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Berkeley: Traditions

Angel of Death
Early "cinch" notices (of academic deficiency) were not distributed by the recorder's office, but were posted openly on the bulletin board in Old North Hall. The man who posted the notices became known as the "Angel of Death" or the "Avenging Angel" by the students.

Andy Smith Eulogy
The Andy Smith Eulogy closed the Big Game Rally. The philosophies of clean living and good sportsmanship taught by Andrew L. Smith, coach of the famous football teams of the 1920s whose sudden death in January, 1920 shocked the campus, were recounted by the radio announcer, Mel Venter at the rally of 1948. The following year, Garff Wilson, professor of dramatic art and speech, was asked to prepare a eulogy which was read at the rally by the ASUC president. After that date, the eulogy was read by Wilson himself to a darkened Greek Theatre illuminated only by the dying embers of the bonfire and the flickering lights of candles held by the students in the great amphitheater above.

Axe Rally
Axe Rally was the one occasion of the year on which the Stanford Axe was taken from its bank vault and shown to the student body, while the story of its capture was retold by alumni who had taken part. Previous to 1916, the rally was held on the night before the Big Game. In that year, it was decided to hold the rally in the spring before the opening of the Stanford baseball series, partly because the axe had been wrested from Stanford after a baseball game, and partly because there was no other major athletic rally in the spring. The significance of the rally died when the axe was recaptured by Stanford in 1930.

However, the tradition of a rally the night before the Big Game remained active. By the 1960s, the Big Game Rally became the Axe Rally only in those years in which California was in possession of the axe.

Big "C"
Big "C" was built on March 18, 1905 by the men of the classes of 1907 and 1908, who formed a human chain to relay the building materials up the slopes through a heavy rain. The "C" symbolized California spirit and the peaceful end of the Charter Hill "rush" formerly held between the freshmen and sophomore classes. It was traditionally in the custody of the sophomores who were responsible for keeping it clean and painted gold. A ceremony was originally held each Charter Day to transfer the "deed to the C" from one sophomore class to another. During the year, the deed was displayed in the Bacon Library, but in the move to a new library building in 1911, the deed disappeared.

The "C" was considered legitimate prey by the athletic opponents of California, who tried to emblazon their colors on it. The freshmen painted it green on occasion. On the evening before a Stanford game or a coast championship game, the "C" was outlined in electric lights and guarded through the night.

Big "C" Sirkus
"Big C" Sirkus began as a vaudeville show given by the "Big C" Society to entertain high school athletes attending the western interscholastic track meet in April, 1911. The show was repeated at the meet annually until 1914 when World War I intervened. In 1920, it was re-established as entertainment on the evening of Labor Day and replaced the Labor Day observance of Leap Year in 1932. In addition to the show, an afternoon parade was held at which prizes were awarded for floats made by campus organizations and living groups. Proceeds from the show were given to a worthy campus enterprise. In spite of the depression, the Sirkus was financially successful throughout the 1930s.

Revived after the hiatus of World War II, the Sirkus lost its Leap Year significance and was repeated annually between 1946 and 1953 as an evening show, but the last two years were a financial loss and the affair was discontinued. A second revival was attempted in 1962, 1963, and 1964 for the benefit of Cal Camp, but was not financially successful and in 1965, the Executive Committee of the Associated Students voted to abandon it.

Big Game Week
Big Game Week preceeds the playing of the Stanford-California football game each fall. In its early manifestations, it consisted of the singing of California songs for five minutes at the start of each class, of spontaneous rallies between classes, and of a rally on the night before the game. It was the traditional time for alumni to attend class reunions--usually on Big Game eve. The week featured an Axe Review in which campus living groups competed for trophies with skits and plays depicting humorous aspects of the Big Game and campus life; "Blue Monday," a day on which students discovered wearing red, a Stanford color, were singled out for public embarrassment; and the Big Game Rally.

Burial of Bourdon and Minto
Burial of Bourdon and Minto, a freshman ceremony patterned after a similar tradition at Yale, was observed from 1878-1903. Bourdon's Elements of Algebra and Minto's Manual of English Prose Composition were freshman textbooks. At the end of the academic year, copies were burned and the ashes were buried by the class with ceremony. The simple ceremony gradually became more elaborate. A long procession of appropriately garbed mourners wound about the campus and a roaring bonfire became the backdrop for the cremation. Sophomores made annual attempts to break up the affair.

As enrollment increased, non-students were able to take part without detection and a playful commotion became a riot, spilling off the campus into the town. Private property damage and injuries among the students finally made it necessary for the University administration to forbid continuation of the ceremony.

Card Stunts
Card Stunts between the halves of football games had their beginnings at the Big Game of 1908, when both California and Stanford rooters appeared in white shirts and rooter caps which were one color on the outside and another color on the inside. By reversing the caps, simple designs such as block letters could be produced.

At the Big Game of 1914, sets of stiff cards of varying colors cut to a uniform size were supplied to each California rooter. These, when held up in the rooting section according to direction, made an effective, clear-cut pattern. Through the years, ingenious card stunt committees evolved elaborate, animated stunts including the traditional "Cal Script" in which a huge "Cal" appeared to be written by a great, unseen pen gliding smoothly across the rooting section.

Channing Way Derby
Channing Way Derby, originated and conducted by the Sigma Chi fraternity at the corner of Channing Way and College Avenue, was a ceremony which introduced freshmen pledges to sorority life for over 25 years. Beginning in 1916 as a means of keeping score on the women arriving for pledge breakfasts in the sororities along Channing Way, with a large beer mug awarded to the house having the greatest number of pledges, the "derby" expanded through the years into an elaborate, though mild form of hazing. As the event became famous, all sororities were invited to take part; Channing Way between College Avenue and Piedmont Avenue was temporarily closed, and spectators began arriving before dawn. Discontinued in 1942 because of the war, the "Derby" was not revived.

Class Clothing
From the late 1870s until 1911, although with lessening interest after 1906, the "plug" was favored campus men's wear. For seniors, it was a black top hat as befitted their dignity. Juniors wore grey ones. Sat upon and kicked around, a plug's distinction lay in its battered condition. Senior plugs were undecorated, but junior plugs were painted with class numerals, fraternity or society emblems and campus scenes indicative of the wearer's interests. As the wearing of the high silk hat by business executives began to decline, so did interest in the "plugs."

The "senior sombrero" was initiated by the class of 1913. A stiff-brimmed, ranger type of hat, it was considered representative of western spirit. A leather band worn about the crown was carved with a pattern of California poppies wreathed about a bear, while the word "California" and the class year appeared across the front. This dignified hat gave the senior an air of distinction and was widely worn. It was not until the late 1920s, when it became fashionable for men to go without hats on informal occasions, that the sombrero disappeared.

The freshmen of this period wore soft, blue felt, "pork pie" hats turned up all around, with a narrow gold ribbon about the crown. These were usually cut and tormented into weird shapes. Sophomores were distinguished by jeans, and for several years, by grey, checkered caps, with a green or red button on top according as the class year was odd or even. "Cords" (corduroy trousers) were the mark of the upper classmen, and were worn so universally as to be almost a uniform. The more soiled, the nearer "to standing alone" a pair became, the more desirable it was. The decline of cords was determined as slacks and sport coats became popular informal wear during the mid-1930s.

Following World War II, several attempts were made to establish the tradition of "dinks" for freshmen, but without success. Currently, there is no distinctive class clothing aside from the occassional senior t-shirt.

Daffodil Festival
Each spring, for a week, Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity sponsored the Daffodil Festival, during which the yellow flowers were sold on the campus for charity. After 1946, daffodils were flown in near Easter time from Washington state and sold. In the mid-1960s, the recipient of proceeds from the festival was the World University Service. On the last day of festival week, a Daffodil Queen was crowned.

Dead Week
Dead Week immediately preceeds final examinations. Quizzes, special reports, or extracurricular activities were not scheduled during this time so that students could concentrate on studies. The week was formally requested by the ASUC Student Affairs Committee in 1961 and officially authorized by the Berkeley chancellor in 1963.

