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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
Maybe this year's freshmen need inspiration; perhaps the new generation of yard dwellers is more conservative, or are just not impressed by a big show. At any rate, should an old grad wander into the Union this week he might wonder whether a Smoker campaign was going on, or the men of '54 were merely advertising for a baby parade.
For he would remember the boisterous, brawling affairs that used to be & part of every campaign. Strippers, brass bands, torchlight parades, and riots were common occurrences, and a candidate without a leather lung was lost before he ran.
Until this year, the '53 campaign was regarded as the quickest since the war, but even they enlisted monkeys, a cheerleading squad, and a blaring record machine for the fight. One Yardling got dressed up as Superman and single-handed, beat off the barrage of rolls and wet lettuce that greeted his entrance into the dining hall.
The class of '52, in its campaign, incorporated sex, swamis and shmoos that gave Union onlookers beer and pretzels until the porters forced them from the hall. A singer from the Balinese Room in a Boston Hotel was also banned from the freshman sanctum, but campaigned on outside until the cold night dispersed most of her audience. Two candidates managed to smuggle three girls who acted as signposts into the dining halls, despite the Union Committee's ruling "no sex" brought about by the '47 contest.
But this didn't slow down the freshmen. A group of candidates organized a torchlight parade that circled the Yard to the tune of brass bands until unsympathetic Yard police chased them to a standing concert in front of the Union. A fake assassination, complete with caps, ketchup, and bodyguards was held after lunch one day, followed by a dragon slaying.
That winter, the renowned Harvard owl had taken up residence in the Yard, and coonskin-clad candidates chased him from tree to tree 'mid encouraging hoots from the spectators.
The bird became a major issue in the fight, with friends and enemies taking sides, and candidates switching opinions as the tide turned daily. A candidate dressed as an owl one day and appeared with an axe the next.
Sox highlighted the '47 campaign, and the duller competitors fled the field. Inspired by the speech given by Sally Rand in a pre-war Smoker battle, titled "What the Stage Door Johnny is Looking for When He Stage-Door-Johnnies a Burlesque Stage Door," two candidates brought strippers Sally Keith and Scar- lett Kelly from the Old Howard to talk to the freshmen.
The posters were removed from the Union at lunchtime, but were replaced by dinner. This time they went down to stay, and a ruling against further such "provocating material" was passed by the Union Committee.
But the old grad might suspect that the men of '54 have acquired that "Harvard indifference" a little prematurely, if he had heard one small freshman ask, wide-eyed, "What is this Smoker, any how?
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