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    Friday
    Oct162009

    Welcoming The New Guys--Old School! Part 2.

     Upperclass "gobblers" taunt Puddle Pull participants as they march into the fog of war.

    Guy Potter Benton peered across the early morning vista from the porch of Lewis Place.  To the east, the sky promised the encroaching light of another day.  But in front of him, Benton could make out the tell-tale din of the melee taking place in the older of Miami’s two Varsity towers.  Was that the crack of a stairway banister or a Sophomore’s leg?  Either way, he shuddered.  Only five days earlier, Benton had been inaugurated Miami’s newest President.  Only an hour earlier, Benton and the entire campus had been awakened by the dreaded tolling of the University bell announcing the new Freshmen colors aloft the venerable tower.  As Benton marched from the steps and across the dimly lit campus, he finally made out the ’06 adorning the bull’s eye and several Freshman yelling taunts at the “aborigines” of the class of 1905 below the tower’s precarious perch.

    Certainly, Benton had been warned this morning would come.Sketch from the Miami Student commemorates the last tower rush in 1902.  It would seem this year’s Freshmen sought a strategic advantage by engaging the battle far earlier than usual—September 23, 1902.  President Benton arrived at the scene with mixed emotions.  The empathetic boyish spirit he maintained throughout his whole life enjoyed the rambunctious, competitive rivalry he witnessed.  But after seventeen years of sputtering forward, Benton was hired to assure that Miami not close again!  State legislators wishing to squash Miami’s university status regularly pointed to this unusual fall ritual as an example of all that was amiss in Oxford. 

    Guy Potter Benton enjoyed the contest for nearly an hour.  Perhaps he “gobbled” his own humorous but biting taunts at both classes.  Perhaps he savored the final historic moments of the raucous rite he realized he must now reluctantly end forever.  With the rising of the sun, President Benton called for a parley, requested the Freshmen deliver their flag to him, and assembled both classes on the campus green.  Benton suggested a five-minute finale to decide the contest.  With both classes separated by a safe and equal distance, Prexy tossed the pennant into the air.  Like galloping horses, the two forces converged on the sacred piece of cloth.  Freshman Ben Reise arrived first and quickly embraced the flag to his breast.  Both classes collided on top of him—the Freshmen to protect him and Sophomores to wrench the flag from his clenched arms.  Several previous days of torrential downpours turned the fracas into a mud bath.  With the passing of 300 endless seconds of primal grunts and laughter, President Benton halted the struggle.  After disentangling bodies and limbs, a much beaten and battered Ben Reise emerged equally jubilant and proud to have etched his name in the annals of Miami’s Tower Rush history.  As the boys dispersed to prepare for class—already defining heroic deeds of mythic glory—little did they realize that a tradition as they knew it had come to an end. 

    The following autumn, there seemed to be something integral missing from Miami’s historic campus.  President Benton arranged for the Freshmen and Sophomores to tangle in a football game—the Freshmen won, 11-0.  But football games were a dime a dozen and common on every college campus. Already, students spoke wistfully of past, peculiarly Miami class battles.1905 Pole Rush venue next to old Hepburn Hall.  President Benton felt the void as well.  Benton enlisted the assistance of two faculty members to come up with a substitute for the Tower Rush that would embrace the spirit of the old tradition, but be far less perilous to life, limb, and university property.   In October 1904, a “telegraph pole” was planted on the lawn behind Old Main.  During the early morning of October 6, 1904 the Freshmen attached their flag to the top of the mast and waited as a large group of spectators gathered around the field of battle.  Around eight o’clock the classes engaged.  I defer to one who was there to describe what happened next:

    “To attempt to give a connected and accurate account of the next hours’ events and casualties, would be a task for the pen of a seasoned war correspondent.  By nine o’clock ‘the flower of Sophomore chivalry’ was baffled and beaten back by the superior numbers of the Freshmen and, on account of the exhausted condition of the men, the fighting became spasmodic and desultory.  By this time some of the Sophomores were bound and ranged around the base of the pole. Lard O'er All. Sophs retired to hold council of war—freshies try to look wise and think how proud the folks at home will be when they learn of the heroism of their boy ‘just off the farm.’  At eleven-thirty the Sophs reappear with a wagon, surmounted by a high box—the whole capped by one of their numbers with climbers.  Despite the strenuous opposition of the ubiquitous Freshmen the few remaining Sophomore braves succeeded in getting the wagon along the pole toward which the Sophomore lad leaped—but alas!  Before he could set his climbers into the pole the law of gravitation, aided materially by Freshmen lard, helped him rapidly down the pole into the arms of the waiting Freshmen.  Several more spasmodic attempts were made to rush the pole but owing to the great difference in numbers the Sophomores were unable to deliver the goods and at twelve o’clock, noon, when the old college bell announced the close of the battle the Freshman pennant still waved triumphantly in the air which was shattered by the Freshman slogan of victory.”