Founders' Rock
Founders' Rock was located on the north side of the campus near the corner of Hearst Avenue and Gayley Road. On this outcropping, 12 trustees of the College of California stood on April 16, 1860 to dedicate property they had just purchased as a future campus for their college. In 1866, again at Founders' Rock, a group of College of California men were watching two ships standing out to sea through the Golden Gate. One of them, Frederick Billings, was reminded of the lines of Bishop Berkeley, "Westward the course of empire takes it way," and suggested that the town and college site be named for the eighteenth-century English philosopher and poet.

On Charter Day, 1896, the senior class commemorated the dedication of the campus by placing a memorial tablet on Founders' Rock.

Freshman Rally
Freshman Rally in September welcomed the new class. A great bonfire was built by the freshmen, but a continual demand was made for "more wood, freshmen!" and class honor required that the supply of wood never ran short.

Freshmen-Sophomore Brawl
Freshmen-Sophomore Brawl was organized in 1907 after the banning of the Charter Hill rushes. The men of each class dressed in their oldest clothes and met on an athletic field for push-ball contests, jousting and tying matches, and a tug-of-war. The competition was supervised by members of the Big "C" Society to prevent undue roughness. The brawl continued to be held each year, but by the mid-1960s, women students took part along with the men, and the affair was conducted by the Californians, an honorary spirit society.

Golden Bear
Golden Bear is the oldest, active tradition of the University. In the spring of 1895, a 12-man track team was sent to the east coast and was the first University athletic team to compete outside of the state. It carried two blue silk banners bearing the word "California" and the state emblem, a grizzly bear, embroidered in gold.

The team was successful beyond expectations, winning four and tying one out of six dual meets, and winning the Western Intercollegiate Meet at Chicago. At the jubilant homecoming reception, the team's banners were proudly displayed and inspired Charles Mills Gayley, professor of English, to compose the lyrics of the song "The Golden Bear." The song ended:
"Oh, have you seen our banner blue?
The Golden Bear is on it too.
A Californian through and through,
Our totem he, the Golden Bear!"

From then on, the Golden Bear became the mythical guardian of the University.

Hanging of Danny Deever
Hanging of Danny Deever was mournfully tolled by the Campanile chimes on the last day of regular classes in a term. After it was played, the chimes were silent for the entire examination period. Played for the first time by chance at the end of the spring semester of 1930, an encore was requested by students at the end of the following semester. The custom still existed in the 1960s as one of the oldest surviving campus traditions.

Labor Day
Labor Day as a Leap Year holiday on which the men of the Berkeley campus turned out en masse to improve roads or landscaping, while the women students prepared and served a lunch, was first held on February 29, 1896. That year, the area around North and South Halls was in need of improvement and legislative funds were not forthcoming. Regent Jacob Reinstein '73 called upon the students to dramatize the need for funds by donating a day of labor to the University. The response and results were so satisfactory that the event continued to be held for three decades. The result most evident by the mid-1960s was the trail to the "Big C," complete with drains and culverts, which was built in the course of three hours on February 29, 1916.

The need for such activities diminished and in 1932, Labor Day was replaced by an enlarged Big C Sirkus and parade.

Ludwig's Fountain
Through the years, the campus had any number of informal mascots. In the 1920s, a Springer Spaniel named Contact was adopted as the campus pet and became the center of a small controversy when the University administration barred all dogs from the campus.

The career of Ludwig von Schwarenberg was considerably smoother and more honorific. When the Student Union complex opposite Sproul Hall opened in 1960, the fountain between the Union Building and the Dining Commons became the favorite haunt of a German Short-Hair Pointer named Ludwig. In a few months, Ludwig had appropriated the fountain for himself and would stand in it haunch-deep, waiting for a friendly student to throw a tennis ball or feed him. Ludwig's day began early in the morning and ended about five-thirty in the afternoon when he would promptly head for his home in Berkeley. In 1961, by Regental decree, the fountain was named in his honor, the first location on campus to be named after an animal. Ludwig's tenure at the fountain ended, except for visits, in the fall of 1965, when his owners moved across the Oakland estuary to Alameda.

