Those Were the Days

You've seen stuff like this in the movies and on late-night TV, and maybe your parents or even grandparents talked about it. Welcome to college, where traditions may fade away but are never forgotten.

Stunt Night was the event if you were a Mather College student as recently as the 1950s or 1960s. Each Mather College class would organize a Stunt Night team starting early in the fall semester. They would write, design, act and produce an original one-act musical show in competition with the teams from the other classes, with a prize awarded to the best effort. The audience for the performances was large and the shows were presented in early December on main-stage venues throughout Cleveland. They were indeed memorable: Mather alumnae returning for their fiftieth reunions readily offer to reprise their Stunt Night routines.

Students at Case School of Applied Science had their own Stunt Night, which took place near the end of the academic year in May. The evening was most significant for freshmen, who were subject to a variety of restrictions and requirements throughout the academic year, all ending with the night's activities. In perhaps the most notable, freshman caps were deposited in a coffin, which was then thrown into a fire while the students did a snake dance and sang the alma mater.

Events pitting freshmen against sophomores show up throughout the history of campus traditions in higher education. Adelbert College students engaged in the annual Flag Rush early in the school year. A flag was attached to a greased flag pole placed in the athletic field and the sophomores defended it. The freshmen would organize behind a nearby building, attack the pole and attempt to carry away the flag by the appointed hour. Late in the school year, freshmen and sophomores competed in the Bag Rush, a battle to grab large canvas bags from the other side. Both rushes involved extreme physical competition and more than a few injuries.

Adelbert and Mather students both had events called Sing Out, competitions among student organizations—generally Greek organizations. Teams would prepare original pieces and perform them before student audiences.

Varsity competition—particularly football—was a big part of campus life for both Case and Adelbert students. Each year, Case students designated one out-of-town football game as the occasion for Emigration Day on which "no loyal Caser remains in Cleveland…" Adelbert students were given to Yells at football games, one of which is recorded as "O-Sketlioi! pompai! Fou fou apolusai. Ai ai! ai ai! Rah rah! Reserve!" They still won quite a few games.

The highlight of the varsity athletic season for both Case and Western Reserve was their annual Thanksgiving Day matchup against each other, the Case-Reserve Football Game. Particularly in the years before professional football came to Cleveland, this contest drew huge crowds from throughout the region. It was held either at League Park in the Hough neighborhood, then the home field of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, or in the immense confines of the Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

The songs at Mather College were often somewhat more lyrical than the Adelbert yells, but they also conveyed a sense of the spirit of the student body. One memorable song ends with the following couplet: "You can tell a girl from Mather, But you cannot tell her much."

During the summer following freshmen year, Case students would spend time at Camp Case, a rustic outpost where they lived in tents and learned surveying, identification of trees and other skills considered to be important for future engineers. Their instructors were generally faculty from the campus, who provided opportunities for mentoring that was more difficult to achieve in a regular academic setting and for developing lifelong friendships among the students.

For Mather College students, the year was filled with a number of special events. The Martha Washington Party was a masquerade given for the college by the students, with a minuet danced by the juniors as the highlight of the evening. On Tree Day, the sophomores would present a play, after which they would plant a tree. Members of the freshmen class were to "attend the play in fancy costume." In a variation, on May Day the members of the senior class presented a play in the Mather Quadrangle. Campus Night featured "dancing, fortune-telling, roller-skating, fish ponds, side-shows, movies, hot dogs, ice cream and pink lemonade," all provided by the YWCA on the lawn in front of Haydn Hall.

Step Day (or in some cases Step Night) was enjoyed differently by students at Adelbert and Mather colleges. Early in the school year, members of the Adelbert junior class would carry out the custom of handing the "mace of authority" to the sophomores on the steps of Adelbert Hall, preceded by speeches and followed by the annual freshmen-sophomore wrestling match. At Mather, following the junior-senior banquet in June, the seniors would carry candles and walk to the steps of Clark Hall, where they would sing to the college. The juniors responded in song as well and received the candles from the seniors.

Some of these traditions continued on for many decades, while others enjoyed shorter lives, but each was significant to the students of the time. Together they offer a picture of campus life at Case and Western Reserve during the first two-thirds of the 20th century.

Previous Chapter - Next Chapter