We can all use a good laugh these days, so here is a post from April 1, 2019 that should do the trick.
Every so often there seems to be a rush of interest in bringing back old Amherst traditions. Perhaps alumni wish that students of today could experience gathering as a class to sing at the senior fence. Or students wonder if they are missing out on quirky old traditions that could build school spirit.
Well, today I’d like to share with you some of the lesser known student traditions and activities from the past, all candidates for reintroduction into the Amherst traditions of today!
Let’s start with athletics – while competitive napping was only a recognized intercollegiate sport for 7 years, Amherst had 5 champion teams during that time. This is the team from 1882; Alfred Humbrey, at left, won the final tournament round with a record breaking nap of 6 hours and 43 minutes.
In the musical realm, Amherst’s well known Air Flute Octet charmed campus and area concert goers for decades before dissolving during the economic depression of 1893 when air flute prices became exorbitant.
The short-lived On-Campus Rock Climbing Society was dedicated to finding and climbing every rock on the Amherst campus.
The Puritan Cosplay Club was a wildly popular student activity in the early 1950s. The group attended both Puritan Con and Colonizers Con annually along with groups from Williams, Wesleyan, Yale and many other New England colleges.
Amherst’s Extreme Pipe Club was a selective group that existed from 1882-1885. Members of the club competed fiercely to have the longest pipe, by 1885 the pipes were observed to be nearing 8 feet long. The club was disbanded by the faculty after numerous custodian complaints of puncture marks in the hallways caused by students struggling to navigate their pipes around corners and through doorways.
Amherst also hosted a number of summer schools in the late 1800s. In a addition to the better know Summer School for Library Economy and Sauveur Language School, there was also the Amherst Summer School for Fashion Modeling which graduated dozens of young men who went on to renown in the Paris fashion plate scene. Appearing in this image (second from left in the back row) is Ellery Huntington, Class of 1888, who was later pictured in hundreds of fashion plates out of New York.
The Annual Student Brawl was a beloved tradition that began in 1899 and extended into the early 1930s. On a fine spring Saturday, the president would declare it “Brawl Day” and the student body would gather on the quad or the playing fields. The president would shoot a ceremonial pistol to start the brawl; after 30 minutes, any student left standing would be declared a superior specimen of Amherst manhood and given a purple striped ribbon to be worn on his hat for the remainder of the year. The faculty and citizens of the town of Amherst would bring their families and picnic on the lawn after the brawl.
The Ax, Rope, Club, Paddle and Broom Society was a secret society that rivaled the many fraternities at Amherst in the 1890s. Each of the implements in the society name was central to one of the society’s rituals. Unfortunately, the details of their rituals have been lost to time so modern researchers are left guessing. We do know that the club was kicked out of seven rooming housing in the span of three years between 1892 and 1894.
Last, but not least, is the Amherst Varsity Guinea Pig Breeding Team. The team competed in division 3 guinea pig breeding from 1949 to 1957. Pictured here is the guinea pig that took the team to the national championship in 1951. Numerous alumni guinea pig breeders hoped that the school’s mascot would be officially changed to the guinea pig in 2016, but were, alas, disappointed.
Happy April Fools Day!
(All of the photographs in this post are, in fact, real photographs of Amherst College students, the interpretations however… are not. For more information about Brawl Day, please see the Chapel Rush and the Flag Rush. All the other photographs are unidentified.)