An Ode to the Lost Traditions of Knox College
By Megan Scott '96
Pumphandle. Flunk Day. Prairie Burn. Bronze Turkey. These words may not mean much to those outside of the Knox community -- in fact, they may seem downright silly -- but for those of us who've spent any time on the Knox campus, these words define us and unify us as a community. They are our traditions. Yet these are not the only traditions that have existed in Knox College's 175-year history. Others have come and gone throughout the years, fondly remembered by those who witnessed or participated in them. Class scraps. Dandelion Day. Regatta Day. Green Bows and Beanies. These are just a few of Knox's long-lost traditions worth remembering. Sometimes for the silly name alone.
Members of the freshman and sophomore classes fight for control of the pushball during the fall of 1917. The final score was 0-0, a stalemate for this popular class competition.
Fierce competitions between the freshman and sophomore classes date back to at least the 1890s, when each class adopted colors and flags and participated in various "battles" around Homecoming. The battles soon became known as scraps and included tugs-of-war, the kidnapping of class presidents, and the raiding of fraternity houses. The infamous Class Scrap of 1914 involved 200 students in a three-day battle that took place in and around Galesburg. Shortly after the scrap of 1914, a pushball contest -- a competition between two teams to push a ball roughly 6 feet in diameter and weighing 50 pounds towards a specific goal -- was held during scrap season. Class Scraps ended in the early 20th century and, along with it, the fierce competition between rival classes.
Freshman girls perform the "button walk" -- walking between rows of upperclass students while touching the mandatory green bows -- in the fall of 1940.
It's hard to trace the moment when first-year students were required to wear items signifying their class rank -- green beanies for men, bows for women -- but the College Handbook of 1921 lists the wearing of caps and bows during a student's first semester on campus as an official tradition. The tradition was taken so seriously that students caught without their beanies or bows were taken to the campus pump for a good dousing. This time-honored tradition launched even more rituals on campus, including the infamous "button walk," during which first-years were required to walk between rows of upperclass students while touching the button on their cap or their bow, and the burning of the beanies and bows during half-time of the annual Knox-Lombard or Homecoming football game. Rumor has it that the members of the Class of 1963 were the last students required to wear the infamous green beanies and bows.
The Knox community gathers to beautify the Knox campus on Dandelion Day, May 1917.
While Flunk Day brings the campus community together in a day of revelry and relaxation, Dandelion Day brought faculty, students, and staff to work. Dating back to at least 1916, the day found all members of the Knox community working together to beautify the campus, including the digging up of dandelions from the lawn. Although the College no longer celebrates Dandelion Day, it has popped up now and again over the years, including an all-campus clean up day in 1977, a student event celebrating National Volunteer Day in 2001, and, most recently, the "Get Off your Butts and Clean Up the Butts" day to ready the campus for open house and Commencement season in April 2011.
Knox women prepare for the Regatta Day boat race at Lake Rice in East Galesburg, spring 1907.
Dating back to at least 1898, Regatta Day took place each year in June, shortly after Commencement exercises, and consisted of a variety of field events held at Lake Rice in East Galesburg. Organized by the LMI (Ladies Mutual Improvement literary society), the highlight of the day's festivities was a boat race between four teams of women. While the last photo of Regatta Day is from 1917, one holdover from the day remains -- the faculty versus seniors softball game. Today, the game is played on Flunk Day when the faculty team up against the senior class Friars.
A scene from the May Fete of 1920, the last year of this Knox tradition.
As the name implies, Knox's May Fete was a traditional spring celebration held on the first of May. Students gathered on the campus' central lawn, crowned a May Queen, danced around a May pole, and watched a theatrical presentation in the evening. The election of officers in the women's Self-Government Association also took place. Photos of the spring celebration continued from 1910 to 1920, with a brief revival in 1975, presided over by long-time English professor, Howard Wilson.
Members of the Knox community slide down the sides of the Knox Bowl on a snowy winter afternoon, circa 1980.
On snowy winter nights from the late 1960s until just a few years ago, it wasn't unusual to find Knox students sneaking onto the football field -- once known as the Knox Bowl, now the Knosher Bowl, but most commonly as the Bowl -- with cafeteria trays in hand. If they were lucky to avoid catching the attention of campus security, these very students would hop onto those trays and slide down the sides that gave this athletic venue its name. The renovation of the Bowl in 2008 and the removal of trays from the cafeteria in 2010 turned this favorite campus pastime into the stuff of legends.
Member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity accompany their 1951 Homecoming parade float.
Not so long ago, ample opportunities existed for Knox students to parade across campus and into town. There were Homecoming and Flunk Day parades, complete with floats of all kinds. There were processionals across Standish Park as Knox faculty, staff, and students paraded to and from Beecher Chapel. Students were even known to join hands in a "snake dance" that wound its way from campus across the downtown, stopping traffic along the way. Knox saw its last official parade during Homecoming of 1971. Of all of Knox's lost traditions, perhaps this is the one that stands the best chance of a revival. Who doesn't love a parade?