    President Benton then elicited a louder set of “hurrahs” as he announced the rest of the day a holiday from class for everyone (one must guess he had this planned, but waited until the contest was over to make it Cartoon by clubber, Laurence Swan, captures the first Flag Rush.official).  Furthermore, Benton invited the combatants to a feast of fresh oysters later that evening in Miami’s state of the art gymnasium.  In the meantime, Prexy encouraged a less physical welcome of Miami’s newest classmates over the intervening hours.  Consequently, “under the trees surrounding this historic battle ground lay the sturdy Sophomore lion with the frisky Freshman lamb, the one conscious that he had died game with all his wounds in the front, the other murmuring wearily through parched lips ‘Veni, vidi, vici.”  Indeed, by the time of the banquet, Lyrics sung to a forgotten tune memorializing the 1904 Pole Rush.both sides gushed prolifically about their former foe’s valor and bravery.  Even the girls of the respective classes—a relatively new addition on the campus—were singled out for their heartfelt dedication to each classes’ honor.  The University’s lone living relic from the Old Miami days, Dr. A. D. Hepburn, blessed the new ritual as a wonderful substitute for the Tower Rush he so detested.  President Benton “closed this delightful occasion by proposing a toast in clear cold water to the Freshman and to the Sophomore classes of Miami University.”  The new Pole Rush was a resounding success!

    Despite the attempt to bring civility to the proceedings, there were few rules and little supervision during the first Flag Rush.  Consequently, a set of rules were published and referees selected to enforce them for the following year.  Among them are these prohibited acts: 

    “5. There is to be no striking with the hand, kicking, or use of club, stick, ax, stone, knife, scissors, or any mechanical device or other means of offense or defense with which the members of the classes are not provided by nature, except linemen’s climbers. 

    6.  No prisoners are to be kept tied about the pole.  The Freshmen are to locate a space as a prison.  No Sophomore, who has released himself, shall release any other from this prison, and no prisoner shall leave the prison space until he has freed his feet by his own unaided efforts.”

    Clubbers, Paul Schlenck (white Tee shirt on left) and Richard Jones (leaning against the pole on right) defend their flag in 1905.The acknowledged star of the 1905 Pole Rush or Flag Rush (both terms were used interchangeably) was Glee Club’s own future charter member, Paul Schlenck, who “showed himself a great general.  His star shaped pole guard and flying wedges were the best formations ever seen at Miami.  It was not his fault that ’08 won.”  Indeed, despite “Dutch’s” leadership, several Freshmen reverted to old, taboo, tactics (one must assume fisticuffs or kicking and not scissors, clubs or axes) and the sophomores declared the victors.  The following year was much the same.  In 1906, future Miami University Athletic Hall of Fame member, George Booth, led the Sophomore charge: 

    “The Sophomores formed into a solid wedge, and clasping each other firmly, with Booth in the lead, moved slowly toward the pole and attempted to remove the Freshman one by one.  The first few assaults were fruitless, but after giving their head man a generous application of lard they began to be more successful, and after each attack, the big Sophomore elephant backed out with one or more frightened Freshmen struggling in its trunk.  After the Freshmen forces had been reduced by about twelve men, both classes broke ranks and engaged in a general mix up.  The next half hour witnessed one of the most determined fights that has ever occurred at a Miami class rush.  At the end of that time the pole was sufficiently free to allow Gaddis to ascend, but before reaching the flag he encountered a Freshman, who by accident or otherwise, struck the advancing Sophomore upon the head with his foot.  As this act was contrary to the rules, the Sophomores were declared victors.”

