Monday, June 28, 2010

Grabowsky's Musings

The following is the Traditions section from “Then and Now” in the 50th Reunion publication of the Dartmouth Class of 1960, Musings Unlimited.  The following compendium was put together by Axel Grabowsky '60 and we are all the better for it.  Thank you Axel ...

"President Jim Kim tells a funny story about the circling of the bonfire on Homecoming Friday evening which captures the essence of “traditions.” After the speeches from the steps of Dartmouth Hall are all done and the bonfire is flaming away lustily, our new president decides to partake in that primeval Dartmouth tradition of running around the bonfire. He does half a dozen laps and figures that’s enough of one strenuous tradition for one night. He stops at a cluster of alumni, faculty and administrators who all applaud his run and says something to the effect that six laps is enough . . . no need to do the last two class numerals plus 100 laps. Everyone stares at him and then they proceed to tell him what the “real” tradition is. By the time he hears seven (or maybe a dozen) different versions I suspect he realizes that traditions are a very personal thing. Every class, every alumnus or alumna, every faculty and administration member has their own version. And particularly the alumni, the more so the older we get, have our own “real” real version.

With that in mind let me run down Dartmouth’s hallowed traditions, well-beloved, usually somewhat lost in the fog of history . . . but our traditions nonetheless. (Some of this comes from the Sept./Oct. 2008 Alumni Magazine with revisions as needed.)

Bonfire: Supposedly it started in 1888 to celebrate a baseball victory. “Then” and “now” it is one of the essentials of celebrating Homecoming. In the late 1950s we scoured the countryside for creosote-laden railroad ties, fallen-down barns and outhouses, crates, pallets and cartons from Thayer and local merchants and pretty much anything else combustible that we could get our hands on reasonably legally and for free. The College helped us move our material to the center of the Green, and then we built the pyre ourselves. The tradition lives on strongly with a few modernizing changes. The College buys the materials to be burned and brings it to the Green; the lumber and other stuff is lifted up the side of the pyre by fork-lifts, everyone working on the bonfire wears a hard hat and only a certain number of people can work on it at any one time. There are as many traditions as to the required height of the pyre as there are undergraduate classes or perhaps even alumni. (In October 1959, there were 28,530 living undergraduate alumni and a total of 29,658; on October 9, 2009 there were 56,697 living undergraduate alumni and a total of 71,087.)

I have divided our traditions into three groups: the grand old or essential ones, the “nice to have” ones and the minor ones . . . and I expect to be properly castigated for making these divisions.

The Homecoming Parade and the Circling the Bonfire: The returning classes parade through town and around the Green to the steps of Dartmouth Hall. The freshmen “then” and the first year students “now” equally enthusiastically circle the bonfire until it collapses. That’s the tradition . . . I think.
Ice Sculpture: “Then” as “now” the DOC designs and builds a usually monumental ice sculpture in the middle of the Green. “Then” just about every fraternity and dormitory also built smaller ice sculptures on their front lawns. “Now” only a very few fraternities still do.

Freshman/First Year Student Trip: An enduring tradition for new students before classes even begin, “then” and “now” expertly planned, arranged and managed by the DOC. There are some differences, though. About 100 ‘60s hiked into the woods and mountains of New Hampshire; more than 95% of the ‘10s made the trip, although in addition to hiking, they also mountain climbed, canoed, kayaked, rode horses . . . you name it. One of the best parts of the trip is the telling of ghost stories at the Ravine Lodge.

The Dartmouth Indian: He came a cropper in the 1960s. Suggested replacements such as an anthropomorphized beer keg named “Keggy” or a similarly anthropomorphized moose called “Dartmoose” haven’t quite caught on. Neither has been the attempt to “mascotize” the Lone Pine. The Big Green would seem to be a reasonable placeholder . . . although certainly not for everyone. Indian Head Senior canes, going back to 1898, hung on a little longer but were discontinued by 1972. Clay pipes ceased to be a tradition in 1992.

Pong: “Now” labeled the “quintessential Dartmouth drinking game.” It is a tradition less than 50 years old. The better your aim, the thirstier you get.

The following traditions are in turn nice to have, sometimes delightful, and sometimes hard to fathom why they lasted at all.

Sink Night initiates the new brothers and sisters into Greek-letter and similar houses. At Wetdown the newly elected student government members were originally pelted with food and water on the Green. When food and water was replaced by flogging with belts, the tradition died in the 1960s.

The a capella choral competition, aka "fraternity hums", going back to 1899, pitted the various fraternities against each other on the steps of Dartmouth Hall in the spring. Misogynistic lyrics in 1975 apparently ended this truly delightful tradition.

Freshman headgear was very much still in fashion “then.” It disappeared from the scene in the early 1970s.

Rubbing Bentley’s Nose in Hopkins Center has become a well-entrenched tradition “now.” Then” we used Dean Craven Laycock’s nose in Baker but not nearly as assiduously.

The Trip to the Sea is the Canoe Club’s annual 218-mile paddle (and sometimes race) from Hanover to Long Island Sound, re-staging John Ledyard’s escape from Dartmouth in 1773. Paddling through Hartford, CT in the buff is definitely a new “now” tradition.

Milk Punch, a combination of left-over liquor, milk, vanilla ice cream, and chopped ice, was served in a large galvanized wash tub in fraternities on Sunday morning to, as one of our classmates wrote, “purge the demons and ethers” of the weekend . . . usually to no avail. Not even the supposedly well-worn jock strap, usually floating in the punch, cleared anyone’s head.

Finally, road trips, mostly to women’s colleges, “then” were traditional, always much fun, always dangerous and a few times fatal. There is not much need for road trips “now.”

Here, in no particular order, are some minor traditions; some have held on over the last 50 years, some have died and some have started new:

Fraternity Play Contest, rushing the football field at halftime, Sanborn tea, Salty Dog Rag, 24 hours to Moosilauke, Baker Bells on Request, Keg Jump, Ledyard Challenge, old and new chariot races, polar bear swim, Senior Fence, tennis balls at Princeton hockey games, toga parties and the Tuck Bicycle Races."

No comments: