Some Carnival traditions fade away, others endure
By Amelia Rosch, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, February 8, 2013
Since the first Winter Carnival in 1910, snow sculptures, ski races and parties in fraternity basements have defined the celebration. Over the years, though, due to the introduction of coeducation, decreased student participation and safety concerns, some Carnival traditions have been lost, alumni said. Overall, alumni said that they feel Winter Carnival has become a less important event to current students.
Before the College began accepting female students in 1972, women from outside Dartmouth played a major role in Winter Carnival.
Many men brought dates, and there were always several dances held over the weekend. It was difficult to find accommodations for all of the visiting women, according to Howard Frankel ’60.
“The guys in fraternities had to leave for the weekend because all the girls stayed there,” Frankel said. “It was hard to find a place for the girls to stay on campus, so sometimes guys got kicked out of their dorms and had to scrounge for a place to stay.”
In the years immediately following coeducation, finding a date for Winter Carnival was still a major part of the weekend, Rick Kimball ’78 said.
“I was in the third coed class, and the ratio of men to women was about five or six to one,” Kimball said. “There was a mad scramble to have a date that might come up from Smith [College] or Mount Holyoke [College] or even a high school sweetheart.”
The weekend’s concerts were a major incentive for women to visit the College, according to Frankel. During his time at Dartmouth, Duke Ellington and the Weavers, a famous folk band, both played at Carnival. Fraternities also hired bands to play at events throughout the weekend, Frankel said.
While the snow sculpture in the middle of the Green remains a central part of Winter Carnival, the entire campus used to be covered with sculptures, Robert Rohn ’83 said.
Through the 1980s, fraternities and residential clusters built their own creations for the festivities, he said.
“It was fun to go to the frats and go down Webster Avenue and see all the sculptures,” Rohn said. “Some of them were pretty good.”
Students constructed sculptures related to the Carnival’s theme, according to Kimball.
“One year, we had a Dr. Seuss theme, and the campus was covered in sculptures of Dr. Seuss characters,” he said.
Tom Hazen ’57, a member of Gamma Delta Chi fraternity, said he helped construct his house’s sculpture, which won the campus-wide contest in 1957. Creating sculptures was a time-consuming process.
“You put a little structure in with some wood and things and then carved it out,” he said. “You’d use water to make it icy.”
The snow sculpture on the Green was a more significant aspect of Carnival in the 1980s than it is today, according to Scott Stuart ’81, a former chairman of the Winter Carnival committee.
“The snow sculpture was a very big deal,” Stuart said. “Lots of kids would participate in building it over the course of a couple of months. It was probably 30 or 40 feet high.”
The 1987 snow sculpture, which was nearly 48 feet tall, even briefly held the Guinness World Record for “Tallest Snowman.”
Some traditions, including the ski jump on the Hanover Country Club golf course and Psi Upsilon fraternity’s keg jump, during which participants attempted to jump over kegs while wearing ice skates, were discontinued because of safety concerns, Rohn said.
Michael Collette ’84 proposed the keg jump in 1980, Rohn said.
“I think he just thought it’d be fun to do,” he said. “It was pure creativity.”
In 2001, the College banned the keg jump after reported injuries and potential legal problems. The College alleged that alcohol had been served to minors at the event and refused to provide insurance to participants the following year.
“Some people actually did get injured jumping kegs the first few years,” Rohn said. “Probably the College decided they didn’t want the liability.”
In the 1980s, the event began to raise money for charity. Local businesses and individuals sponsored specific jumpers.