50 Crazy College Campus Traditions: Part 1

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Ohio State University: Mirror Lake Jump

If you've never been submerged up to your most sensitive appendages in sub-zero water, you simply can't imagine how invigoratingly awful it is. This does not stop the roughly 10,000 students from Ohio State who take the annual plunge.

On the eve of the Buckeye's yearly showdown with the arch-rival Wolverines from the University of Michigan, students show their support for the vaunted football program by consuming massive amounts of liquid courage and leaping into the dark, frigid waters.

Though some accounts hold that the unofficial tradition dates back as far as 1969, the modern ritual really assumed its place in campus lore in 1990. It was then that a pioneering group of roughly 100 students paraded around campus riling school spirit. The band of merry revelers punctuated said parade by taking a dive into the school's beloved Mirror Lake.

Picturesque at dawn and elegantly outfitted with white lights during the winter holiday season, it is also the site of the school's most raucous celebration on the Tuesday that precedes each year's highly anticipated installment in this historic series of games. For many years, administrators harbored a policy of discouragement toward an event that sees some modest number of students visiting the emergency room every season (mostly for minors sprains or bruises).

Hard to blame the university for its apprehension. Tradition or not, it costs the school an estimated $20,000 a year to clean the lake (mostly of its excessively high ammonia concentration, if you catch our drift) after the event.

Still, in more recent years, university officials have recognized the futility of obstructing tradition. It is thus that security has shifted its focus from prevention to crowd control. The Ohio State's Mirror Lake Jump is pretty much the most exciting way ever to get hypothermia.

Murray State University: The Shoe Tree

Photo by Lori SR
Photo by Lori SR

I'm neither a botanist nor an arborist, but I'm not particularly surprised to learn that nailing a bunch of shoes to a tree is not great for its health. Indeed, all evidence derived from this Murray State Tradition suggests the condition to be fatal.

Do not let that deter you from recognizing the truly romantic implications of this footwear-festooned fixture on the Murray, Kentucky campus. Though nobody can say for certain when this tradition began, the legend behind the shoe tree tells that good luck will favor couples who marry after meeting at Murray State should they return to campus and nail a pair of mismatched shoes to the trunk.

Just a few feet from Pogue Library, the shoe tree is a reminder of the love that blossoms on campus…as well as the importance of a good fire safety plan. It turns out that the exceedingly high level of zinc coursing through the veins of the shoe tree (thanks to its preponderance of nails) makes it especially vulnerable to lightning.

And that's the story of how the first shoe tree and all its shoes burnt to the ground. A second shoe tree stands nearby, though its branches have been pruned to reduce the risk of fire. What the decidedly stumpier tree lacks in branches, leaves, or shade, it more than makes up for in matchmaking skills.

Cornell University: Dragon Day

dragon-day
For those who doubt the power of nerd rage, behold the heated rivalry between Cornell's architecture and engineering students. You'd think these kids had so much in common. But then, perhaps it is that very similarity that drives this spirited and sometimes anarchic intra-campus feud.

Dragon Day traces its origins to 1901, when the school of architecture decided that it deserved an occasion for revelry. Today, Dragon Day is a campus-wide celebration that passes on the Friday before Spring Break each year.

Though the original 1901 event saw students carrying a model dragon and adorning their academic hall with flags and banners, it was not until the 1950s that the practice of constructing a dragon became standard operating procedure. Since that time, the school of architecture has attempted, each year, to design, build, and parade dragons of widely variant style across campus.

Students from throughout the university will attend the event in elaborate costumes (or in some cases, disguises largely comprised of masking tape and discarded Natty Ice beer boxes). Though Dragon Day is conducted largely in good fun, it has also become an opportunity for engineering students to vent the various frustrations that have gathered over a semester of study. Starting in the 1980s, a frequently fractious rivalry emerged wherein the engineering school's Order of the Phoenix has annually constructed a creature capable of confronting the dragon.dragon-day-phoenix

1988's sword-brandishing knight on horseback was among the more successful of these. The prior year's deflated inflatable phoenix, less so.

Students have also seized Dragon Day as an opportunity to voice political discontent as with the event's cancellation during the Red Scare of the mid-‘50s and in 1968, when the student body painted the dragon black to protest the war in Vietnam.

