Floyd “Hardtimes” Meade. Many of you Hokie fans may know that name. We’ve mentioned him on this blog before in “Thanksgiving traditions at Virginia Tech” and “When Orange Became The New Black (and Maroon the New Gray)”. He’s best remembered as the university’s first mascot performer, who dressed up as a clown in orange and maroon, and as the man who introduced the turkey to football games, influencing the HokieBird mascot.
But of course, Floyd Meade was more than that. People who knew the man recalled his activities at Virginia Tech to Col. Harry Temple, who wrote the epic history of Virginia Tech, The Bugle’s Echo (see also Harry Downing Temple Papers, Ms1988-039). But little about Meade’s family life has been discussed until now, thanks to the proliferation of genealogy websites, a search through digitized census, military, and vital records online reveals some important details about him and his family.
Floyd Hobson Meade (also Mead) was born October 2, 1882, in Blacksburg to Denie (also Dina) Meade. His father may have been either William Meade (on his marriage certificate) or Joe Dill (on his death certificate). Floyd also had a brother Emmett (b. 1880), sister Octavia (b. May 1885), and probably another brother named Alex (1887-1896). Emmett also worked at Virginia Tech, in the Mess Hall as a waiter and later the Machine Shop as a machinist.
According to Temple, Meade briefly lived with the family of Cadet N. W. Thomas, who brought him to campus in 1889. The students loved him, and after that, Meade started advertising the school’s athletic games. By 1896, he traveled with the football team on their trips as a mascot in the orange and maroon clown costume. (Temple, pp. 254-255) At this time, he also began working at the college in the Mess Hall (Temple, p. 448).
In 1913, Floyd started bringing live turkeys to football games, inspired by the team’s informal nickname the Gobblers. He trained the birds to pull carts, walk on a leash, and flap their wings and gobble on command. Temple even recounts after a victorious Thanksgiving Day game against V.M.I., that the rotund turkey was cooked and served in the Mess Hall! Meade also played music for himself and for the cadets – Temple states he was a regular one-man-band playing a guitar, bass drum, and harmonica all at once (p. 3115-3116).
On August 25, 1913, Floyd married Lucy M. Turner, daughter of Giles Turner and a cook in private service. Floyd and Lucy were both involved in the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America. In 1905, he joined Tadmore Light Lodge #6184, the Blacksburg chapter of the fraternal organization. We have the Blacksburg Odd Fellows Records, Ms1988-009, which includes a membership book with an entry for Meade. Minutes and attendance records list him as Past Noble Father (the highest degree or rank in the organization), and a number of other documents refer to Meade’s service as secretary of the organization. Lucy Meade was a member of the Household of Ruth, the female auxiliary of the Odd Fellows. (Floyd’s membership entry and other Odd Fellows items are on display through the end of February in our exhibit on the first floor of Newman!)
Floyd’s life wasn’t always good though, and on April 24, 1929, Meade’s mother Denie died at around the age of 72. In December, Floyd lost his job at Virginia Tech, according to Temple. So students took up a collection to help with his family’s living expenses, and alumni wrote letters to try and change administrators’ minds – to no avail. (Temple, p. 3846-3847) Then, tragedy struck once more, when Lucy died on June 28, 1931, around age 45 of heart disease.
Floyd continued to work as a cook or waiter in restaurants around town and even served as head waiter at the Lake Hotel in Mountain Lake. By 1940, he was working as a janitor in private service. The next year, Meade died on February 8, after a car accident.
In 2003, Meade’s life provided the inspiration for Lucy Sweeney’s musical Hard Times Blues, which was performed in Roanoke and at the Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg. After researching him myself, I hope hope HOPE there’s a revival one day soon!
Update, Aug. 31, 2020: In 2019, Lucy Sweeney donated a copy of her play Hard Times Blues and files related to her research and the 2003 production. These are available in the Hard Times Blues Collection, Ms2019-038.
- Blacksburg (Virginia) Odd Fellows Records, Ms1988-009, Special Collections
- Biographical Vertical Files, Special Collections
- Faculty/Staff Photograph Collection, Special Collections
- Floyd Meade and Lucy Turner’s marriage certificate, FamilySearch.org
- Floyd Meade’s draft card, FamilySearch.org
- The Bugle’s Echo by Col. Harry Temple, Special Collections
- U.S. Census records for Floyd Meade and family in 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 (on FamilySearch.org) and 1940 (available on Ancestry.com)
- U.S. Census records for Denie and Emmett Meade in 1880, FamilySearch.org
- Death certificates for Denie, Floyd, and Lucy Meade (available on Ancestry.com)
- Alex Meade’s death certificate, FamilySearch.org
- U.S. Census records for Emmett Meade in 1930 and 1940(available on Ancestry.com)