North Hall Steps
North Hall Steps in the words of President Wheeler were "The shrine of those who would loaf and invite their souls." Two 12-step flights led to entrances on the east side of North Hall. The northern steps were used mainly by the women students. Those to the south were exclusive lounging precincts of the men of the three upper classes. Here students surveyed the passing scene, campus politicians built their fences, and classes gathered before a "rush." On Thursday evenings, the steps were reserved for the seniors who met to sing and settle campus problems.

In 1917, North Hall was condemned to be torn down as worn out and unsafe. On Commencement day that year, some 700 alumni came to stand about the steps to say farewell.

"Oski," taken from the "Oski, wow, wow!" cheer, was the name given to various bear cubs tried out as Berkeley mascots. Each became dangerous as he grew larger, and the idea of a living mascot had to be abandoned.

At a 1941 freshman rally, a character inspired by William Rockwell '43 appeared for the first time. Dressed in a padded size 54 yellow sweater, blue trousers, oversized shoes, large white gloves, and a papier mâché head caricaturing a bear, this Oski was soon in demand at social affairs as well as rallies and games.

After 1946, Oski was the charge of a special committee. This group of men between 5'2" and 5'4" in height and possessed of considerable gymnastic ability, determined Oski's schedule, planned his stunts, and took turns assuming his character. The membership of the committee was not listed, and the identity of Oski on any given occasion was kept strictly secret.

Pajamarino of mid-October was a pajama-clad affair, which was said to have originated in a night gown parade held October, 1901 as a costume stunt. Formerly, the men of each class competed in class skits or stunts. By the mid-1960s, the program was arranged by the Rally Committee and the competition lay in the originality of night attire displayed in the student audience.

Partheneia, an original, open-air pageant or masque presented each spring term, was initiated in 1911 by Miss Lucy Sprague, then dean of women. A competition for a student-written script was held in the previous fall term, the general theme being that of the transition from girlhood into womanhood; 400-500 women took part in the performance.

The first Partheneia, presented on April 6, 1912, was performed under the oaks bordering the eucalyptus grove. It was not a satisfactory location for spectators, however, and later performances were given in Faculty Glade. The Partheneia was produced regularly until interest in pageantry declined generally. It was discontinued in 1931.

"Pedro" was the long, drawn-out student call which was sometimes heard in Berkeley at night--particularly before examinations. The tradition was very old and its origin was unknown, though several tales attempted to account for it. An older one told of the daughter of Don José Domingo Peralta, who once owned all the land in the Berkeley vicinity. Separated from Pedro, the handsome young man with whom she was in love, she wandered the rancho lands calling his name, but he never came back. Her ghost returned on moonlit nights still searching for Pedro and sympathetic students tried to help her find him.

A later version claimed that Pedro, the dog of a former President of the University, became lost shortly before examinations one year, and the President promised that examinations would be cancelled if the dog was found. Although their calls were unavailing, anxious students still hoped they might be successful in bringing Pedro home.

Rallies on the eve of athletic events began as intercollegiate competition developed, particularly with Stanford, in 1891. Originally, bonfire rallies were held in the area later covered by the Life Sciences Building. Men's smoker rallies were held in Harmon Gymnasium; women held rallies in Hearst Hall. In 1903, the Greek Theatre became the site of bonfire rallies, and certain of these, such as the Freshman Rally, the Pajamarino, and the Axe Rally became annual events.

Before World War II, rallies were masculine affairs with the men gathering by class outside the theatre and serpentining into place about the fire. Women students mingled with the audience above the diasoma. By the mid-1960s, the space about the fire was unoccupied, while men and women students sat together in the upper section of the theatre.

Rushing, or a contest between freshman and sophomore classes in which one class attempted to wrestle and tie the other into submission, was a general collegiate tradition when the University was founded. An organized rush was held at the beginning of the academic year to decide class supremacy, but informal ones erupted on occasion. One such occasion developed at Berkeley during the 1890s, when the freshmen began to paint their class numerals on Charter Hill the evening before Charter Day. The sophomores determined to prevent this and the ensuing rush became a prolonged battle in which students were seriously injured and the noise interfered with the academic ceremonies going on below. In 1904, it was determined the Charter Hill rush must be stopped and on Charter Day 1905, upon the advice of the senior class, the classes of 1907 and 1908 buried the rush beneath a concrete "Big C" on Charter Hill.

