May 2, 2007

This Week in History

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Slope Day, the beloved Cornell tradition celebrating the end of classes, originated in May of 1901 as Spring Day.
The day was described as “The Hill’s springtime carnival-parade-drag fest” in a Sun article documenting the history of the holiday.
According to The Sun, the University Athletic Association, in a critical financial state, attempted to fundraise by organizing a benefit concert at the Lyceum Theatre downtown, featuring various drama clubs and musical groups. To promote attendance at the concert, a band processed on campus. Students on the Quad left class to join the march down to the theatre.
Due to the ensuing success of the show, the festivities were extended the next year to include a carnival, a feature of the celebration that continued into the ’60s.
The University first officially recognized the day in 1904, suspending classes from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Activities included a procession, costumes, a constructed monster named “Marvelous Mzupsi,” various stunts and a benefit performance. According to The Sun, drinking was then a part of the occasion, but not the focus.
An article from May 14, 1904 stated, “It was the largest celebration of the kind ever held.”
The establishment of a day to celebrate the ending of classes with a carnival and concert planted the seeds for what would grow into the more contemporary Slope Day tradition.
The first recorded “Spring Fest” occurred in 1977, and featured music by Robert Klein and the Grateful Dead in a famous performance that is held by many to be one of The Dead’s best concerts.
It wasn’t until 1979 that the celebration moved to Libe Slope, the location from which it derives its name. Cornell Dining hosted a barbeque and beer truck on the hill and the Cornell Concert Commission brought in a free concert.
In 1986, after the federal drinking age changed from 18 to 21, the University moved the event to North campus in an attempt to control underage drinking. According to The Sun, students held a party on the hill in order to “take back the slope.”
They more or less succeeded; the event was returned to the slope the following year. Alcohol related emergencies caused the University to ban music from the celebrations in 1996. The administration organized Slope Fest, described by The Sun as “a non-alcoholic version of Slope Day,” in 1999.
In 2001, President Hunter Rawlings III established a Slope Day Steering Committee that increased security with fenced areas and restrictions on the type of alcohol served and the way in which it was sold. Eventually the number of incidents was reduced, allowing the tradition to flourish throughout the years to the “debauchery-filled celebration