    George Booth (in white sleeveless tee shirt) leads the Sophomore wedge in 1906.Two consecutive Pole Rushes ended relatively quickly and by virtue of a technicality.  A committee of Student Council members, led by Dean Raymond M. Hughes, studied alternatives for the fall of 1907.  First they tweaked the pole rush itself.  The pole was lowered to a much more manageable height of twelve feet.  Lard and spiked linesmen’s shoes were among those things added to barred items.  But the most significant change was the expansion of the whole day to “a sort of three-ring-circus arrangement” meant to insure a full day’s activities.  After all, President Benton had formalized the class contest as the first holiday for all students on the official university schedule.  Furthermore, the festivities were timed to coincide with a yearly village street fair.  Thus, a tug of war and a bizarre version of “association football” or soccer were added to fill out the entire day.  The class victors of two of the three events would be declared the winners.

    Bound and tied Sophomores relax in prison during a lull in the 1905 Pole Rush.For the hundreds of spectators anxious to witness the proceedings, the expansion of the number of contests proved a blessing.  During the Flag Rush in 1907, the Sophomores took advantage of the new rules, attacked with a full force wedge to the base of the pole, built a human pyramid, and secured the Freshie flag in minutes flat!  With too much time on their hands, the Freshmen grumbled, and “threats of dire vengeance were about.”  Suddenly, cans of paint appeared from nowhere.  Several history-minded Freshmen were heard to cry, “to the tower,” but were quickly thwarted by faculty members.  The Freshmen converged instead on the pole, determined to adorn it in the class colors.  The particular Freshman wielding the brushes “succeeded fairly well until he came in contact with Harrel, a lusty Soph, who very nicely employed Jiu-Jitsu and bowled him over and over.”    The earlier disappointed crowd gathered back around the battleground glad to see the first real action of the day.  Good natured wrestling matches, absent from the earlier contest, broke out when a half dozen combatants started flinging paint at each other.  The crowd that had reassembled scattered like the wind.  All ended in joyous laughter with several combatants “painted ready for an Indian war dance.”

    The 1908 Tallawanda Pull.At the appointed time everyone gathered along the Tallawanda (officially, Four Mile Creek) to the west of where Bonham Road crosses it today.  Only five years earlier, the annual class contest was held in night’s fearsome darkness and viewed by few beyond those taking part.  Now a crowd “numbering about a thousand people (the total population of Oxford was 2,500)” congregated for the inaugural “Tallawanda Pull.”  The contest was a best two out of three, with the classes changing sides after each struggle.  The Sophomores drenched the Freshmen first.  Then the Freshies drenched the Sophs.  The crowd cheered to see both sides thoroughly soaked.  The Freshmen Class of 1911 won the third pull, after a monumental struggle, and tied the competition.  The soccer game turned into a bit of a bust—perhaps because the classes were not limited to eleven to a side, but allowed, instead, everyone from both classes on the field at once.  The Sophomores eventually won a rather dull affair, and soccer never returned as a class contest event again!

    The 1908 battle featured one of the more bizarre outcomes in class contest history.  The pole rush ended more quickly than even the previous year’s hasty contest.  A female reporter for The Recensio skewered the Freshman for their ineptitude:  “Words fail to express the disgust of the of the spectators.  It was variously characterized as sissy, puerile, a farce, and a disgrace to the institution.  The next event was to take place at ten o’clock, and in the meantime many stories were told of the mighty rushes of former years before the youth of the land had degenerated.”  The Tallawanda Pull featured another enormous throng as again each class traded cold dips in the Four Mile Creek (I dare any reader to consider a plunge in the Tallawanda during the first week of October).  Unlike the previous year, both classes were limited to thirty tuggers to a side.  When the Freshmen won the deciding pull, the Sophomores immediately claimed the Freshmen had used more than thirty classmates—including the last minute help of a bystanding Senior.  Walter Zwick in 1908.The Freshmen retorted sour grapes.  As in days of yore, the class contest turned on a dime from a battle of brawn to a war of words.  Following a break for lunch, spectators and Freshmen gathered on the football grounds for yet another bizarre contest somehow involving the accumulation of filled sacks.  But not a single Sophomore appeared!  After it became apparent the Sophs had forfeited, the celebratory Freshmen divided into two sides for the entertainment of the spectators.  The most noted highlight of the event appears to be the accidental loss of more clothing by Glee Club’s Walter Zwick than considered appropriate in a public setting. 

