The hotels had been reported full for two days, and still every train brought its contribution to the increasing throng. The effects of this wholesale packing were visible at the breakfast-table. Those who had enjoyed the princely hotel accommodations of six in a small room affected a dignified negligence in dress, while those who had taken their lodging on billiard-tables and hotel sofas made no attempt to conceal their real feelings, and looked miserable enough.
The tedious interval between breakfast and the foot-race was passed by the crowd around the hotel doors in a languid discussion of "rain or no rain," and in making a few bets, just to spite the goddess of strict morality, who was said to rule the day and forbid pool-selling.
About 9.30 the crowd began moving toward Hampden Park, to see the two-mile foot-race for the Bennett prize, and the ball-match between the Harvard and Brown Freshmen. These occupied more or less fully the whole morning.
But no one came to see foot-races or ball-playing, and for the next two hours dinner occupied the minds of all. In some cases we fear it was rather the minds than the stomachs, for never before in Springfield hotels had the demand for food so exceeded the supply. As early as 12.30 the advance guard of the exodus to the river started, and from that time until 4 the roads leading to either bank were thronged with every description of vehicle the ingenuity of man has devised for the last century. Every horse, carriage, and passenger was profusely decorated with some college color. Every cane, whip, hat, or watch-guard showed where the sympathies of the wearers were placed, and a glance along the road left on the mind only a confused blending of many colors, in which no particular one seemed to predominate. In short, the crowd was thoroughly democratic, intensely partisan, and generally good-natured.
On each side of the river, as near the line of the finish as they could be placed, two stands had been built nearly equal in size. But the one on the western bank quite surpassed its rival in having a band and in being the terminal station of the Harvard Telegraph Co. Here, on a rude platform, built in the crotch of a tree at least thirty feet from the ground, sat Nason, '73, ready for the faintest signal of the start. But the start was not yet. The wiser ones, who had waited for boats to start before, took no part in the general rush to the bank at each false alarm, but quietly got through the tedious hour and a half as best they could.
At about 4.22 the explosion of the Telegraph Co's firearm, a general murmur of voices and stampede to the bank showed that the Freshmen had really started. In a couple of minutes the placard for the first half-mile said, "X." "Am." "Hd." Cheers for Yale were given with a will, and her partisans crowded excitedly down the banks. The announcements for the second, third, and fourth half-mile were the same, and were received with increased excitement. After that no one cared to look at placards, for the boats were in sight. First Yale was distinguished, pulling that long stroke, which looked like so little and told for so much. Then came Amherst, pulling a plucky stroke of forty to the minute, and about ten lengths behind Amherst came Harvard, pulling at about the same rate, but lacking Amherst's snap and vigor. In this order, and without much change in the relative positions, they crossed that famous "diagonal," amid a storm of cheers and shouts of "Yale!" "Yale!" Now the blue was everywhere proudly displayed, and the incidents of the race were gone over again and again. Gradually the excitement subsided, and as the moments went by it was evident that another dreary time of waiting was inevitable. To relieve the monotony, small bets and dollar sweep-stakes were made, and among the large family-parties luncheons were eaten before hungry collegians, whose only solace was pea-nuts or doubtful lemonade. On the eastern shore, "The Death of the Rat," a tragedy in several acts, was performed before a select audience.
