March 14, 2003

Another Day, Another Dragon

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A large black dragon emerged from behind Rand Hall yesterday, amidst the snowfall of Cornell’s lingering winter. Followed by a parade of students from the College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP), the creature marked the arrival of Dragon Day 2003.

Hundreds of people lined the streets to watch students in humorous costumes as they marched down East Avenue and chanted to the sound of beating drums as they carried the large dragon around the campus.

“I think this year’s dragon was very innovative,” said Dorian Batt ’06. “It’s basically Halloween for AAP.”

As architecture students continued marching along the parade route, others followed behind them in hordes. Although the snow continued to fall, this did not deter spectators from joining the parade. The Dragon then continued its way down to the engineering quad, where it was met with a large yellow, orange, and red Phoenix hung outside Olin Hall. As the dragon turned onto the Arts quad, parade participants and spectators alike surrounded the Dragon as they chanted “Burn it! Burn it!” and proceeded to set it on fire.

Though the Phoenix was well received by spectators, it was the dragon that most people were impressed with.

“I think the dragon is the best it’s ever been,” said Elena Perez ’03. “But I liked how the Phoenix’s wings moved.”

Campus police and student volunteers were on call to make sure that the event was safe for all who were involved.

“We’re not out there to hurt anyone. Occasionally people try to charge the dragon or take pieces as souvenirs. We don’t want anyone participating in the parade to get hurt, especially the people inside the dragon,” said Dragon Security Coordinator Jon Caputo ’03.

Students who watched the event enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm in the atmosphere.

“I like it [Dragon Day] because it brings the campus together. A lot of programs that Cornell puts on people never go to, but for some reason people always go to this. It’s cool,” said Stephanie Judd ’05.

Traditionally, the dragon is constructed entirely by freshman architects and each year the design for the dragon is different from the previous one. Unlike years past, this year’s design deemphasized heavy construction and did not use a car chassis with wheels to propel the structure. Instead, the entire dragon was carried solely by the freshman.

“We were encouraged by the upperclassmen to try something different. The dragon has been great in years past but we’ve seen similarities in the design for the last few years,” said Brian Raby ’07, President of Dragon Day Affairs.

Because Dragon Day is supposed to be innovative each year, it has special significance to the freshman architects participating in the event.

“Every year it’s supposed to mark your arrival on campus,” said Treasurer of Dragon Day Tripty Arya ’07, “It’s basically a mark each class makes. It defines you as an integral part of the University.”

The entire project is independently funded through t-shirt sales, and the students who work on the dragon’s construction and design do not get graded on their work; however, working on the dragon remains a highlight of the year for these freshman architects.

“It’s ironic that we’re all freshman and we’ve had no experience in organizing ourselves. Really Dragon Day is to unify the freshman class, and it does because nobody is holding our hand. We need to organize ourselves and make sure the event happens,” Raby said.

Dragon Day is not only a rite of passage for architects, but it also has a history as rich as the University itself.

“Willard Straight organized it as a chance to put this new small college on the map,” said Brian E. Beeners, architecture shop supervisor and architecture advisor to Dragon Day.

The tradition began with the purpose of “promoting togetherness with an emphasis on bridging the gap between the Protestants and Catholics, which was an issue at the time,” Beeners said. Dragon Day began as Architecture Day as early as 1897 and through the years morphed from a low key event into the spectacle that it is today.

“The era of the giant dragons appeared with the advent of the architecture shop in 1980. Dragons started getting bigger and bigger and more sophisticated in their construction,” Beeners said.

In time, a friendly rivalry between the architects and engineers developed, which over the past few years has made for a more violent Dragon Day.

“Basically groups started throwing things. Through the ’80s and into the ’90s, Dragon Day could often turn violent, combining alcohol, rivalry, and mob mentality,” Beeners said.

In the past, fruit, snowballs, eggs, bottles, and even the occasional brick have been hurled at the dragon as it passed by.

In response to the past violence, this year the Cornell Campus Police had many officers out watching the crowds as well as those marching in the parade. To the surprise of many who were acting as security for the event, it remained peaceful.

“It was more festive than anything I remember in the past and everyone still had a great time.

Even though the weather didn’t cooperate the crew still seemed to have a great time, the crowd still showed up, and the dragon still burned,” said Lieutenant Kathy Zoner.

Archived article by Erica Temel