    In an effort to recapture a modicum of class dignity, given accusations of cowardice and poor sportsmanship, the Sophomore Class of 1911 requested a special trial before the entire student body, charging the Freshmen with cheating during the Tallawanda Pull.  This, too, was an event not to be missed.  As one “slightly” exaggerated report put it: “The date for the trial was set and two weeks beforehand all the seats in the auditorium were taken.”  Old Prexy secured the best seat in the house for himself as presiding judge; the Student Council served as a jury; and Glee Club’s own Solon “Nick” Carter represented the Class of 1911 as legal council (Carter later in life served as a Superior Court Judge and ran for the United States Senate from Indiana).  The trial produced a number of humorous exchanges before Nick—a Senior—produced a particularly satiric diatribe that concluded with a flourished assertion that both classes were nothing but cheaters!  Justice Benton and the jury gleefully agreed and gaveled the court adjourned. Juniors and Seniors howled with laughter as Carter managed to proclaim a pox on both houses of the bemused and befuddled underclassmen!

    Push Ball Competition in 1910.The next few years capped the glory years of the annual Freshmen Sophomore Class Contest.  After several disappointing Pole Rushes and the addition of complex permutations of the rules too convoluted to explain here, 1909-1911 witnessed some of the most spirited competitions ever. First, the Sophomores were placed in charge of publicity, inviting the town to witness the wars.  Thus, Oxford was plastered with posters requesting all to come and observe the “Massacre of the Babes” or “The Murder of the Innocents.”  For their part, the Freshies countered with the most humorous and “blood-curdling yell, ‘Sit on the Sophomore!  Sit on his face!”  Good, old-fashioned American football returned as one of the events.  Sophomores stomp across both the goal line and a number of Frosh.Hours before the 1909 competition, a secret package arrived from the University of Michigan containing an enormous inflatable rubber ball.  For two Octobers, “Push Ball” served as the third event.  Thirty classmates to a side played a version of human polo which produced “some spectacular effects and also some very funny happenings.  At times the ball behaved in a most exasperating way, and both classes discovered that there was a science in manipulating it.”  When the humongous globe unexpectedly burst during a competition in Ann Arbor days before it was to be shipped to Oxford in 1911, the Tallawanda Pull returned to its rightful place as the climax of the day’s festivities.

    Violence, chaos, and brotherly affection during the 1910 Pole Rush.This era also produced some of the more fascinating images from the early years of the annual Class Conflict.  On the one hand, there is the aesthetically pleasing composition of a1910 Push Ball competition photograph that on closer inspection also captures the trampling of several unfortunate contestants caught underfoot.  One particular image from 1910 may be the most violent in appearance of any of the over four thousand photos in Miami’s Snyder Collection.  Perhaps it is the apparent moment captured before one contestant delivers a back-armed bitch-slap to another crouching combatant.  Research has suggested the level of violence evident in the photograph an illusion, but still rather intense for modern sensibilities.  The following abridged account from 1909 sums up well the final years of the Pole/Flag Rush experiences:

    “On came the Sophomore wedge with Schramm at the front.  Slowly at first they came, with rhythmic movement, swinging from side to side, heads bowed low—a human battering ram.  Breathless suspense!  But the Freshmen were too wise to wait for the clash.  They rushed from the pole and began the attack.  Then the fun began.  For over thirty minutes there was the most awful struggle recorded in all the annals of warfare.  Heads were rammed into the ground and shirts torn to shreds.  Two men would clash and hit the slippery earth like a ton of lead.  Fifty wrestling matches were going on at once.  One of the amusing features was the wrestling match between ‘Lengthy” White and one of the Rosencrans’s.  Their arms were wrapped lovingly about each other’s necks, their legs were mixed up in several other conflicts, and their feet spread havoc in all directions.”

    The moment of Freshman victory in 1910.Unfortunately, the Flag Rushes of 1910 and 1911 included the first fractured bones suffered since the new format was initiated.  The hand-to-hand combat of three decades came to an abrupt end.  An early morning baseball game and a series of field events took the Pole Rush’s place.  Longest punt of a football and longest toss of a baseball joined more traditional track events such as the 100-yard dash, half-mile run, and long jump during the specialized field portion of the class contest.  Organizers developed a point system, similar to that used during “Greek Week” today, designed to determine the victorious class.  With the growing number of students enrolled each year and the limited number of participants in each event, the days when the football star stood shoulder to shoulder with the Greek geek slipped quietly into the past.  

