy. MU would like to continue the tradition.
But when you think of all the experiences these two schools and the states they represent have had together on field and court and elsewhere for more than 150 years, it’s easy to think the two universities should keep meeting. If nothing else, they should do it for Annie.
You see, after Annie died, a Boston songwriter named H. S. Thompson wrote a song about her in 1857. The last verse of the mournful song goes:
“Raise me in your arms, O Mother;
Let me once more look
On the green and waving willows
And the flowing brook.
Hark! the sound of angel music
From the choirs above!
Dearest mother, I am going;
Surely God is love.”
Wave willows, murmur waters,
Golden sunbeams, smile!
Earthly music cannot waken
Lovely Annie Lisle.
What does this sad song about the death of a young woman have to do with big guys in shoulder pads and cleats trying to run over, through, and around each other for the glory of Old Mizzou or for the Rock Chalk Jayhawk? It’s not the words of Annie Lisle’s song. It’s the music.
That’s what stirred me back to full consciousness. The camera was showing Kansas fans and in the background the KU band was playing the MISSOURI Alma Mater!
But not really.
The words are different but the music is the same. If you know the tune, sing it with these words from the KU Alma Mater (we’re not talking fight songs here; we’re talking the sentimental songs about our love and loyalty to our university). If you don’t know the music, check out Youtube. It has several examples. Here’s the first verse of the KU Alma Mater:
Far above the golden valley
Glorious to view,
Stands our noble Alma Mater,
Towering toward the blue.
Now here’s the first verse of the University of Missouri Alma Mater:
Old Missouri, fair Missouri
Dear old Varsity.
Ours are hearts that fondly love thee
Here’s a health to thee.
Here’s the chorus to the KU Alma Mater:
Lift the chorus ever onward,
Crimson and the blue
Hail to thee, our Alma Mater
Hail to old KU.
And the chorus for the University of Missouri song:
Proud art thou in classic beauty
Of thy noble past
With thy watch words: honor, duty,
Thy high fame shall last!
Neither school song is about a dying maiden. Both are about undying loyalty. MU and KU are not the only schools that have found Thompson’s song the perfect vehicle for their Alma Mater. The internet lists about 110 high schools, colleges, and universities using this tune, including schools in the Philippines, China, Malaysia, India, Turkey, and Taipei. (The first school to use the music appears to have been Cornell, in 1870. You might know the first line, “Far above Cayuga’s waters…”)
A lot of people are voicing reasons Mizzou and KU should continue to play their annual football games. But we think there’s one reason that hasn’t been mentioned yet.
They should do it for Annie.