Carnival has dramatic history
By Lily Fagin
Published on Friday, February 8, 2013
The Winter Carnival celebrations that Dartmouth students now enjoy began as a mere field day in 1910 after a single student, Fred Harris ’11, proposed in The Dartmouth that students should take greater advantage of the opportunities the frigid Hanover weather presents for showcasing winter sports.
Since then, the weekend has seen beauty pageants, the mental breakdown of an American literary giant and a number of particularly rowdy fraternity parties.
At its inception, Winter Carnival, which was then known as “Winter Meet,” involved ski races, hockey games and other sporting events held around Occom Pond. The following year, the College formalized the successful event and allowed two full days for the celebration in response to requests from Harris, the founder of the Dartmouth Outing Club, and other DOC members.
During the next decade, the Carnival swelled to include more social events and athletic competitions. It also adopted the tradition of building snow sculptures related to the Carnival theme. In 1925, the weekend’s theme was “Jutenheim Iskarneval,” an allusion to traditional Scandinavian carnivals, and a medieval snow castle was constructed in the middle of the Green.
Though present Winter Carnivals feature only a single snow sculpture, the celebrations of the past involved many smaller sculptures created by members of the Dartmouth community. In 1927, Greek houses and residential dormitories struck up a friendly competition to build the best sculpture on their front lawns.
“Dormitories and fraternities made their own snow statues, and generally these had a theme that would not be approved by the College,” Spencer Morgan ’60 said.
For example, Bones Gate fraternity built a Playboy bunny at the request of Playboy Magazine for their “Playmate of the Month” feature in exchange for half of a keg of beer in 1971.
The sculptures on the Green have included far more ambitious designs, from a fire-breathing dragon to a 47-foot snowman that attained the world record for the largest snowman ever built.
Over the years, the Carnival grew in scope and national fame — particularly once young women were included in the festivities. The all-male student body advocated heartily for a female presence on campus during the weekend.
“[Winter Carnival] will not succeed without girls,” an article printed in The Dartmouth in 1912 said. “It is up to every man with a purse or a heart or a bit of enthusiasm when it heaves into sight, to make haste to procure that most necessary item.”
By the middle of the century, many women began visiting Dartmouth for Carnival weekend. The Queen of the Snows pageant garnered special attention for the College. Women from all over New England competed in the pageant in the hopes of winning a silver cup and potentially lasting media attention.
“Busloads of female students used to arrive from Boston, from the Seven Sisters schools, from Colby Junior College,” Morgan said. “They all came out of the bus at the Inn corner and hopefully they were met by a pre-arranged date who either took them back to his fraternity or his dormitory. All of the fraternity members left their houses, and lots and lots of cots from the Navy were loaded into these houses, so what was once a room for four fraternity members became a room for 16 dates.”
Even after the start of coeducation, the ratio of women to men on campus was so small that women still arrived for the weekend as dates and stayed over in fraternities or dormitories.
“You felt like these poor girls would get off the bus and say to themselves, ‘I have 48 hours to find a boyfriend,’” Susanne Hutcheson ’77 said. “I felt like I had all the advantages because I knew the boys in real circumstances, and I could be friends with them and not just see them in this intense party atmosphere.”
In 1939, renowned author F. Scott Fitzgerald visited Hanover, along with screenwriter Budd Schulberg ’36, to work on a screenplay for the film “Winter Carnival.” Fraternity parties proved too much for Fitzgerald to bear, however, and long nights in the basements of Alpha Delta fraternity and Psi Upsilon fraternity pushed him over the edge. In a dramatic confrontation outside the Hanover Inn, Fitzgerald was dismissed from his screenwriter position and later forced to check into a mental health facility in New York.
The very parties that took such a grave toll on the “Great Gatsby” author, along with other Carnival staples, proved to be a major attraction for New Englanders.
“I had friends at Brown [University] and Trinity [College] and Yale [University] and other schools who one year or another would come up for Carnival,” Doug Keare ’56 said. “It wasn’t actually the smartest thing to do because there aren’t that many places to stay around Hanover. People would be bunking out and sleeping on floors — and God knows what — but people would come.”
Keare said he met his wife when she came up to visit the College during Winter Carnival at the request of a friend of a friend.
The sheer volume of visitors headed to campus for parties and pageants in 1952 caused an eight-mile long traffic jam leading into Hanover. Almost a decade later, CBS sent reporters to Dartmouth for the weekend, and Pepsi and Campbell’s Soup took advantage of the Carnival scenery to film advertisements.
Since this heyday for Winter Carnival, some traditions have been abandoned. With the advent of coeducation, the Queen of the Snows pageant no longer has a place in the weekend.
Other traditions adopted by fraternities have also come and gone. Psi U’s “keg jump,” in which fraternity members would attempt to jump over kegs placed on an improvised ice rink while wearing hockey skates, was banned in 2000 due to safety concerns after the College refused to provide insurance coverage to participants. Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity’s two-story, spiraling ice luge was discontinued when it also proved dangerous.
However, new events have been added to the weekend’s schedule and remain a part of the Carnival today. For example, Rachel Gilliar ’98 organized the first Polar Bear Swim in Occom Pond in 1994, and this event remains a highlight for Carnival participants.