The Story of “Doc” Nagele

The Story of “Doc” Nagele

Excerpted from the October 1900 issue of Michigan Alumnus

“In the year 1848 a young, bright-eyed, but uneducated German arrived in this country fresh from the Fatherland.”

The bright-eyed immigrant was “Doc,” who would become employed by the University a few months after his arrival as a brick carrier in construction of the “old” Medical Building. Doc would become janitor of the building he helped build, ringing the bell to bring students to lecture. 

The old Medical Building was completed in 1850. 

“…The State of Michigan…required of students in attendence of the [Medical] School proficiency in anatomy, while at the same time it made procurement of anatomical material a criminal offence. 

The story goes on to say, “This led to..conflict between those connected with the Medical Department and officers of the law.” Doc was never involved in the procurement of these anatomical materials, but he was often tasked with storing away the stolen property. Several times he was placed on the witness stand as a result of this “anomaly maintained by the State.”

The West Medical Building was completed in 1903. The old building was destroyed in 1914. 

“It invariably happened that when placed on the witness stand Nagele lost absolutely all knowledge of the English language.”

Perhaps Mr. Nagele’s nickname came from the knowledge he gained as a Medical School janitor. 

“There is no artery or nerve which Nagele could not find…Students often called upon him to demonstrate, and he proved to be a thorn in the flesh of new demonstrators.”

By 1897 Doc had grown too feeble to properly perform his duties, and the University clock had rendered his bell obsolete. The Regents decided to let him go.  

A view of the clock tower.

“Immediately, every member of the Medical Faculty was stricken with deafness, so far as the clock striking was concerned, and persuaded the Regents that it was necessary for Nagele to continue.”

It is clear that Doc was held in high esteem. According to the editorial, “He was kind hearted, genial in manner, true to his duty, and beloved by all who came in contact with him.”

“Having no children of his own, he took a poor orphan lad, gave him a home and an education, and started him in the world.”

For certain, Doc was well-loved during his time here at U-M. Can you think of some other pieces of U-M’s history you would like to see featured? Let us know in the comments. 

 Original editorial by Victor C. Vauhan, ’78. 





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