    Freshies and Sophs, with clubbers of both, in 1913.With the passing of the Flag Rush, the Tallawanda Pull reigned supreme as the crowd favorite of local residents and upperclassmen.  The event was moved to a venue considered more suitable for spectators; close to where the covered “White Bridge” crossed the Four mile Creek and near the spot where State Rt. 73 leads east out of town today.  In 1913, the Sophomores soundly defeated the Freshmen in the early events.  Despite the insurmountable point differential, both classes emerged from the lunch break determined to win the “piece de resistance” of the day.  Spectators, too, were not deterred by the overall score:  “By two-fifteen, the crowds were moving toward Sloat’s Hill, and at two-thirty, the time scheduled for the contest to begin, the bank was lined thickly with blood-thirsty sight seers.”  The thirty-five strongest warriors of both classes stared across the puddle and pulled with all their might.  The rope snapped at the weakest point sending combatants tumbling on the rocky shore.  Three more times the battle was engaged and three more times the rope snapped, until there was no length suitable to use.  The crowd dispersed in bitter disappointment.  But a considerable number of combatants—who had thoroughly expected to get wet at some point during the melee anyway—stuck around for a good, old-fashioned water fight.  At the end of the impromptu proceedings, the boys posed for a picture that includes two future Glee Club Presidents side-by-side in the center, with other scattered clubbers of both classes joined in smiling camaraderie nearby.

    Combatants snake to the White Bridge.The following fall, the committee in charge of the Class Day determined to obtain the biggest and badest piece of twine they could find.  They procured a rope two-hundred feet in length and an inch and a half thick!  In an effort to add a bit more pomp to the circumstances of the day’s crowning event, the competitors were instructed to assemble in the public square Uptown and parade the sinuous weapon the nearly two miles to the scene of battle.  Schoolchildren and intrepid gawkers joined the march, while many others waited along the road enjoying a primitive form of tailgating.   On a warm and dusty October day in 1914, the Freshmen Class of 1918 defeated the Sophomores in the first Puddle Pull using the new rope.  It is telling that the headlines of the Miami Student reported the Freshmen victory on the Tallawanda before adding the Sophomores won the day.

    Future Glee Club President, Gordon Crecraft ('18) whistles his way to war.For three more years, the annual battle between Miami’s Freshman and Sophomore classes continued to be the most anticipated event of the new school year.  The snake-like march of combatants to the Tallawanda turned Oxford into a virtual ghost town one weekday in early October through 1917.  But America’s involvement in the Great World War in Europe and the subsequent shedding of blood by many of Miami’s sons marked the close of a youthful era of innocence on the Oxford campus.  The Class Contest was considered too trivial for such serious times and, thus, cancelled in 1918.  The Miami that emerged after the war was exponentially more complex and substantially less personal than the Miami of a decade before.  Class sizes were measured in the hundreds and not the dozens.  Scores of organizations and activities—particularly Greek fraternities and sororities—vied for the attention of Miami’s newest edition of the “modern” student.  But old traditions don’t die easily.  They change!

    The Puddle Pull in 1922.Upperclassmen were more than happy to regale clueless Freshmen and Sophomores with myths and lore of Class Contests past when school opened in 1919.  Along with helpful strategic tips, useful for the scheduled competitions, the older men encouraged the committal of unsanctioned pranks.  For the administration’s part, the annual contest was deemed no longer worthy of a class holiday and moved to the earliest appropriate Saturday of the fall term.  For several years, the annual battle continued to attract the curious.  In 1920, a yet tamer version of the Flag Rush and the Sack Race of 1907 made a brief reprise.  Residents still gathered at Sloat’s Hill for the Tug of War.  A new strategy emerged where the combatants sat crouched on the shore with feet planted firmly in equally spaced foot holes in a premonition of Miami tug of wars to be.  But with each passing year, fewer spectators and fewer competitors attended the battles.  This despite the influx of Freshmen in numbers unimaginable ten years earlier.  In 1926, an insufficient number of Sophomores showed up for the Tallawanda Pull necessary to conduct a meaningful competition.  The Puddle Pull as it had been celebrated for twenty years died an ignominious death.  Despite efforts to keep the tradition alive, the class contest continued to deteriorate until the official competition consisted of a single pick-up football game.  The last mention I have found of the once proud yearly Class Contest in the Miami Student is a single paragraph buried in the back pages of a 1937 edition indicating the Sophomores won at football!  But this does not mean that the spirit of the competition had died!  Instead, it began to devolve over time back to its roots!