Sather Gate
The entrance to the campus at the end of Telegraph Avenue was always a busy one. When the gate itself was completed in 1913, the area surrounding it became a strategic and attractive place for students to campaign for student office, distribute advertisements of campus events, or hold impromptu stunts.

Because the use of Campus facilities was denied to students and others who would use them for partisan political purposes or for religious proselyting, Sather Gate took on a new significance during the political and social ferment of the 1930s. The area just outside the gate was public property and campus restrictions on political activities did not apply there. Thus, from the very early 1930s to the 1950s, when construction of the Student Union and Dining Commons outside the gate moved the public-campus boundary a city block south, political rallies and some religious preaching became frequent and common sights at Sather Gate.

Incidents of student protests, occasionally involving violence and mass meetings of up to 3,000 students, are a matter of historical record from as early as 1932 to 1941 and the outbreak of World War Il. Many prominent Americans running for public office addressed students from a truck bed or platform built into the street at the Sather Gate entrance. After the war, in the Sather Gate tradition, though in a different location, a few large political meetings were held at the west entrance to the campus where larger crowds could be accommodated.

Senior "C"
Senior "C" intended to become a tradition, existed for only a year, yet had its place in history as the forerunner of the Senior Men's Bench. Tales of the famous Yale fence led the class of 1898 to build a large, wooden "C" mounted on legs which was placed across from North Hall about where the 1897 Jubilee Bench later stood. The "C" was expected to become a gathering place for senior men, but proved to be uncomfortable and was soon abandoned. While the seniors were wondering what to do with it, the "C" suddenly disappeared one dark night. A Stanford raid was suspected and a letter was sent to that student body with thanks for having relieved California of a problem.

Senior's Men Bench
Senior Men's Bench was dedicated April 14, 1908 by the classes of 1908 and 1909. Located in the sunny corner between the south steps and the basement entrance of North Hall, it was an ideal place from which to "pipe the flight" (watch the women go by) and discuss current events. After Wheeler Hall was completed in 1917, campus traffic patterns shifted toward Wheeler, and the bench lost its attractiveness.

A new bench on Campanile Way east of the library was dedicated by the class of 1921 to the "wonder team" of 1920 on Charter Day, 1921, but it was too exposed to the west wind and was seldom occupied. In the fall of 1924, the class of 1925 moved this bench to a new location across the road from Wheeler Hall steps. This bench also failed to become popular.

In November, 1937, the bench was moved to a location in front of Moses Hall (then Eshleman Hall). There it became the target for pranksters, who daubed it with paint and hid it about the campus until it became a battered eyesore. In 1951, a competition was held among the architecture students and a new bench was designed and placed. Although the bench was clearly marked "reserved for senior men," the "senior" tradition controlling its use faded.

Senior Week
Senior Week, during which members of the graduating class held a series of farewell activities, began in 1874 with a "class day" before graduation and a farewell banquet in San Francisco on the evening following the exercises. The extent of the celebration varied from class to class, but certain senior week functions are still generally observed.

The Baccalaureate Sermon was originally delivered the Sunday before Commencement by a local minister or member of the faculty. It was later held at mid-week in Faculty Glade or Hertz Hall.

The Senior Banquet was held, in the mid-1960s, in connection with the Senior Ball at one of the larger hotels in San Francisco. For many years after the turn of the century, senior men attended a banquet in San Francisco and the senior women remained on the campus in Hearst Hall, where the announcement of engagements was a high point of the evening.

On the morning before Commencement the seniors of the class of 1874 met for a final Pilgrimage about the campus. The custom was still observed by the 1960s, but was not as popular as it once was. The Pilgrimage stopped at special landmarks to listen to speeches from class leaders and favorite faculty members. On this occasion, the women used to dress in white and carry white parasols. The men wore white trousers and dark coats. The Pilgrimage was abandoned for some time and then was revived after World War II. By the mid-1960s, only a few seniors clad in cap and gown made the Pilgrimage and gathered at Sather Gate to sing "All Hail."

