A brief, yet helpful, history of House Organ
by Wayne Wood
Most of you probably know that House Organ began publishing shortly after Vanderbilt Medical Center moved to campus in 1925. Canby Robinson, who at that time was serving as dean of the School of Medicine, director of the hospital, and Chancellor of the University, and Governor of Tennessee, had decided that a publication to cover the news of the day would be a good idea—and so on April 1, 1925, the first edition of House Organ, then called Newes Organ of the House of the Vanderbilt Medical Department &etc, was published under the editorship of William Woolsley, who bragged in his typical windbag fashion that he had learned the newspapering trade from Benjamin Franklin.
In those early days the publication had no photographs and consisted of narrow columns of dense type, and included articles such as “Employees Complain About Lack of Conestoga Wagon Parking,” “Beloved Staff Member Eaten by Rapacious Wolves on Campus Outskirts,” and “Physician Sells Honey from his Own Bees.”
The editor’s column, “Observing the Wheels Which Are Spinning Round,” was also popular with readers.
During the Great Depression, tight budgets forced some cutbacks, including a reduction in the number of copies printed. To make sure that staff and faculty would hear about the events covered, Robinson would stand up in the cafeteria, which was in the basement of what is now Medical Center North, and read each issue out loud.
Later, during World War II, Newes Organ of the House of the Vanderbilt Medical Department &etc was responsible for the sale of tens of thousands of dollars worth of War Bonds, and then-editor Webley Webster personally planted a Victory Garden where the Round Wing now stands, and then, after the war, wrote a column in which he appeared to take personal credit for the defeat of Hitler.
It was shortly after this that the name of the publication was shortened to Newes Organ of the House, or, as it was popularly known, NOOTH, or, as some “wags” had it, the NOOTHpaper.
During the 1950s, NOOTH was briefly delivered to its stands by a young truck driver named Elvis Presley, who, legend has it, read a feature story about a VMC physician who volunteered time at a prison—headlined “Jailhouse Doc”—and thought that, with modification, that title could make a good name for a song.
The year 1964 was a watershed year for the publication, as its name was shortened again, this time to the familiar House Organ, and photographs became a regular part of the magazine. This immediately led to the first Pet Photo Contest, which proved so popular that, tragically, editor Weebil Weemsbacher was buried under a 17-foot pile of cat and dog photographs and suffocated.
The year 1969 saw the name of the publication shortened again, this time to HO, but after two issues, for reasons lost to history, it was lengthened again, back to House Organ. One of the most popular stories from the early 1970s was about how a faculty member, Earl Sutherland, was the top winner on that era’s hit reality show,  Who Wants to Win a Nobel Prize?
It was also around this time that the editor’s column was rechristened “Watching the Wheels,” and, in 1974 when Paul McCartney came to Nashville to record some songs, he became taken with the phrase. Unable to work it into a song himself, he suggested it to his longtime collaborator John Lennon, who eventually used it as the title to one of his last hits.
In the early 1980s, House Organ won its first Pulitzer Prize as Mike Cline published a series of hard-hitting stories exposing the fact that employees felt that $5 a year for parking up to 40 feet away from the door of the building was a rip-off.
The ‘80s and ‘90s were a time of  a great building boom at the Medical Center, which was chronicled in depth by House Organ, and which led to a series of editors, including Weeb Webb, Weyman Wanker, and Wesley Walter Walker being killed in a series of freak construction accidents.
And, in this millennium, I have sought to add to the class and dignity of the publication by beginning the popular “Send in a Xerox of Your Butt” contest, which proved to be one of the most popular in the publications almost 300-year history until copyright lawyers from Xerox forced us to rename it the “Send in a Photocopy of Your Butt” contest.
But whether in its early days, covering the western expansion of the Medical Center, or in the middle of the roaring American Century when the Medical Center was in its heady salad days, or to the present, when we regularly use hidden cameras to cover faculty parties for blackmail purposes, House Organ has stood the test of time as the place Medical Center employees come to read the facts of the day.
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