Up Close and Personal: "Card Stunt King Lindley Bothwell"

By George P. Edmonston Jr.

If cheerleaders had a hall of fame, Lindley Bothwell would occupy a special place among the inductees.

For the record, Bothwell, a Southern California native who graduated from Oregon Agricultural College in 1926, is credited with creating the first animated card stunts in college football history.

Once a mainstay of halftime entertainment at games around the country, the card stunt was first developed in 1908 by student rooters at the University of California. The way it worked went something like this. In a special section of the stadium, upwards of 1,000 rooters, similarly dressed and on a given signal, would use cards to form letters and images, the effect of which was to both strike terror in the hearts of visitors and provide a quick morale boost to the home crowd.

For sure, the word "animated" is essential to our understanding of Bothwell’s contribution to these once-popular stadium antics. Bored with the mere flashing of cards to produce static pictures, Oregon State’s intrepid transplant added movement to the process. Employing the Bothwell approach, card images now came to life, as in the example of the first time the technique was successfully demonstrated in a game.

The year was 1924 at OAC’s Bell Field. The opponent was the UO. On Bothwell’s signal, a thousand cards were flipped to form a Beaver. Below the Beaver’s tail was a lemon-yellow "O." Suddenly, in a sequence of four more panels, the tail was slowly brought down to smash the dreaded symbol of OAC’s archrival. Contemporary accounts indicate the home crowd went wild.

Word of Bothwell’s invention quickly spread up and down the West Coast. In 1925, for example, University of Southern California’s yell king Burdette Henry had his rooters form a Trojan horse, followed by a sequence of frames in which the horse blinked and wagged his tail.

Lindley Fowler Bothwell was born in 1902 in Los Angeles, and the story of his life remains one of the most fascinating in OSU school history.

His grandfather was Dr. Walter Lindley, the first dean of USC’s School of Medicine. Two of his aunts founded that university’s chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. Because of these family connections, Lindley enrolled as a freshman at USC in 1919, where he served as yell king for the next four years and created the school’s first bleacher stunts. He also lettered in baseball for three years and graduated in 1924 with two degrees.

That same year, Bothwell turned down a crew scholarship to Harvard and moved to Corvallis to pursue a degree in agriculture. Why he did this isn’t clear but it was a decision that would guide his life all the way to his death on June 19, 1986, at age 84.

In addition to creating the nation’s first animated card stunts, Bothwell, as OAC yell king, turned in another remarkable feat that is truly astonishing.

Bothwell’s three years at OAC coincided with those summer months in which famed Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne taught a two-week coaches clinic at OAC's Bell Field. While watching Bothwell lead a card section rehearsal one day, Rockne was so taken with the young man’s showmanship, he invited him to serve as an honorary cheerleader for the Irish at their next bowl game. Bothwell accepted and found himself the following New Year’s Day at the Rose Bowl cheering for Rockne’s boys against Stanford.

In the history of college football, has this ever happened at any other school? Probably not.

After graduating from OAC in 1926 with a degree in agriculture, Bothwell returned home and purchased an orange grove. This was the start of a citrus empire that by 1943 had grown to 34 ranches, which he either owned or managed. At the time, he was considered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be one of the nation’s top-10 citrus farmers. He also had his own soil chemistry lab, served as an adviser to growers all over the southwest and was one of California’s leading cattle breeders. Home-based in the San Fernando Valley, his concerns stretched from San Bernardino to San Diego to Ventura. His professional affiliations included memberships in the American Society of Agronomy and the Society of Soil Scientists.

In November 1927, he married Marion Seale, an Oregon Stater from the class of 1928. Together, they would share two children, son Lindley Jr., and daughter Bonnie. About the same time, he helped start USC's Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.

His agricultural interests, however, were but the "tip of the iceberg" for this amazing Beaver.

For relaxation, Bothwell collected vintage cars.

By 1954, he had amassed the largest private collection of antique automobiles in the country, outside those held by public museums. At its peak, his fleet numbered 88 different cars, many of which were drenched in history, including the Czar of Russia’s 1911 Rolls Royce; English King George V’s 1910 Daimler; Henry Huntington’s (Southern Pacific railroad magnate) 1912 Lozier; Indy 500 speedster Dario Resta’s famous 1913 Peugeot; and two of racing legend Barney Oldfield’s most famous machines, his 1907 Stearns and a 1907 Benz. The collection’s oldest exhibit was a 1898 Locomobile steamer.

Five years earlier, Resta’s Peugeot had played a special role in Bothwell’s life. He used it at Indianapolis in 1949 to receive his driver’s certificate qualifying him to drive there. In doing so, he broke a 30-year record at the track by driving the highly prized racer to a speed of 103 miles an hour in the Veteran’s Class.

Bothwell held an official driver’s license with the contest board of the American Automobile Association and was a charter member of the Horseless Carriage Club of America, for which he served as national president for seven years and on the board of directors for 10 years.

Bothwell also collected horse drawn streetcars and during his lifetime was the only person in the world to have such a collection. To keep them in working shape, he built a streetcar barn on his ranch and had over a mile of track put down to entertain family, friends and visitors.

He is also remembered as having a great love for the water. He was a pioneer surfer, maintained a small fleet of crew shells and could often be seen "training" along the California coast at Long Beach or out near Catalina Island. He would often row as a twosome with his son Lindley Jr.

According OSUAA records, Bothwell was USC’s first yell leader and served as a volunteer coach for the Trojans for 60 years. Under his guidance, the USC Song Girls were named the best song-leading team in the U.S. in both 1972 and 1974.

On Oct. 23, 1954, Bothwell returned to Oregon State to once again roam the sidelines for the Orange and Black, this time as an honorary yell king leader for King Johnny Pihas’ squad.

Before a grand total of 8,500 fans, and in spite of all the yelling and screaming Lindley Bothwell could coax from the pathetically small crowd, Kip Taylor’s Orangemen lost to UCLA 61-0, midway through a season that would finish 1-8-0.