    Starting the parde Uptown during the early 1920s.When the university began to sanction the class contests in 1904, a stern warning was issued against any hostilities before the official proceedings.  This truce lasted until 1913, when the Sophomores performed their customary duty of plastering Uptown with posters “promising all manner of fire, brimstone, and so forth to the offending freshmen.”  During the wee hours before the day of battle, a group of indignant Freshmen removed every poster in sight.  During the baseball game that started the competition the following morning, a band of Sophomores were spotted by a band of Freshmen heading uptown intending to replace the missing posters.  A donnybrook ensued that resulted in the capture and binding of four freshmen, who were placed prisoners in the basement of the Phi Delta Theta house near the athletic grounds.  After tense negotiations, “special clemency was granted” the Freshies in time to compete in the Puddle Pull. 

    The crowd gathers at Sloat's Hill.In the years that followed—before World War I—there are no other accounts of extra-curricular activities in any of Miami’s official publications.  But in 1919, the upperclassmen easily convinced the gullible Freshies and Sophs that the true battle was won in the hours and days before written rules applied.  During the official convocation of the new year held in the auditorium, President Hughes’s soaring rhetoric filled the air—which reeked!  A large proportion of those in attendance were packing heat in the form of rotting vegetables.  When the assembly was dismissed, a food fight broke out between the Freshmen and Sophomores on the lawn outside the doors.  From that Thursday morning until Saturday’s festivities, prides of Sophomore lions prowled the campus and Uptown; pouncing upon inattentive Freshies and tossing them into either Thobe’s Fountain on the university grounds or the community fountain in the Uptown park.  The carnage continued through Friday evening, as various pajama-clad Freshmen were abducted from their dorm rooms and treated to unexpected outdoor baths.  Several daring groups of Freshmen retaliated by invading selective fraternity houses, prying Sophomores from their beds, and returning the favor.  The Class Contest had ratcheted up tightly several extra twists!

    Thobe's Fountain--where the Kappa Kappa Gamma Plaque is today.The horseplay grew worse rather than better during the early 1920s.  Attacks and counter attacks often lasted the entire first week of school.  For two more years, the opening convocation was palpably distracted by festering tension among those wondering how to escape the impending warfare, or those anxious to let fly.  Pressure from the administration and more serious peers finally convinced undergraduates that the first “chapel” meeting of the year was an inappropriate venue for such degradation.  Still, young students continued to plop into pools of water. One of the more humorous anecdotes from this period involved two Freshmen boys who wished to purchase some ice cream from the “Purity” restaurant Uptown.  They were spotted by a patrol of roving Sophomores who did a double-take.  The two boys were dressed from head to foot in women’s clothing hoping not to be noticed!  Despite protests that it was no way to treat a lady, the two dragsters were tossed in the village fountain across the street—dresses, pumps, and all!

    The new climax of the Freshmen-Sophomore contest became the Friday night and early Saturday morning before the sanctioned competitions.  Starting in 1920 the two classes agreed to a final battle—“a ‘get-together’ party, or an informal ‘mixer,” as it was euphemistically called in the Miami Student.  The Sophomores were allowed to chose the field of battle.Sites near the White Bridge to Darrtown seved as the scene of battle several times during the 1920s.  They spent the evening building barricades of wood and wire reminiscent of the trench warfare recently past.  The Freshmen boys amassed in their pajamas (perhaps as a homage to the abduction victims of previous years.  Perhaps to identify each other) and traveled to the women’s dorms, serenaded them, and encouraged all to attend a pep rally in the village square.  As the singing and revelry ended, and the girls and the less pugilist boys returned to the safety of their rooms, the remaining Freshmen were given notice of the whereabouts of the waiting Sophomores, secured ammunition, and marched to war.  Each year the location was different.  On several years it was held in the “Negro Cemetery” (now Woodside) located on Chestnut Street.  Occasionally, the battle was engaged in cornfields along dark roads on the outskirts of town.  In 1922, the two classes met in the Catholic “Mt. Olivet Cemetery” on the west side of the village.  A front page article in The Miami Student entitled, “Freshman Boiler-Makers Meet Soph Thugs In Conflict,” describes the scene: 

    “The major action of the evening occurred in the cemetery about four o’clock.  The Sophomores were entrenched behind two barrels of eggs which, to say the least, would not have passed the inspection of the Board of Health.  As soon as the frosh appeared, weary from the evening’s pilgrimages, they were greeted with a hail of eggs; and for a moment the lines weakened.  But in a few seconds the cemetery was the scene of a battle royal.  It was but short work for the frosh to overcome the numerically inferior sophomores, and in a few minutes the struggle was over.  When the battle was ended each class gave a cheer and the weary battlers sought their respective lodgings.” 

