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Donning Hats, Capes, and Little Else, Harvard Students Celebrate Primal Scream

One Primal Scream runner "wore" a greeting for his female classmates to the biannual nude race around Harvard Yard.
One Primal Scream runner "wore" a greeting for his female classmates to the biannual nude race around Harvard Yard.
By Joanna R. Schacter, Crimson Staff Writer

At the stroke of midnight, the ordinarily humorless air of Harvard Yard during reading period gave way to the exhilaration of Primal Scream as clothes flew off, towels were flung, and boxers dropped to the ground.

Among the mass of Harvard undergraduates letting loose at the beginning of exam period were would-be Vikings in rock-climbing gear, students in santa hats, a number of sombreroed gents, and one naked student pushing a shopping cart with a passenger inside and another riding a skateboard tethered behind.

Occurring biannually, Primal Scream marks the first day of exams with a nude jog around the Yard. The tradition is said to date back to the 1960s, when students would howl out their windows to relieve the stress of reading period. The more risqué element of nudity was added to the mix in the 1990s.

“Oh, hell no,” said a security guard standing by Boylston Gate, as three male students covered in red clay cycled past on a tandem bike. When asked by her colleague if she planned to watch, the guard answered, “I don’t want to see!”

By the John Harvard statue, the band gathered and worked up an anticipatory and visceral rhythm to accompany the cheers of students in towels, bathrobes, and parkas. To mark the occasion, band members sported their trademark crimson jackets, but lacked pants. A few members had elected to wear festive or sequined underwear.

When the time came, a cheer went up and the mass took off, streaking down the pavement and around the Yard.

The tandem bike rolled forth majestically, slowly careening across the grass.

Patriotism seemed to be a theme of the night, as a number of gentlemen ran with American and Canadian flags tied to their necks as capes. More Canadian flags were spotted than American ones, even as Harvard students failed to name the capital of Canada in a Crimson video earlier this year.

Indeed, while many ran in a variety of costumes, or in nothing at all, others chose to clutch their clothes and towels as they ran, hoping to block any frontal nudity. This practice led to a number of hard falls, but other nude runners did pause to help.

Despite their willingness to disrobe in front of their fellow undergraduates, students were less forthright when approached for an interview by The Crimson.

When asked if she would like to comment on her experience, one student promptly and nervously disengaged herself from a hug with a fellow runner.

“Nope,” she said, her smile vanished.

Participants ended the night with cheers and hugs. The sound of backslapping and yells of “Did you do it?” and “Where’s my coat?” echoed across the Yard.

As a last hurrah, one student, clad in only his boxers, attempted to climb a street post in front of Panera.

—Staff writer Joanna R. Schacter can be reached at

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: Dec. 12, 2013

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the material in which three Primal Scream participants riding a tandem bike were covered. In fact, it was red clay, not green paint.

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