Visit to VMI Offers New Perspective

By Samantha Riggin VT’16, Corps museum curator

Hokies worth their salt know the history of the football rivalry between Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Virginia Military Institute. 

Stretching from 1894 through 1984, the yearly skirmishes on Thanksgiving Day provided more stories of bravado than there was room to print. Even though Virginia Tech cadets no longer spar on the field with VMI Keydets, an underlying current of competition remains between the two schools. 

As museum curator and advisor to the Corps of Cadets’ historians, I am privy to many renditions of these games. Whenever I exhibit old memorabilia from the games, anyone with a drop of Hokie blood can’t help reminisce about the days of football past.

But today’s cadets are not particularly familiar with the history of their VMI brothers and sisters, even though the campuses are just a bit more than an hour apart. The Keydets have a very proud and storied past in Virginia history, and the historians planned a group field trip to explore it.

Cadet historians spent a day learning about Virginia Military Institute’s history with help from Lt. Col. Dave Williams, at center.
Cadet historians spent a day learning about Virginia Military Institute’s history with help from Lt. Col. Dave Williams, at center.

On April 7, we set out in two passenger vans to visit VMI’s museum. Lt. Col. Dave Williams ’79 works at VMI and offered to take us on a tour of campus.

The first floor of the museum tells VMI’s story, complete with Stonewall Jackson’s preserved horse. Historians, impressed with the displays, intently took in the Keydets’ history.

VMI’s exhibits are very well done, and I appreciated showing the historians how important professional museum standards are for both preservation and exhibition.

The lowest floor in the museum is home to VMI’s world-renowned gun collection — everything from early Colts to guns disguised as walking canes. For the historians, this was a mesmerizing exhibit that added to their knowledge of the history of firearms.

Lt. Col. Williams escorted our group around the grounds, where he described statues and artillery that adorn VMI’s campus. We were treated to a tour of the exterior of the barracks by a young Keydet, a counterpart to our historians.

Then it was off to lunch at the mess hall. We did get some strange looks from the Keydets when we entered. It’s not often that a group of Virginia Tech cadets visit.

The trip was enjoyable and valuable. The historians now have a better grasp on the history of VMI and the Keydets.

Thanks to Lt. Col. Williams for showing us around. I am sure we will be back!