Cleveland Sewall, and a Backpage shoutout from the Rice University historian

In the buildup to Rice University’s centennial, the wonderful historian Melissa Kean is keeping a blog about the history of that dear university. The other week, she dedicated a short entry to my own personal favorite character of Rice history: Cleveland Sewall

*cue the Cleveland Sewall theme song*

Cleveland Sewall has young bachelor friends.

Cleveland Sewall, not the marrying kind.

Its 1927, and what do you say?

He’s on the Rice board and he’s a really big donor!

Now, Kean could only find two images of the dear Mr. Sewall. First, this entry in the 1912 Makers of Houston:

I say!

However, most people who know about Cleveland know him from his portrait in his namesake Sewall Hall. And what a portrait it is.


Yip yip yip yip yip! Quiet, Muffy! Captain Baker is going to tell us about his time in the navy.

With a rainbow suit, yippy dog, perfect glasses and keen smirk, it is easy to see how this otherwise ignored character can become such a fantastic focus for the student body.

Indeed, as Kean points out, he has been quite the subject of a few Backpages:

Something about the combination of the striped jacket and the little dog seems to call out for Backpage hilarity for some reason.

And certainly, there were Backpages. Like the time I called for him to be elected Homecoming Queen. (pdf: Cleveland Sewall backpage)

But that is not all. Sewall was also featured in some great Dan cartoons. I think these really established the character of Cleveland Sewall beyondthe mere inside jokes we had about Sewall:


I think this was the first drawing of Cleveland Sewall




Those old-timey bikes with the big wheel in front is always hilarious


Even beyond the Thresher cartoons, Cleveland Sewall had developed further as a character beyond his mere historical existence. Back in junior or senior year, I wrote an outline for a Rice musical. Each scene would be a different decade of the history of Rice. For the 1920s, it would be a musical confrontation between Cleveland Sewall and James Baker.

I hadn’t read that thing in a while, so reading it now to find the Cleveland Sewall sketch has reminded me how utterly awful the end result was. Oh god, that thing I wrote was terrible. It is just a bunch of really bad gay jokes. Maybe I thought it was funny in my head at the time, but now… weeow! No.

Anyways, here it is:

[Scene 2. 1927, Rice board room]

James Baker: Big, imposing stuckup man.

Benjamin Botts Rice: Young, naïve.

Emanuel Raphael: Here

Cleveland Sewall: Paul Lynde. He wears a rainbow suit, see his picture in sewall hall.

Muffy: Sewall’s little white dog.

Baker: Welcome gentlemen to the meeting of the rice institute board of trustees. I am Captain James Baker. And I am very glad to announce that several local philanthropists have pledged $1200 to found a scholarship for our architecture students to travel to Europe. Yes, I know it’s a lot. Now let’s call role. Baker, heh, here. Benjamin Botts Rice.

Rice: Here

Baker: Emanuel Raphael

Raphel: Ahem, here

Baker: and the rest

Rest: here

Baker: And, the man who is making this all possible, William Cleveland Sewall. …. Cleveland Sewell…. [frustrated] Is Cleveland here!

Sewall: Well, if you’re going to take that kind of tone, I don’t know why I come to these meeting at all.

[song! Cleveland Sewall, has young bachelor friends. Cleveland Sewall, not the marrying kind. Its 1927 and what do you say? He’s on the Rice board and he’s really really [

sewall breaks in: Shut up!]

Baker: Ahem, yes. Now I want to thank you very much for giving this money.

Sewall: Of course Jimmy Boy! Anything to help out this university and its wonderful young boys.

Muffy: yip yip yip

Sewall: quiet muffy.

Baker: Cleveland, do you have to bring that dog with you?

Sewall: you mean my muffy? I don’t know. Do you have to bring that kind attitude with you? Maybe I don’t want to give Rice my money…. I’m sorry I don’t mean that. Why do I say such hurtful things…. I’m sorry, what were we walking about.

Baker: [increasingly frustrated] Ahem, your scholarship, Cleveland. Where should these young students travel.

Sewall: Well I remember when I was young, I spent some time in paire. Let’s just say I loved exploring the Eiffel tower. So big and hard, it really had an effect on me.

Rice: What about exploring the arc de triumph?

Sewall: No!

Muffy: Yip yip yip

Sewall: Yes muffy. Daddy only liked the Eiffel tower, not the smelly arc de triumph like that stupid Rice boy wants.

Baker: Yes, Paris would be a great idea. I would also recommend going to Rome

Sewall: Oooh! Nothing like those muscly roman gods to help our young rice boys.

Raphel: Ahem, are we sure Rome is OK? I mean, I don’t know…

Baker: Now Emanuel, I have 20/20 hindsight on rome.

[Sewall giggles]

Baker: And we certainly can’t turn our rears to those great men of civilization.

Sewall: Well maybe you can’t.

Baker: I know that the streets of Rome can be intimidating, but our students must suck it up and take it like men

sewall: I agree

Baker: No ifs ands or buts

Sewall: That’s the kind of talk I like

Baker: Besides, it is certainly better than gay Parie.

