50 Crazy College Campus Traditions: Part 4

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Harvard University: Primal Scream

So the Primal Scream is not itself unique to Harvard. Nor, indeed, is the act of campus streaking. Harvard University may simply be the first University to combine the two into a single glorious act of physical and psychological release. At midnight, on the eve of the first final exam, the students of Harvard University strip down and share a sporting lap around Harvard Yard.

The semi-annual event is, naturally, a great deal more harrowing at the end of fall semester than spring. On both occasions, the Harvard Marching Band reports to the scene to entertain onlookers with suggestive song selections. And to be sure, spectators are many to behold the chaotic ten minute dash that signals the end of another semester.

History tells us that the earliest of these Primal Screams, which date to the 1960s, were far tamer. Like such cathartic gatherings at other schools, this simply marked the moment at midnight before finals when students would assemble to howl in collective anguish over their travails. By the 1990s, the idea of engaging this assembly without clothing became standard operating procedure.

Though nobody is entirely sure how the occasion evolved (or devolved) as it has, there may be a bit of presidential history in it. Legend tells that Charles Adams, son of President John Adams, was once suspended from Harvard for imbibing spirituous beverages with his colonial bros and sprinting nude across Harvard Yard.

Hampshire College: Easter Keg Hunt

New England is home to some of the most serene, picturesque, and lush forestry in the U.S. The great woods near Hampshire College's Amherst, Massachusetts campus are no exception. Unlike most of the region's wooded areas, this one has been known to spontaneously sprout beer kegs every spring.

Naturally, the students of this and other surrounding campuses are all too happy to help with the harvest. On the day before Easter, a few planters will venture out into the campus woods to deposit hidden kegs. Congregants will mark the holy day by rising before dawn and hunting the beer barrels that are obscured among trees and brush like so many painted eggs.

If one should desire to take part in this tradition of unknown origin, one must be both an early riser and a hearty breakfast boozer. Indeed, reports from previous keg hunts suggest that the five or six vessels concealed throughout the forest will more than likely be sniffed out and tapped by 6AM. By noon, the whole party is over.

Though the Easter Keg Hunt is widely discouraged by campus police and does not enjoy administrative sponsorship, the activity has become a staple spring event at Hampshire.

Barnard College: Big Sub

Is there anything better than a footlong sub? Sorry, that was a loaded question. We all know that a 700 foot sub is way better.

The students at Barnard College will back us up on this one. They should know. They do this every year. Come October, the students at this private women's liberal arts college—one of the original Seven Sisters—gather around the biggest freakin' sandwich you've ever seen and engage in a jubilant mass-gorging.

Considering that the Columbia-affiliated campus covers only four acres of precious Manhattan real estate, building and eating a sandwich that big is quite the logistical feat. Among the critical ingredients are more than 350 loaves of bread, 87 pounds of turkey, 100 pounds of tuna, almost 300 pounds of veggies, 90 pounds of cheese, and 4 gloppy gallons of mayonnaise.

Organizers and gorgers alike will rely on a map to build and stake out their desired spot at the sandwich. At exactly 7PM on the night of the event, students may begin scarfing. And then, what takes months to organize and prepare is gone in a feverish five minutes of grinder guzzling glory.

Brandeis University: Liquid Latex

If you have been at all disturbed by the various descriptions of naked, streaking, sometimes even bike-riding students here within, you're absolutely going to love this one.

Indeed, an article archived on the Waltham, Massachusetts university's website proudly notes that the its Liquid Latex night earned the school honorable mention in a 2010 issue of Playboy magazine. Putting aside the titillating implications of this distinction, the Liquid Latex show is actually quite artful. The annually theatrical production features a variety of performances in which the players are costumed only in paint.

The ambiguously nude stage production traces its origins to a 2000 exhibition in the Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts, entitled the Body Art Fashion Show. The success of this artistic venture inspired the annual performance that is now in its 15th year. With 200 performers, artists, and organizers involved and more than 700 students drawn to the performance each spring, Liquid Latex has become one of Brandeis University's most popular traditions.

Yale University: Bladderball

The students of Yale University are recognized for their intellect, their dignity, and for their erudition. There is perhaps no tradition which reflects these virtues more vividly than Bladderball.

Bladderball is by far the most enjoyable way to injure yourself on this revered Connecticut campus. Or at least it was until the university developed a zero-tolerance stance on the pandemoniacal contest. The titular object around which the game centers is a leather ball six feet in diameter which, beginning in 1954, was released annually into a sea of rowdy Yalees just hours before the start of the annual Yale v. Dartmouth football game.

The Bladderball itself was the brainchild of Korean War veteran and Yale student Philip Zeiden, who noted the hilarity that might ensue if the six foot exercise ball he used during military training could be repurposed for a campus-wide throwdown. Zeiden was right.

The term Bladderball owes itself to the rather disgusting practice of using an inflated animal bladder as the ball in early campus rugby games. Like rugby, scrums and injuries became fairly common pitfalls of the contest. However, unlike rugby, there really are no rules. While various competing student organizations would vociferously and jubilantly declare victory based on no merit whatsoever, the overarching and collective goal appears to have been the eventual release of the Bladderball into the surrounding city.

Historically, students have conspired to the best of their abilities to heave the ball over the fence containing Old Campus and into the general population. It is thus that, in 1971, the Bladderball roamed free on the streets of New Haven for some six miles before being cornered and apprehended by the local constabulary.