    In subsequent years, two upper-class social societies—The Red Cowl and The Grail—served as monitors of the fights, hoping to limit the damage to life and limb.  But when one combatant was “maimed for life” in 1929, an outcry arose that was soon heeded. An editorial in the September 22, 1931 publication of the Miami Student offered a welcome obituary to the class conflict:

    “The time has apparently come when the annual sophomore-freshman fight as it has existed at Miami will cease to exist.  The refusal of the two classes Friday to renew fabled hostilities seems to definitely shelve the affair.  The question of class honor has long since disappeared and the fight had simply become an excuse for a public brawl.  Usually led on by a crowd of town rowdies and upperclassmen trying to keep things alive and participated in by anyone who happened to be near and anxious to get in a good lick in the dark, the affair was anything but a show of spirit between the two lower classes of the University.”

    Class Contest track event in 1922.Indeed, the class conflict was dead!  That aspect of the official class competition that still existed had turned into nothing more than a glorified tryout for young athletes hoping to capture the eye of scouting coaches from Miami’s track, baseball, and football teams.  But it did not squelch the original intention of the tradition—going back to 1889—of the newest Freshmen Class announcing their arrival on the campus.

    When the upperclassmen of 1919 shared stories of the class contest tradition, they dutifully recounted the tradition of painting class numbers on the Varsity Tower.  Consequently, the late-night specter of paint-carrying boys returned to Oxford.  In 1919, the freshmen posted their ’23 from the tops of several buildings Uptown—much to the outrage of storekeepers.The Water Tower in 1921.   But when Oxford erected an enormous water tower in the eastern Uptown Park, there could be no doubt of the object of Miami’s newest generations of public artists.  During the 1920s—when the class fight still existed—the ritual of climbing the water tower was the last act performed before going to bed.  And although the class fight was gone with the beginning of the 1930s, the ritual of pajama-wearing Freshmen boys serenading co-eds, who then marched Uptown for a rally didn’t die.  Another story from 1931 tells the tale:  “Midnight Wednesday saw five members of the freshman advance corps stroll unobtrusively into the town park to survey the prominent water tower.  Shortly, the stirring blare of a brass band heralded the approach of the frosh main attack and an imposing force of 100 pajama and bathrobe clad yearlings hove into sight and surrounded the park with obvious intentions.”  Oxford’s lone police officer, WWI veteran, Joe Knost, patiently sat in waiting for the mob.  Apparently, Knost was an imposing figure.  “A whispered ‘let’s rush it’ ran down the line and was hushed as the officer nonchalantly marched along the line and reviewed it from his towering height, with billy swinging carelessly from his wrist.”  Four intrepid Freshmen left the scene with paint in hand and proceeded to the village cannon on the western side of the park.  Three of them were immediately arrested by Knost and spent the night in jail.  The fourth fled in terror with the rest of the Freshmen, only to be brought before a judge the following morning.  The four boys were given a stern lecture and a reprimand. 

    Harry Knost during WWI.The University’s reaction was to formalize and embrace the Freshman Pajama Parade.  On the last night before the rest of the student body were scheduled to arrive, the Freshmen gathered in front of Old Main (by now called Harrison Hall).  A delegation of Freshies were escorted into the building and allowed to ring the varsity bell in announcement of the new class’s arrival.  A festive parade proceeded Uptown where the number of the Sophomore class had been etched in chalk safely on terra firma.  The Freshmen gleefully obliterated the old number and replaced it with their own.  Still, every year, that same Freshman number ended up prominently displayed on the water tower later!

    In 1940, new Oxford Mayor ToddSeptember 15, 1941. decided that the “cat and mouse game” held annually was more dangerous than allowing the scaling of the tower as a climax to the Pajama Parade.  In September 1941, the largest crowd ever assembled in the park to witness the ancient but ever transformed ritual celebrated beneath the tower.  Along with those chosen to paint the enormous ’45 at the precipice, a Miami Student photographer climbed to the top and captured the moment on film.  A triumphant cheer arose from the crowd, followed by the exuberant singing of Miami’s historic anthems.  Three months later, the nation, with the entire planet, was suddenly and inextricably engaged in a Second World War!  The Class Contest, the Pajama Parade, the Tower Rush, and pretty much anything else associated with one of Miami’s most unique and enduring traditions, faded forever!