[Everyone looks at Sewall]

Sewall: … What?

Baker: Now what sort of students do we want receiving this scholarship.

Sewall: I say we give it to strapping young men. Of course I would have to interview them personally.

Muffy: yip yip yip

Sewall: Yes Muffy. Here is a snackypoo.

Baker: Well Cleveland, it takes a sort of personal strength and perseverance to travel abroad.

Sewall: Oh I don’t know, I’ve traveled as a broad with only my mothers dress and some powder make up, and let’s just say that I made some sailor boys raise there masts. Toot toot.

Muffy: yip yip yip

Sewall: Yes muffy, you’re such a bitch.

[begin rising in clamor, with two men arguing and muffy getting louder]

Baker: Now see here Cleveland! The Navy has a proud tradition of turning boys into men.

Sewall: And so do I!

Muffy: yip yip yip

Baker: I will not have you drag the name of the U.S. navy into the mud

Sewall: Ooh, sounds kinky. Do the young Rice boys do that and can I watch?

Baker: I am a captain in the naval forces. I have defeated threats and pirates on the seven seas.

Muffy: yip yip yip

Sewall: Well some people think I’m a kind of pirate. But I hope you don’t fire your big manly cannon at me.

Baker: You may think this is a joke Cleveland. But I assure you, climbing a ship’s mast is one of the most dangerous things a man can ever do.

Sewall: Well, I guess I’ll just have to make our boys face that danger head first

Baker: You do not know the danger making port in an unfamiliar territory

Sewall: Oh, I don’t know. I’ve had lots of fun dropping anchor in the south seas. Especially the massage parlors.

Baker: Cleveland Sewall, if you will not be quiet and I’m going to have to ask you to leave.

Muffy yip yip yip


[all silent]

Baker: Cleveland, what is your problem. Something is wrong without you. Why can you not take these matters seriously.

Sewall: You’re right. Something is wrong with me.

Ever since I was a little boy

I knew something was a askew

All my friends would  play and fight

But I was not like them or you

They would mope and be all sad

Try to be just like their dad

But my mother she would always say

Don’t be mad, be happy, be gay!

Ready girls?

Gayer than springtime in gay ol parie

[yes he’s so gay]

Gayer than all of those good broadway shows

[oh don’t you know]

Gayer than crème brule served up on doiles

[oh yes he’s gay]

Gayer than anyone you ever did know

[muffy: yip yip!]

Raphel: So did you take her advice?

Sewall: Did I taker her advice?! Listen to the fucking song!

So I got my best suit and I went on the town

[all over town]

Tried to trun those young boys frowns upsidedown

[he made them smile]

It was the best night that I ever had

[oh tons of fun]

Must have fun gay fun with every young lad

Sewall: But I wasn’t done there, oh no! I had to travel the world and teach everyone how to have a gay time.

Traveled the south seas with strapping young men

[oh such young men]

Stroked the highest peak of Himalayas

[they were so big]

Went to all the Turkish bathouses then

[what did you do?]

I turned around and I did it again!

He taught men around the world to be gay

Not to frown, but to brighten their day

Kings, royalty and presidents

Here are some now, I present

King franz: gay

Lord Raulf: Faygela

Ambassador Tojo: Gayasan

Warrior Kugo: [clickclickclic, with lip wrist]

Everybody now!

Gayer than unicorns riding rainbows

Gayer than snapping and responding with sass

Gayer than wide stances in airport bathrooms

Gayer than taking it all up your ..

Sewall: Little miss muffet, sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey

Along came a spider, sat down beside her, and told miss muffet I’m gay!

Sewall: So you see, Jimmy boy, that’s why I am how I am. Do you understand now?

Baker: I, I think I understand now Cleveland. I you know what? I’m sick and tired of being so uptight and angry all the time, like I have some stick up my ass. Do you think you could teach me how to be gay?

Sewal: Oh James, I thought you would never ask.


Baker: But Cleveland, is there anything that makes you not feel gay?

[butler walks in]

Butler: Mr. Sewall, your wife is on the phone

Sewall: Oh that old bag!

[closing music]

Anyways, that was pretty terrible and I don’t know what possessed me to write it at the time. But that is everything I can find, and is probably in existence, about Cleveland Sewall. And most of it is made up.

4 responses to “Cleveland Sewall, and a Backpage shoutout from the Rice University historian

  1. Egahhhhhh! That Sewall sketch goes on far too long. It’s like a final-third-of-SNL sketch. But as I recall, the Sewall song goes like this:

    Cleaveland Sewall, not the marryin’ kind;
    Cleaveland Sewall, he’s got boys on his mind.
    It’s 1927, and whaddaya say;
    He’s Cleaveland Sewall and he’s totally…FABULOUS!

    • The sketch does just keep going. It depends how much you like jokes in the sense of taking a punchline and driving it home until it is no longer funny, and then keep going until it is funny again. Or isn’t funny. Whichever.

  2. for a moment I thought you’d changed your blog’s header image to be his suit and that made me really happy.
    That said, hey Me-Evan, I think you should buy an amazing technicolor dream jacket.

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