March 19, 2004

Dragon Day Burns Up Campus

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The dragon made its annual emergence from behind Rand Hall yesterday, charging down East Avenue towards the engineering quad before turning around and meeting a fiery death in the arts quad.

Escorting the dragon on its journey were hundreds of architecture upperclassmen dressed as cowboys, building blocks, crayons and more, who lead the way beating on makeshift drums and amusing a crowd estimated in the several thousands.

The upperclassmen started congregating behind Rand well before noon, as the first-year architecture students were putting the final touches on the beast that has now become one of Cornell’s most cherished traditions. Each year, since the 1950s, first-year architecture students have planned and built a giant dragon float.

The event is a mix of team building and technical prowess, as well as a presentation to the rest of the University what a group of fifty determined architects can do with a limited amount of time, money and sleep. William Erhard III ’08, president of this year’s Dragon Days Affairs, said that most of the students involved went without any sleep last night in final preparation for today’s festivities.

Shortly before 1 p.m., a moment of silence was held for George Boiardi ’04, who was killed yesterday in a lacrosse accident. The dragon then began making its way through the campus, lumbering on a car chassis and the backs of about fifty students.

Spectators chanted “Dragon, Dragon” as it slowly rolled from the curb onto the street. A police escort cut off traffic along the dragon’s path and protected bystanders from two giant claws which extended from the beast.

The sides of the street were packed as students, faculty and visitors tried to get a good glimpse of the dragon. A few students, too eager for a good look, were swiped, harmlessly, to the side by the claws.

Upon reaching the College of Engineering, the dragon and its entourage paused to glare through the glass windows of Duffield Hall. In recent years, engineering students have built a phoenix to counter the dragon, but this year the engineers failed to answer the dragon’s call, and the school’s faculty looked on helplessly as the dragon paraded before them, its thick cardboard and tarp scales deflecting a barrage of snowballs thrown by bitter engineers.

Passing Olin Hall, another group of engineers attempted to delay the dragon with a volley of pre-made snowballs, but most of these fell short. When asked for comment, one of the attackers said only, “Archies suck! Engineers forever!” before fleeing the indomitable lizard that was fast approaching his position.

Near the entrance to Ho Plaza, a small symbolic phoenix with a duck-taped face, built by the architecture students themselves, stood paralyzed as the dragon trapezed onto the arts quad. Jack Schwartz ’07 felt that the unfolding drama was quite a spectacle.

“This is like Halloween on crack,” she said.

Indeed, with all the architects in costume and Dragon Security showing a strong presence, replete with riot masks, the day’s festivities could well appear to an outside observer to be a lawless Halloween celebration. Between the careful planning of Dragon Affairs and close coordination with CUPD and Dragon Security, however, the day went through without any reported injuries, aside from the few miscreants who ineffectively threw snowballs in a vain attempt at stopping or even slowing the inevitable.

As the dragon reached its destination in the toilet-papered arts quad, the upperclassmen began again beating their drums and shouting vociferations not appropriate for a family paper. Those present then circled the dragon and a collective chant of “burn the dragon!” began. The freshman students, triumphant at having passed one of their toughest challenges with flying colors, left the dragon and ran around its limp body.

By 1:41 p.m., all students had left the float and the creature was set alight, under close supervision by local firefighters. By 1:45 the creature was ash, leaving only the steel skeleton behind. Andrew Gaydo ’06 felt that this was as it should be.

“It went up in five minutes — fun for the whole family.”

Bill Barksdale ’05 agreed with these sentiments, saying that he felt this year’s dragon was more impressive then last year’s and that it had drawn a larger crowd.

“The dragon was very dragon-like and it burned. That’s the best part,” he said.

Erhard, too, was pleased with the day’s turnout.

“I imagined it would be wild but it was so much more wild than I could possibly have thought,” he said. He also lauded the crew of students who put the dragon together. Many had pulled multiple all-nighters throughout the week to get the float finished in time for the event.

“They all really put their heart and soul into this,” he said.

Brian Beeners, the Dragon Affairs faculty advisor since 1987, also praised the crew.

“They have had very little time compared to previous years,” he said. “It’s a rush, really a marathon building session.”

Despite all the time pressure, however, Beeners felt that the team’s work was excellent and that the day was a success.

“I’m very pleased with how it all went,” he said. “Today is a day for architecture students.”

Beeners also said that he was happy with the direction that Dragon Day was taking, with less of the violence and antagonism amongst students which had marked previous years.

“It’s not like the old times,” he said, citing the decline in pranks and more serious dangers — such as bricks and frozen vegetables being thrown at the dragon, occasionally injuring the students inside.

“We want it to be a family-friendly and fun venue,” he added.

Although the architects supplied their own phoenix, many present were surprised that the engineers failed to build their own bird, which for the past several years has rivaled the dragon in scope and spectacle. Jennifer Saksa ’04, who was president of the now-defunct Phoenix Society, said that several factors caused the traditional phoenix to lie dormant.

“A couple of things go wrong and it all falls apart,” she said. Even after scrambling for a new faculty advisor, the society had trouble securing a place to build the bird. She also said that the University’s indifference to the society hampered efforts to get the construction moving.

Finally, Saksa said that interest amongst students waxed and waned, and getting consistent numbers for the labor-intensive project was difficult.

“Engineers were working too hard this year to build a phoenix,” said engineering student James Maxwell ’07.

“The Phoenix Society comes and goes through the years,” said Beener, “I think that we will see them rise again from the ashes.”

Until that day, however, the dragon reigns supreme.

Archived article by Michael Morisy
Sun Staff Writer