Today, Dragon Day is a cherished and much-anticipated event, particularly among the university's freshmen. And if you think that this is the most Harry Potter-esque thing going on at an American university, you should know that there are actually roughly 300 schools in the U.S. that field official quidditch teams.

Tufts University: The Naked Quad Run/Excessively Overdressed Quad Stroll

For nearly 40 years, the students at this reputable private research institution have marked the conclusion of the fall semester by disrobing and sprinting like drunken newborn babies out into the cold Massachusetts night. Starting in the ‘70s and lasting until the turn of the last decade, the Naked Quad Run served as an opportunity for students to exorcise the demons of the preceding school term in decidedly bacchanalian fashion.

Historically, participants combined the thrills of nudity and intoxication to create an event of relatively out-of-control mayhem. By 2011, the university's president had grown weary of the event's inevitable spate of hospitalizations, most for acute alcohol poisoning. Stepping in to put a stop to what he called ‘carnage', the president announced the imposition of a full semester's suspension for anybody who felt compelled to let it all hang out.

With security in tow and warnings in place, university personnel prepared themselves for a naked revolt. Though many were disappointed that the university's longstanding tradition of undressed frivolity had come to an ignominious end, the student body channeled its frustration into a new and decidedly nobler tradition.

It was thus that the final year of the Naked Quad Run would be succeeded by the inaugural Excessively Overdressed Quad Stroll. In a tradition that substantially reduces the risks either of hypothermia or shrinkage, students now distinguish the occasion by either donning excess layers of clothing or by attiring in their best finery. What was once a streak is now a strut.

Carleton College: The Primal Scream/Silent Dance Party/Carleton College Rotblatt

Carleton College may be one of the most wonderfully eccentric campuses in the U.S. The highly regarded liberal arts school in the small riverfront town of Northfield, Minnesota, seems to foster a special kind of general oddness within its student body.

The original purpose of this entry was to tell you about Carleton's Primal Scream, and we will. But with a little bit of reconnaissance (not really, we just Googled stuff), we couldn't help but stumble on a wealth of sacred Carleton rituals.

So first, the Primal Scream. On the night before finals begin, at exactly 10 PM, Carleton's students share a moment of mob madness, breaking from their studies to scream bloody ‘ell out the window. After releasing an unholy racket of study-induced torment, students are said to quietly return to their books as though nothing has happened.

Other schools which embrace a similar act of mass catharsis are Northwestern, Columbia, and Stanford. But they get plenty of attention so here, it's all about Carleton.

By sharp contrast to the eardrum-shattering moment described above, Carleton is also home to the Silent Dance Party. Another pre-finals tradition (jeez, finals must be really stressful at Carleton), this party begins on the first floor of the library. The assembled students don headphones and boogie to a shared playlist on their respective personal media devices, resulting in what is no doubt a bizarre sight to the casual book-borrower.

Finally, we would be severely remiss if we did not mention Carleton's College Rotblatt, which is basically the world's longest softball game. First played in 1964, this festival-like event includes a healthy dose of inebriation and a single inning for every year since the school was founded. Carleton opened its doors in 1866 so if you're planning on attending this year's Rotblatt as a spectator, we would most definitely recommend bringing one of those bleacher-butt cushions. The Seventh Inning Stretch doesn't come until midway through the 115th.

Columbia University: Orgo Night

Photo by Jonathan Bell
Photo by Jonathan Bell

Orgo Night is everybody's favorite night at Columbia University. Well, not everybody's. The university president can't possibly be a fan. And the event does offend a lot of people. And organic chemistry students probably hate it.

But everybody that's left totally loves it. Orgo Night occurs on the eve of finals and is named in honor of those hard-working organic chemistry students, who have traditionally been slated for the first final proctored on campus each semester.

As these diligent future scientists pore over their materials in the reading room of the Butler Library, the school's marching band favors them with a mighty distraction. The tradition, which is believed to have begun in the 1960s, was historically aimed at lowering the orgo chem curve. Today, the event is instead seen as a way for the campus to collectively unwind before the impending pressure of finals.

Indeed, as the marching band occupies the library, hundreds of students will gather from around campus to behold the cacophonous spectacle. Raucous musical performances are usually preceded by a brief routine of off-color jokes and followed by a full-scale musical assault on the campus.