Events such as this ultimately resulted in the unceremonious retirement of the Bladderball by way of university decree in 1982. Since that time, any number of Yale students has sought to reintroduce this wonderfully reckless event, though most of these attempts have been largely dispiriting. Indeed, a 2011 effort at secretly unleashing the unruly orb were foiled instantaneously when police officers employed lethal force to subdue Bladderball after only seconds of competition.

Fordham University: Midnight Breakfast

Father McShane serving students breakfast (photo from theodysseyonline.com)
Father McShane serving students breakfast (photo from theodysseyonline.com)

There are more than a few universities that practice the custom of serving midnight breakfast to students during finals. However, this New York-based Jesuit colleges places a particularly gratifying spin on the proceedings.

Once each semester, right in the thick of that feverish days-long cramming session that ensconces finals, students can feast on eggs, bacon, waffles, and melons by the dark of night. And if midnight bacon isn't enough to get your brain juices flowing, perhaps the motivation of having it served to you by university president Father McShane will help.

Indeed, students line up for the first-hand opportunity for a meet-and-greet with the apron-bedecked chief executive. While Fordham's students are busting their respective humps to finish out the semester strong, it can help to know that the highest ranking man on campus is also burning the midnight oil.

Pomona College: Ski-Beach Day

Pomona College is a small private school located in Claremont County, just 25 miles from downtown Los Angeles and situated in close proximity to the San Gabriel Mountains. For each of the last 20 years or so, the students at Pomona have celebrated the arrival of spring with Ski-Beach Day.

On Ski-Beach Day, the students from this university—who are probably tan all year round—rise early and make their way to the mountains for a morning on the slopes. Switching gears at about noon, participants then hop on buses and spend the afternoon basking on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. All of this is done with a minimum of time wasted on travel.

Obviously, the expressed purpose of Ski-Beach Day is to make those of us who don't live in California feel bad about ourselves. I'm just gonna say what we're all thinking. You lucky jerks.

University of Maryland, College Park: Terrapin Offerings

Most students will do just about anything to improve their odds of succeeding on finals. Reading, studying, cramming. Ok, so those are all pretty much the same thing. The point is, there's a lot riding on your finals. The students at the University of Maryland, College Park know this all too well.

So in addition to poring over their books and notes, these young Terps also engage a bit of casual idol worship. Since 1933, the campus has enjoyed the protective and watchful eye of Testudo, a stoic bronze terrapin gifted to the school by that year's graduating class. Testudo's first several decades were marked by abuse at the hands of raiding Johns Hopkins students, who favored graffiti tagging and abduction as ways of fanning a healthy intra-state rivalry.

By the 1960s, the university had grown tired of retrieving its oft-displaced spirit animal so Testudo was filled with 700 pounds of cement and plopped down in front of the McKeldin Library. It is from this sunny basking point that Testudo earns his keep today. Though he's mostly there for inspiration during the school year, he takes on an altogether divine authority with the approach of finals.

Testudo with offerings (photo by Johnthan Speed)
Testudo with offerings (photo by Johnthan Speed)

As the testing season gets underway, Maryland's students have taken to leaving any number of sacrificial offerings for Testudo in hopes that the tortoise will favor them with good grades. Offerings run the gamut from beer funnels and blow-up dolls to stop signs and academic hall exit doors. In recent years, some students have even bequeathed flat-screen televisions to Testudo, though it is hard to imagine that an 80-year-old bronze turtle doesn't already have his own TV.

Baylor University: Tortilla Toss

If you're planning on attending Baylor University, you might consider brushing up on your tortilla-tossing skills. Apparently, this could have a fairly substantial impact on the course of your higher education.

So says the legend that inclines underclassmen at this Texas-based private Baptist University to venture to the Waco Suspension Bridge with corn-flour flats in hand. Just a few dozen feet from the edge of the water-crossing is a concrete buttress, the only remnants of a booth that once collected tolls from cattle drivers on the old Chisholm Trail. It is told that he or she who successfully frisbees a tortilla to the top of the buttress will reach graduation in four years.

Though tortilla tossing is not technically illegal, it is not well-liked by local park rangers, who have expressed concern that tortillas are not part of a healthy, balanced diet for area ducks. Still, the tradition is so popular that local cleanup crews must dedicate roughly six hours every week to removing the plastic tortilla bags that students have knotted to the suspension bridge.

There is no prize that we're aware of for landing a fully dressed taco up there though it's probably worth a shot if you plan to graduate with honors.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology: The Baker House Piano Drop

As on nearly any list of university accomplishments, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is so darned innovative that it gets two spots in our countdown (See Pumpkin Drop). This tradition perhaps best combines MIT's reputation for progress in the field of physics with its general excellence in the fine arts.

Indeed, it was 1972 when aeronautical engineer and legendary campus prankster Charlie Bruno—fresh off of building a homemade rocket launcher and firing it into the Charles River just for fun—decided to huck a stand-up piano off the sixth floor of the Baker residential hall. Those present at the time reported some disappointment that the splintering piano did not produce a particularly musical death rattle. It was, according to most witnesses, just a really loud crash.

This did not stop the piano drop from playing its way into MIT's annual calendar. The world's shortest and most destructive recital is held each year on Drop Day, the final point of spring semester on which students are permitted to drop classes.

The event is largely seen as a tribute to the late Charlie Bruno and a host of others who infused MIT with a zany and intellectually flamboyant energy in the 60s and 70s. Those who will execute the drop from the Baker Hall roof must wear harnesses and engage in intensive safety training prior to the drop. But as all who have done so will tell you, gravity does most of the work in keeping this tradition alive.

Part 3 | Part 5

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