USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘dartmouth’
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Touching the Fire

Main Piece
I don’t know how it started, but every year during homecoming, the freshman are in charge of building a big bonfire in the center of the green at Dartmouth, and you run around it for as many years of your graduation year, plus 100 now because it started in the 1900’s, so for example for my 2018, we were supposed to run around 118 times, but usually we just ran around 18 times. The upperclassmen would stand on the outside and like, jeer and stuff. So every year, something they want the freshman to do is to touch the fire, it is like a sign of being cool, like if you touch the fire, because its dangerous or whatever, and even now the police surround it, because they really don’t want people to do it, so it is really hard to do. So like, every year, all the upperclassmen scream “touch the fire! Touch the fire!”, and at least one person will do it every year. So this year, they even put a chainlink fence around the fire, but people still hopped it and touched it. And you are known for the rest of your Dartmouth experience for it.

Background
The informant attended Dartmouth University in Hanover, New Hampshire, where she learned this story. She learned of this through experience and action, although she never personally touched the fire. She heard of the change this year through her college friends.

Context
The informant is a 23-year-old women, born and raised in Southern California. She attended Dartmouth up until last year, having graduated in 2018. She provided this information while sitting outside her family home in Palm Springs, California on April 20th, 2019.

Analysis
I love this tradition, but really am saddened to see institutions destroying traditions in the name of social progress or “safety”. I mean, it makes sense that the university wouldn’t want students touching a bonfire, for their own safety, but also that the university doesn’t wanted to leave itself open to a lawsuit. I just think they should not endorse the tradition, but not forcefully try to stop it! I love how enduring traditions are when they are held by a large group of people – even though the school is trying to stop the students, they have not been able to. With a university as old as Dartmouth, it makes complete sense that they have a lot of long-term, enduring traditions. I also love how legendary you become after taking part of the tradition – if I attended Dartmouth University, I would be sure to try my best to touch it! The continuation of this tradition in verbal form allows the informant to interact back with her own experience in the tradition, keeping it alive in her mind, but also in the world by passing it on.

general

The Ledyard Challenge

Main Piece
The Ledyard Challenge
L-e-d-y-a-r-d. So, like, stripping your clothes is illegal in Vermont, but public nudity is illegal in New Hampshire, so there is this bridge that goes over the Connecticut river, which is the border of Vermont and New Hampshire, and Dartmouth is just on the New Hampshire side, so you can walk across the bridge and go into Vermont. So what a lot of students do is you strip your clothes on the New Hampshire side, and then swim across to Vermont, where it is legal to be naked but can’t take your clothes off, and then get out of the water and run the bridge to New Hampshire. We would do it at night.

Background
The informant attended Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, where this tradition takes place. Although completely unofficial and unsponsored by the university, this tradition is passed down by students, to students. The informant took part in this tradition during her time in college.

Context
The informant is a 23-year-old woman, born and raised in Southern California. She attended Dartmouth College from 2014-2018. This information was provided to me outside her family home in Palm Springs, California on April 20th, 2019.

Analysis
I think this tradition is hilarious, and would have loved to take part in it if I attended Dartmouth College. While my familial relation to the informant is slightly unnerving, I still find the story, and the tradition, to be really fun. I wonder if the laws behind the “challenge” are true, and also how much the school knows about the tradition. If the school is trying to stop other traditions, would they try to stop this one as well? I bet this is a really fun way for students to do something “crazy” and bond with each other. Taking part in this tradition must help the students feel really part of the school – its past, the present, and its future. Through the tradition, the students are really validating their place as students in the school, taking part of the specifically Dartmouth culture.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Trip to the Sea

Main Piece
John Ledyard was a Dartmouth student, and he paddled a canoe from Dartmouth, all the way to the ocean. So every year now since then, we do something called the “Trip to the Sea”, where they model his journey, and you canoe from Dartmouth down the Connecticut river out to the Atlantic Ocean, over by Connecticut.

Background
The informant was a student at Dartmouth College, where she observed this tradition taking place. She did not participate in the tradition, but knew closely someone who did. Dartmouth College is situated high on the Connecticut River, which drains out south through Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and then to Connecticut, connecting it with the Atlantic Ocean.

Context
The informant is a 23-year-old women, born and raised in Southern California. She graduated Dartmouth College in 2018, having attended since 2014. This information was provided to me while seated outside her family home in Palm Springs, California, on April 20th, 2019.

Analysis
I would love to claim to want to participate in this tradition, but after consulting a map, I don’t think I would want to. The trip is really long, spanning four different states! However, I love that this tradition has continued and that they do it every year! I think that the students who complete the Trip to the Sea must feel very proud and accomplished, and I bet receive great respect from other students. This seems typical of Dartmouth – they seem to have many outdoor activities and traditions, probably from being so isolated up in the woods! I also find it interesting that this John Ledyard has two seperate traditions rooted with his name at Dartmouth – must have been very influential. According to the additional research I did in the Dartmouth Folklore Collection, this ritual has a further tradition: the participants row nude through Hartford, Connecticut, until they reach the city boundaries. It is also only the seniors who take part in the trip – making the ritual into something looked forward to over their Dartmouth career, truly cementing the ritual as a kind of initiation-like ritual, including the students into a longstanding history of others who have completed the trip.

For another collection of this ritual, please see the Dartmouth Folklore Collection. It can be found online, or currently through this hyperlink: https://journeys.dartmouth.edu/folklorearchive/2016/05/27/trips-to-the-sea/

Customs
Initiations

Dartmouth Night

The informant is a 20 year old student who is currently studying at Dartmouth. He recounts his experience with this initiation tradition and how it made him already feel a part of something.

  • So during homecoming weekend at Dartmouth, there is a Dartmouth tradition that tons of alumni come back to campus and are welcomed back into the frats- and each class builds its own bonfire structure, so my class, being a freshman would be 19, and the number of the year you graduate is placed on the top of the structure ( the structure is made out of wood and it is 50 feet high) I didn’t personally participate in making it but my class did. Then on the night of the bonfire, the entire freshman class starts at one dorm and moves through the campus picking up other freshman from each dorm building and eventually making their way to the green, which is where the bonfire getting ready to be lit. Then the freshman are welcomed into an inner circle around which all the other classes and alumni are standing and chanting. The bonfire is lit by select freshman, those who built it, and the freshman class begins to run around the bonfire the number of laps of their graduating year- meanwhile, all the surrounding upper-classmen heckle the freshman to run across the inner circle and touch the fire (which is completely guarded by Hanover police and security because its technically considered trespassing). Eventually, someone finally breaks free of the lap running and tries to touch the fire instigating others to do the same. Literally the police tackle people. This has been a tradition for a really long time, President William Jewett Tucker introduced the ceremony of Dartmouth Night in 1895
  • me: so what is the significance of touching the fire?
  • If you are caught then you are brought to the police station and the understanding is that an alumni will bail you out of jail, but if you’re not caught, you are seen as a legend from your fellow classmates and the older kids.
  • I first heard about this tradition from a sophomore, who touched the fire himself, and was clearly still prideful of that, it was within the first couple of weeks of school.
  • I actually did an interview about this in the school paper, but touching the fire for me provided the best welcome possible into dartmouth and solidified the fact that this is a good place for me.

ANALYSIS:

I think that initiations can be really important for anyone in-group. In my opinion they immediately create a sense of community and a feeling of belonging which is so important for a group to stay strong and connected.

[geolocation]