    Or, did they?  I have recognized two places where the spirit of the class rivalry of old still exists on campus today—even if those who participate fail to recognize it.  On the irreverent side—and there has always been an extremely irreverent component of the tradition—one only need attend Miami’s yearly Freshmen Convocation at the start of the new year.  The ceremony itself is full of the dignity due the occasion.  But in recent years, the event has been marked by a cattle drive of Freshies up Tallawanda Avenue that includes one side of the street saturated in students saturated in alcohol; screaming taunts and invitations at the startled Freshies!  “Come over to the dark side,” is one vociferous “battle cry” I remember clearly from my own jaunt up the hill earlier this August.    

    The Betas heave during the 2008 Puddle Pull at the close of Greek Week.Early this October, Miami’s fraternities and sororities celebrated a week of spirited competition and shared camaraderie.  As has been the custom since 1955, Greek Week ended with the always climactic “Puddle Pull!”  If you google “puddle pool” and Miami, you will find several results—including a Wikipedia entry—describing the event as a uniquely Miami phenomena invented in 1949 by Delta Upsilon Senior, Frank Dodd.  Dodd first intended the competition to serve as a way to introduce new pledges into the fraternity.  But by the end of spring in 1949, other fraternities engaged in a tournament at the Delta Upsilon house, and thoroughly embraced the manly competition.  Puddle Pull spread across the campus like “Corn Hole” or “Beer Pong” in later eras.  Delta Upsilon claims full credit for the idea!

    A sorority prepares to compete at football during the 2008 Greek Week.I wish Delta Upsilon or Frank Dodd no disrespect for the genius of reintroducing such an honored tradition from so long ago.  But institutional memory can cloud some of the facts over time.  Several years ago—while researching the early 1900s for something entirely unrelated to this lengthy story—I encountered a random reference to the Tallawanda Pull as the “puddle pull.”  I doubt this was a singularly isolated use of the term.  Glee Club charter members, Dwight Minnich and Homer Ballinger, were charter members of Miami’s chapter of Delta Upsilon, who took part in the charter puddle pull—all of which charters were birthed within days of each other during the fall of 1907.  Certainly, visiting alumni to Miami played some inspirational role in Frank Dodd’s wonderful recreation of a game.  Thank you, Frank! But I also personally challenge Delta Upsilon to embrace the larger connection to Miami’s greater history and the continuum back to boys who decided to dangle one of their own from the Varsity Tower in June of 1889!

    For Glee Club, I hope this story offers yet another level of pride for our own irreverent ways we welcome our New Guys each year; and our rite’s connections to Miami’s past.  After all, the stories of our glories have been woven together for over one hundred years now!  Still, I staunchly warn clubbers from the future: Beware of New Guys carrying paint!!

     

     

     

     

     

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      Response: Amir Mojiri London
      Welcoming The New Guys--Old School! Part 2. - journal - Miami University Glee Club History
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      Response: Keir Majarrez
      Welcoming The New Guys--Old School! Part 2. - journal - Miami University Glee Club History
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      Response: Keir Majarrez
      Welcoming The New Guys--Old School! Part 2. - journal - Miami University Glee Club History
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      Welcoming The New Guys--Old School! Part 2. - journal - Miami University Glee Club History
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      Welcoming The New Guys--Old School! Part 2. - journal - Miami University Glee Club History
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      Welcoming The New Guys--Old School! Part 2. - journal - Miami University Glee Club History
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      Response: Corey Park
      Welcoming The New Guys--Old School! Part 2. - journal - Miami University Glee Club History
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      Response: Corey Park
      Welcoming The New Guys--Old School! Part 2. - journal - Miami University Glee Club History
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      Welcoming The New Guys--Old School! Part 2. - journal - Miami University Glee Club History
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      Response: Namita Chittoria
      Welcoming The New Guys--Old School! Part 2. - journal - Miami University Glee Club History
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      Welcoming The New Guys--Old School! Part 2. - journal - Miami University Glee Club History
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      Welcoming The New Guys--Old School! Part 2. - journal - Miami University Glee Club History
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      Welcoming The New Guys--Old School! Part 2. - journal - Miami University Glee Club History
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      Response: Amir Mojiri
      Welcoming The New Guys--Old School! Part 2. - journal - Miami University Glee Club History
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      Response: Amir Hasan Mojiri
      Welcoming The New Guys--Old School! Part 2. - journal - Miami University Glee Club History
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      Response: P Andrew Fleming
      Welcoming The New Guys--Old School! Part 2. - journal - Miami University Glee Club History

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