The scrapbook where these images were carefully positioned and identified, chronicles student college days at Cornell University, from 1916 through 1920: unfortunately, the author of the scrapbook is not identified.
“ Animal House” style frat parties may be the last word in excessive ‘social gatherings’ on college campuses, but they don’t compare to what these Ivy League students, of a century ago, considered fun.What would you think of free-for-all’s, where clothes are ripped off mud soaked bodies, where broken limbs, gouged eyes, and cracked skulls have combatants crawling to safety, as cheering crowds enjoy the mayhem?
Welcome to Mud Rush at Cornell University
At the turn of the 20th century, Cornell had a tradition: all male freshmen were required to wear a beanie at all times in public. It was part of their dress code enthusiastically enforced by the male members of the sophomore class. It wasn’t until late in the spring semester that the freshmen were allowed to be seen without their beanies. This liberation sparked an unlikely event that became a rite of passage for the two classes.
To show their contempt for the sophomores, the freshmen clustered around a bonfire where the beanies were joyously sacrificed. To show their contempt for the freshmen, the sophomores went to extremes to prevent such desecration. Here we have the makings of a rumble more volatile than anything from ‘West Side Story.’
Listen to the way Harold Gulvin (Class of 1930) describes the event in his May 31, 1928 letter.
…they didn’t attack at first but finally got brave enough to. Well in that first rush I lost my clothes. I finally found my shirt and put it on but it didn’t stay on. The Frosh lit their fire, sang songs and had speeches. Well somebody uncovered another fire hose and just as the Frosh were making another attack some fellows and myself screwed the bore on the hydrant and turned it on. We could strip the Frosh without fear of being stripped ourselves. We literally tore the clothes off of them.
Another student, Paul Waterman (Class of 1926) observed,
The underclass mud rush lived up to its reputation of former years, a relic of barbarism. …Ralph Munns, the wrestler, was as effective as three aggregate cigarette-smoking sophomores. Bodily he carried about and pummeled two sophomores at a time…”
This Spring event grew more intense and rowdy each year forcing the university to ban Mud Rush in 1936. I think Cornell missed an opportunity. I would have suggested adding a few ground rules, some cheerleaders, a scoring system and invent a new collegiate sport, ‘Rang’, a blend between Rugby and a Gang War.
The Freshmen Sophomore rivalry at Cornell dates back to the late 1800’s. One of the traditional tricks played upon the freshmen was the kidnapping of their class president, the night of the annual freshman banquet. A successful kidnapping would guarantee ruining the evening for the frosh. This competitive campus horseplay took a disastrous turn in 1894.
Instead of merely kidnapping one freshman, some sophomores decided to prank the entire freshman class. Sneaking into the basement of the hotel hosting the event, the sophomores drilled tiny holes up through the floor of the banquet room, allowing chlorine gas to be pumped into the hall. Within a few minutes the sound of dull heavy thuds echoed through the basement. Freshmen were dropping like wet sacks of sand. Through the chaos, unaffected hotel staff and students stumbled for fresh air while trying to drag people to safety. Amazingly there was only one fatality, a hotel cook.
During the criminal investigation that followed, no one in the sophomore class would step forward with information. However, investigators were able to trace the deadly gaseous ingredients back to two students. During their trial they refused to testify and were jailed for contempt of court. They won their appeal on Fifth Amendment grounds and were released. Obviously, the two would have made better lawyers than chemists.