Hippos, queens and other GW tales

It is 1953. Young women in vogue-style dresses and long, tight skirts make their way to a traditional celebration after a big football game. At one point, homecoming was a part of GW life, until the end of football in 1967, which meant the end of homecoming at GW for a while.

“Homecoming died out in the late 60s,” University Archivist David Anderson said. Homecoming was at the end of basketball season for a while – until 1998 when the event was abandoned.

Formal dances for homecoming have been held at luxury hotels such as the Mayflower and the Willard.

The Hippo is a more modern tradition at GW. One of the University’s three mascots, the Hippo is joined on the sidelines of basketball games by Big George and Little George and is fabled to bring the teams good luck.

Rubbing the Hippo is supposed to give students good luck during exams, Anderson said. University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg placed the Hippo in front of Lisner Auditorium as gift to the class of 2000. Myth says that a hippopotamus once inhabited the Potomac River.

“I have seen students throwing coins in the mouth of the Hippo for good luck, although it is not hollow,” Anderson said.

With the campus in the middle of the historic Foggy Bottom area and only a few blocks from the National Mall, the Hippo has also been popular with tourists.

Brianne Murphy, a 2002 graduate, said her whole family has been photographed with the Hippo.
Senior Josh Rothstein said the Hippo also serves another purpose, to intimidate opposing teams.

The mascots also liven up Midnight Madness, a celebration that kicks off the basketball season. The event is held on the eve of the first day teams are allowed by the NCAA to practice, with the first practice immediately after at midnight.

GW’s sports teams are named for George Washington’s army – the Colonials.

Another tradition that has become a part of GW life is the Fight Song. Chimes ring out from Bell Hall each day at 12:15 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. to the tune of the song.

“After the clock chimes with the Fight Song, I have a moment,” junior Megan West said.

West said that she appreciates the school song more after being on the Colonial Inauguration cabinet, the program that welcomes incoming freshmen.

Alumni Eugene Sweeney wrote the original version of GW’s Fight Song in 1924 as a football song. To accommodate other sports, Patrick M. Jones revised the song in 1990 and officially named it the GW Fight Song.

Music has been a part of GW since the 1890s, according to Assistant Archivist Lyle Slovick.

The Troubadours, an a cappella singing group, started out as the Glee Club in the early 1900s and became the GW Traveling Troubadours in the 1950s, when they started traveling the world. The Troubadours have taken trips to the Philippines, Tokyo, Guam, Hawaii and even Greenland.

“The Troubadours are the creme de la creme,” Slovick said.
The group performed in Radio City Music Hall in the 1960s and went to Ireland in the 1980s.

“The Troubadours are ambassadors of good will for GW,” he said. “They leave a good impression of the University that says that GW University has something going for it.”

Student myths have also become part of GW tradition.

“Part of the definition of tradition is folklore,” he said. “Students tell other students aspects of the University, but incorrectly.”

Anderson said he has collected more than 15 student myths during his 15 years as the archivist. Myths include the story that football was discontinued because a player broke his neck, Harry Truman’s daughter, Margaret Truman, worked as a soda clerk at the Quigley’s Pharmacy on G Street and the Quad was ground zero for nuclear attack during the Cold War era.

Anderson said that traditions, like myths, are passed from one student generation to the next.

“The increase (in size) of the undergraduate classes and on-campus housing have contributed to the revival of traditions,” he said “Students are here and participate in activities.”

According to Slovick, students brought back a tradition in 1999 that originated through the Independent Student Association in the 1950s – the George Washington birthday celebration. The celebration in February includes a march to the Quad and a bonfire.

Although many GW traditions have endured, many have been lost.

GW’s yearbook, the Cherry Tree, used to feature a Cherry Tree Queen elected by a famous person. Her picture would appear in the yearbook with a congratulatory letter from the celebrity who chose her, Slovick said.

“Vice President Hubert Humphrey was the judge one year and celebrities such as Johnny Carson also judged,” he said.

Although Slovick said he is not sure when the yearbook stopped publishing the tradition, date auctions held today to support charity or organizations might have replaced it, he said.

Fraternity life at GW dates back to the Civil War period; sororities finally came to campus in the 1940s. The academic and sports programs slowly changed to include Women’s Studies and women’s sports such as softball, squash and water polo after women came to the University in the late 1800s.

“The introduction of women in the 1880s changed the cultural life of the University,” Anderson said. “New traditions formed that deal with women as well as men.”

The annual Take Back the Night, a rally against sexual assault, is a tradition sponsored by a campus chapter of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, which was organized in 2000.

The Marvin Center holds offices for many student organizations and is one place where students spend a lot of time studying, dining and playing games.

“People camp out at J-street,” West said. “I cannot spend a day without going there because I have to see people. As a freshman you are terrified of the place, but by sophomore year, you are there all day.”

The Marvin Center has gone through a lot of changes over the years. J Street did not always have numerous eating facilities like it does today. Breakfast in the 1850s included fish or cold meat, warm rolls or a cold loaf of bread, warm corn bread, tea, coffee and molasses, according to the GW archives Web site.

The lunch menu consisted of soup, roast fresh meat or a roast with ham or boiled meat, Irish potatoes, rice and sweet potatoes. Dessert was offered twice a week. Dinner was not much different from breakfast.

The variety of meals has improved over years with the additions of vegetarian meals and markets like Provisions and Provisions Too!

Opportunities for socialization have been much improved as well. In the 1820s, a student could be suspended for playing with dice or cards, billiards or backgammon. Students can now freely enjoy these once forbidden games in the Hippodrome, which features video games, ping pong, pool tables and a bowling alley.

Besides fancy hotels, theaters and games, dancing and festivities have also been in the streets surrounding campus during Fall Fest and Spring Fling for the past two decades. Recent Program Board-sponsored performances include Redman and Busta Rhymes.

PB sponsors events during Welcome Week and throughout the year.

PB Chairman Bryan Gless said Fall Fest and Spring Fling are ways to bring the whole school together to see big shows they would not normally see.

“Spring Fling is my favorite event,” sophomore Jihane Dancik said. “I like all the activities, the Frisbees, free food and tattoos.”

The Chalk-In in April is another event that brings students together for a creative block party. Blocking off H Street in front of the Marvin Center, the Chalk-In is a 20-year tradition at GW, Slovick said. Students perform skits, sing and draw on the streets and sidewalks.

“A tradition is something that carries on and is ingrained in the mindset of the students and people in the community,” Slovick said. “Something that has a lasting continuity, such as the Chalk-In.”

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