The Co-Vid Pandemic has cast aside the 2020 Ivy League football season fostering my own selfish memory of a fraternity football season shenanigan not otherwise portrayed in the campus satire Animal House, inspired by Dear Old Dartmouth. The 1957 Harvard Drum Riot I spectated didn’t make the silver screen, so here’s my eye-witness account.
Coach Bob Blackman’s Dartmouth Indians (another blasphemy from earlier times) were creaming Harvard 26-0 going into halftime. The Harvard Crimson reported the ensuing brouhaha:
Dartmouth students always try to get at least a piece of the big drum and when it returned from repairs in the Midwest in 1957, they especially wanted it. As the members of the Harvard Band faced the home stands and played "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," some Dartmouth fraternity pledges attacked the drum guards. The musicians turned around, were insulted to see the big drum being threatened, and ran to defend it. A half-time jam ensued with about 500 students throwing body-blocks and punches, but the musicians finally beat off their attackers with their instruments.
The fruit was borne shortly thereafter in Hanover when eight fraternities, including my own beloved Chi Phi, were placed on probation for the rest of the semester. The action was taken by the Committee on Administration as punishment for the half-time fracas caused by fraternity pledges. The eight fraternities, encompassing about 520 young men were forbidden to hold any parties on or off campus, or to have women or liquor in the houses. The penalties, the harshest during my time in Hanover, were announced in a special decision by the faculty committee.
The Harvard Crimson offered further editorial comment noting that overthrowing the milder punishments recommended by the Inter-fraternity Judiciary Committee, the faculty group stated that the pledges of the eight fraternities had “degraded themselves, their fraternities and their college.”
The decision was met with valor by my frat brethren when we unanimously decided punishment was to be celebrated every night of the remaining semester by dousing kegs of beer delivered to the house each afternoon by reliable Tanzi Brothers Market, regular campus suppliers of malt hooch. The so-called prohibition of liquor failed to specify beer.
I returned home for Christmas vacation with my size 33 waist expanded to a very tight size 36. This column is not meant to be an apologia. Times have changed and we’ve often rewound the clock since the Puritans landed on Plymouth Rock.
The fraternity system at Dartmouth is on the way out, but when I returned for my 50th reunion, there still remained on the dilapidated basement barroom wall our honorarium bronze plaque,
I bought the old Tanzi family cabins after graduation in 1984. Mary Tanzi (Trombley) lived above us on Storr’s road. She would visit and tell stories about her familie’s Fruit Store and about selling kegs of beer to the fraternities. The Tanzi’s allowed students to run a tab. Her family Dammed Mink Brook and built a swimming hole and water fall for the town kids to enjoy. Does anyone remember?
My views on the Greek system have changed since my Lambda Chi Alpha days at DePauw in the early ’60s. Basically I now believe the University should own all the student living units and that an equitable plan of placement for students in those units be developed.
I enjoy Richard Press’ reminiscences very much.
I was in the stands that day, having arrived in Cambridge by train about a month earlier. A proud, and completely “in over my head” graduate of the Chicago Public Schools.
I was in college in the 80s. We had some harmless fun too. I would hate to be a college student now. Put aside the temporary Covid problems, college and universities have become Orwellian environments, versus the institutions of open-mindedness and discovery they should be. Pity.
I , too, was Chi Phi. U. Of Wisconsin, 1963
Certainly brings me back to the 50’s, beanies, frats and warnings from the dean about the many pitfalls in college life that can block a successful academic career.
One of Press’s best, complete with a tag from Cole Porter and a paraphrase from Churchill.
It is hoped that in the attic of my beloved fraternity at my still beloved College, lies a large Harvard flag that once flew on the home side of the horseshoe. It was liberated from its sinister crimson duties and brought to a greener more friendly world years ago.