Dropping Books, Then the Clothes

Primal Scream
Kelly S Robinson

A Primal Scream participant carries the Adams House flag past a crowd in front of the John Harvard Statue during the first few minutes of Finals Period, joining, among others, skateboarders and a student in a hamburger suit.

When asked to recount the events that transpired yesterday midnight in Harvard Yard, her answer was simple: “We just got naked, and we ran.”

Madison L. Coveno ’14 was one of a group of about 100 Harvard undergraduates who dropped their books and, more importantly, their clothes to commemorate the first day of final exams with a brisk trot around the Yard.

As the Harvard Band, stationed in front of the John Harvard statue as usual, played boisterous tunes, participants in the semiannual Harvard tradition known as “Primal Scream” sped past a horde of curious onlookers. One student ran in a hamburger suit, several rolled past on skateboards, and a few brought up the rear with cigars hanging from their mouths.


In the minutes leading up to midnight, students gathered and lingered between Stoughton Hall and Hollis Hall. When the time came, articles of clothing were flung aside, and a fleshy mass began its circular course.

“It’s a rite of passage, and it’s f—ing invigorating,” said Luke M. Baran ’11, upon finishing his sprint. “I just bookended my college career: I did it freshman fall and my senior spring. It feels like I’ve come full circle.”


With its clear skies and cool weather, last night was far more gentle on the skin than December’s rainy and windy Primal Scream. But in comparison to last night’s jaunt, the fall saw greater participation numbers—and more excitement and bedlam.

Coveno said that she preferred fall semester’s Primal Scream, recalling how the slippery conditions actually helped to up the excitement factor.

She said she plans to participate again in the future.

“It’s a tradition—you have to do it,” she said. “It’s one of those weird things. You can’t not do it.”

Along the starting line near Hollis and around the John Harvard statue stood a crop of fully clothed spectators—some even from outside of the gates of Harvard.

“We were just curious,” said Leo Li, a Taiwanese exchange student at Northeastern University, as he stood with his camera and a group of male friends.

“We just want to see naked lady,” he said, calling the events “crazy.”

Onlooker Manfredi Caltagirone, a student at the Kennedy school, said that he appreciated the spirit of Primal Scream and had encouraged his peers at school to participate as well—to no avail.

“I would have loved to have done it if I had gotten that group,” he said.

Primal Scream, which occurs at the end of reading period every semester, allegedly first took shape in the 1960s, when students blew off steam the night before final exams by yelling from their dormitory windows for 10 minutes. In the 1990s, students adapted the tradition by incorporating streaking.

Alongside urinating on the John Harvard statue and having sex in the stacks of Widener Library, Primal Scream is one of the three tasks that Harvard students should complete before graduation, according to undergraduate lore.

Baran may have scratched Primal Scream off his list, but he has his sights set higher.

“I’m trying to do all three in one night, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen,” he said with a laugh.

—Staff writer Patrick Galvin can be reached at