Visits along the trail include the president's house and the all-girls school, Barnard, where appreciators ticker-tape the performers from dorm windows.

If all of this seems a bit anarchic for a marching band, one should know that Columbia's unit is not a marching band in the traditional sense of the word. Indeed, owing to the football program's generally dismal track record and the student body's own irreverent sensibilities, this group is as much comedy troupe as band.

As such, far more than any homecoming or bowl game, Orgo Night is this band's night to shine.

Emory University: Dooley's Week

Photo by Jazzmodeus
Photo by Jazzmodeus

Ordinarily, you would consider the sight of a walking skeleton a bad omen. But not during Dooley's Week. During Dooley's Week, that walking skeleton is a symbol of good times and campus spirit.

The skeleton enjoys a rather colorful backstory. Dooley is said to have made his campus debut way back in 1899. His legend was first committed to parchment in a 1909 letter, so says the informational video offered at this Georgia's university's website.

The letter tells of one James Dooley, Virginia-born and a veteran of the American Civil War. Following his service, James developed two habits; wandering the fledgling Emory campus nearby his adopted Georgia home and imbibing copious amounts of alcohol. It was the former that first endeared him to the campus and the latter that led to his premature death.

But James Dooley earned passage to a second life when an experimental procedure pulverized, reassembled, and reanimated his remains as a biology lab skeleton. By virtue of his long history with the university, it is said that Dooley then assumed a seat on the university's faculty board. Though Dooley is known to haunt the campus without warning from time to time, his influence is greatest during a single week each spring.

Dooley is, arguably, the most powerful member of the faculty during this one week, armed as he is with the authority to dismiss full lecture halls with a flourish of his bony fingers. This much-anticipated week also brings with it a campus-wide scavenger hunt and scheduled appearances by prominent comedians and musical performers.

The identity of the student or students enlisted to embody Dooley is a carefully guarded secret. Indeed, a story tells that in 1949, Dooley was kidnapped by scheming students from Georgia Tech, who threatened to unmask the fossilized faculty member. Since that time, Dooley travels with his own security detail.

Georgetown University: The Healy Howl

Georgetown University is the alma mater for one of the scariest dudes ever to walk the earth. No, we're not referring to Patrick Ewing, though the seven foot tall NBA Hall of Famer is certainly on the list.

Instead, we speak of another alumnus from this private, District of Columbia-bound university; one William Peter Blatty. If his name isn't of the household variety, his greatest achievement surely is. The author of 1971 novel,
The Exorcist
, and screenwriter for the terrifying film adaptation which was to follow, Blatty not only graduated from Georgetown but returned to its campus to film some of the movie's most memorable sequences.

Perhaps it is not inappropriate that the nation's oldest Catholic and Jesuit institution was site to the most famous demonic exorcism ever committed to media. Thus, it should also be considered appropriate that Georgetown is a city-wide capital for all things freaky on Halloween. On this night, each year, the students gather for a showing of the scariest movie ever made. Certainly, its creep factor is substantially magnified by the fact that so many sites in the film will look eerily familiar to Georgetown residents.

The showing will end at the witching hour, when students will consequently congregate at the on-campus graveyard for a collectively cacophonous howl at the moon. The Healy Howl—named in honor of the university's beloved 29th President, Patrick Francis Healy—gives students a chance to exorcise their own demons.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Pumpkin Drop

Photo by Tassadara C
Photo by Tassadara C

If we've learned nothing else from David Letterman it's that dropping stuff off of buildings is super fun. This is the underlying premise of MIT's pumpkin drop.

The residents of 1 West hold the distinction of living in the smallest wing of the East Campus dormitory. Despite their size, 1 West's occupants mark the final Saturday of each October by commanding campus-wide attention.

Residents ascend to the top of the Cecil and Ida Green Building with hundreds of pumpkins in tow. Spectators gather at a healthy distance from the bottom of the building to cheer as 1 West's students rain the seasonal gourds from some 21 stories above.

And no, this is not one of those engineering projects in which students compete for the surest way to land a pumpkin safely on the ground. No. This activity is undertaken for the sheer joy of smashing pumpkins. Billy Corgan would be proud.

How 98-year-old MIT alum, Green Building-designer, and world-famous architect I.M. Pei feels about the event, we can't say for certain.

Introduction | Part 2

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