The Extravaganza, an original farce written and performed by members of the senior class originated in 1894 as an afternoon, outdoor performance of dramatic recitations and seats in "Ben Weed's amphitheater." It became an evening affair after the building of the Greek Theatre, but the tradition did not survive World War II.

Sophomore Lawn
Sophomore Lawn, the strip of grass dividing the road between the General Library and California Hall, became the gathering place for sophomore men when the road was completed in 1910. California Hall was then the administration building and freshmen could be detected and hazed as they approached it. The freshmen retaliated by burning their class numerals in the lawn at night. With the move of administrative offices to Sproul Hall in 1941 and the abolition of hazing, the lawn lost its original significance.

Spring Sing
Spring Sing was normally held near the beginning of April as an open competition for representatives of various living groups, who competed for individual and group trophies and awards. The 1965 Spring Sing was held in the Greek Theatre, with proceeds going to Cal Camp.

Stanford Axe
The Stanford Axe first appeared at a Stanford-California baseball game in San Franciso, April 15, 1899, when the 15-inch steel blade mounted on a four-foot handle was in the Stanford rooting section to the accompaniment of the taunting axe yell. At the close of the game, irate Californians wrested the axe from its guardians and succeeded in out-distancing the Stanford pursuit. The awkward handle was sawed off in a butcher shop and the blade, wrapped in butcher paper, was deposited near the solar plexus of one of the group who had managed to keep up with the race even though he wore an overcoat.

Stanford, meantime, had enlisted the help of the San Francisco police and all entrances to the ferries, the only means of transportation across the bay, were guarded. In the nick of time the bearer of the axe recognized a young woman friend approaching the ferry and, as her gallant escort, walked peacefully past the guards onto the boat.

The axe remained in Berkeley for 31 years. For the annual Axe Rally, it was brought from the vaults of the First National Bank in an armored car guarded by the Rally Committee and the freshmen. Stanford's recovery attempts were unsuccessful until the evening of April 3, 1930, when 21 Stanford students invaded Berkeley. As the axe was being returned to the bank, one of the Stanford men, posing as a newspaper photographer, called for a picture. Flashlight powder was ignited and a tear bomb tossed among the guards as others of the "21" grabbed the axe and rushed it to a waiting car.

In Stanford custody, the axe remained hidden in a bank vault for three years until heads among the alumni of both institutions suggested it be made a football trophy annually to the winner of the Big Game.

University Colors
University Colors of blue and gold were chosen in June, 1873 not long after the first class organizations, then called "unions," were formed. A committee of representatives from each class was appointed to make the selection. Blue, particularly the bright Yale blue, was considered because of the prevailing color of the sky and landscape, because of the blue of the student cadet uniforms and because of the number of Yale graduates who were instrumental in the founding and administration of the University. Gold was considered because of California's designation as the Golden State, the view of the Golden Gate from the campus, and the color of many of the native wild flowers. Unable to make a choice, the committee turned over the decision to the women of the classes, and Rebekah Bragg (later Cummings) '76 made the suggestion to combine the two, which was accepted by the committee.

Victory Cannon
The Victory Cannon was a 750 pound cannon donated by the class of 1964 in time for the 1963 football season. The gun, in the custody of the Rally Committee, was in evidence at all home games and at the Big Game, was fired whenever the football team scored a touch down or safety, kicked a field goal, or won a game. Two weeks prior to the 1964 Big Game, the barrel of the cannon was stolen by Stanford students, recovered, stolen again, and finally returned in time for the game in exchange for the Stanford banner and card stunt cards.

Wheeler Oak
Wheeler Oak, a tree that shaded the eastern portion of Wheeler Hall steps, was a favorite meeting place for students between 1917, when Wheeler Hall was occupied, and 1934, when the oak had to be removed because of its age. The tree was so greatly missed, students solicited contributions and a bronze, commemorative plaque was placed in the sidewalk where the oak had stood. When the road in front of Wheeler Hall was made a part of Dwinelle Plaza in 1952, the plaque disappeared, but in response to alumni interest, it was found and restored to its original location in 1954.


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The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.
Last updated 06/18/04.