The delay was partly due to the committee. The crews were to have come to the starting-post upon the firing of a cannon, but the committee, with a foresight quite characteristic of that body of Solons, had forgotten to procure a cannon. Much time was consequently wasted in waiting for the referee's steamer to go and notify the various crews that the time had come. Slowly the boats were seen to push out from their boat-houses and draw up to their positions. Then came more delay in arrangement, and after much backing and changing they were held in line in the following order, beginning at the western bank: Amherst, Massachusetts Agricultural, Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Wesleyan, Williams, Dartmouth, Trinity, Bowdoin, and Cornell; the position of the last three almost sealing their fate from the start. It was no ordinary sight, these sixty-six young men, the pick of eleven colleges, presented as they sat there, bending forward, all eyes on the starter, as motionless as statues. The brown skins and developed muscles showed a latent power which was hardly less imposing than when it was called into full play in the grand rush and machine-like movement of the actual race. What they must have felt we can hardly realize. For months all their thoughts, actions, and even being had been directed to this one moment; a slight mistake now and the results of those months are thrown away. The thousands who were watching them were in full sympathy, as was indicated by the deep stillness which prevailed. The suspense was of but short duration, for, at 6 minutes past six, Mr. Brown, the starter, gave the expected "Are you ready? - go!" After a few strokes Harvard showed a slight lead, with Cornell nearly even with her. Bowdoin, Columbia, Wesleyan, and Amherst were exactly in line, Yale gradually drawing ahead of the line, while Dartmouth, Trinity, Williams, and the "Aggies" were lagging behind it. A glance from a point near the Dartmouth boat-house showed that the Dartmouths had crept up into the front line near the western shore, and that Cornell and Bowdoin were making ineffectual spurts to catch the leading boats. A little farther along Amherst also quickened, but failed to catch Harvard and Yale. At the end of a mile and a half it was plain that the race was between Harvard, Yale, Wesleyan, Dartmouth, and Amherst. Harvard could be plainly seen leading all the boats, with the next four nearly neck-and-neck. Columbia was leading the second bunch of boats, which was gradually tailed off by Trinity and Williams. A perfect storm of yells and cheers ran down both banks, was taken up and returned again and again. Harvard's "Rah! Rah! Rah!" was almost drowned in the frantic cries of "Yale! Yale!" Then the blue of Yale shows itself unmistakably ahead of Dartmouth, and Wesleyan and Amherst take the next places.
As they entered upon the last half-mile and became clearly visible to the spectators at the finish, the scene was one of delirious excitement. No one who saw that magnificent finish can ever forget it. The sight was as grand from one bank as the other. Those on the western bank saw Yale spurt and draw ahead of Amherst and Wesleyan, who were nearly neck-and-neck, and the three boats cross the line in a clump, while Harvard was seen almost in a line with them, but under the eastern bank. Those on the eastern bank could dimly see (for it was the evening of a rainy day) three boats almost lapping each other, the foremost with the blue scarcely discernible, while almost under their feet was clearly seen one of the most beautiful sights, - to a Harvard man if to no one else, - a crew wearing the magenta and spurting with a power that made the boat quiver and jump at every stroke, and all this with perfect regularity, for the brown backs moved together like clock-work. As they passed, a glance in a direct line over the stern of Harvard across the river clearly showed the backs of the other crews. Then Harvard stopped rowing, and in a short time after Yale did the same. The scene which followed was indescribable. No one tried to be cool or rational, but all preferred rushing about and yelling as if possessed. The judges on the press-boat, without waiting for the referee or the judges on shore, called Harvard up and presented the flags. Then the eastern shore became a perfect bedlam. There was no mistake in the shouts of "Harvard!" now; they drowned all other sounds and deafened all ears. As the crew neared the shore they were seized and literally dragged from
the boat and borne on shore in triumph.
The western bank had seen Yale cross first, but so little ahead that when the flags were presented to Harvard they readily accepted that as decisive. The eastern bank, looking directly across the stream, were sure that Harvard was first, and the possession of the flags made them doubly so. This certainly made the developments of the evening more aggravating.
It was a long time before the wildly excited crowd could think of supper, the ball, or the darkness and drizzling rain. The exciting finish must be talked over again, and once in a while the enthusiasm of some knot of magenta-wearers broke out into cheers and songs.
How this immense crowd ever reached Spring-field without loss of life or limb, passing over poor roads and shaking bridges, in darkness and rain as they did, is a wonder.
It was late in the evening when Mr. Babcock, after weighing all the testimony, declared Yale the winner. The reversion of feeling was too much. Harvard men could scarcely believe their senses. Yale grew correspondingly elate as they had been before depressed, and quickly made the hotels and rainy streets ring again with jubilant shouts and songs.
Then came the ball, which was advertised "to eclipse anything before seen in Western Massachusetts." We are unfortunately unacquainted with what is customary in that part of the State, but if the attendance is generally as much out of proportion to the preparations made, we are sorry for "Western Massachusetts."
During the next day nearly all the visitors had gone, the city had again sunk into lethargy, and the last signs of the Regatta had passed away.