March 23, 2009

Beast Escapes the Fire in Annual Dragon Day Festivities

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This story was originally published on March 18.

The dragon lives on, as this year’s annual celebration of Dragon Day culminated in the burning of a symbolic nest, instead of the usual destruction of the first-year architects’ creation. Endowed with moving wings, claws and heads, this year’s dragon was instead able to escape the fire, finding refuge in Rand Hall instead.

In honor of the 108-year old tradition, the dragon journeyed across Central Campus on Friday, just as Spring Break began. Starting at Rand Hall, the dragon traveled up University Ave, down East Ave, and then made a right onto Campus Rd. As the fiery red dragon passed the Engineering Quad, the engineers unveiled their creation, a bright yellow phoenix. Finally, the dragon made its way to the Arts Quad.
[img_assist|nid=36075|title=Back in black|desc=First-year architecture students parade down East Ave. on March 13 in celebration of Dragon Day.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Overseeing his first Dragon Day as provost, Kent Fuchs had nothing but positive things to say as he watched the events unfold from the Campus Rd. sidewalk.

“I’ve been here seven years and this is actually my first Dragon Day,” Fuchs said. “The students and the staff are enjoying it and I’m enjoying it. This year [the dragon and the phoenix] are both quite colorful. Compared to the pictures I’ve seen of year’s past, this year looks like one of the best.”

Besides the creation, the creators donned themselves in elaborately designed costumes, from Roman gladiators to a hookah-smoking caterpillar to army men without pants. In addition to their clothing, every participant exuded a sense of energy and excitement.

Chris Singh ’11, who watched the tradition unfold on Friday characterized the architects as, “a bunch of crazy kids dressed up in costumes, beating on drums, fighting in the street. It’s pretty ridiculous.”

Not only did current members of the Cornell community come out to celebrate Dragon Day, but alumni also returned to campus to honor the tradition with their children.

Julie Carpenter ’91 and her husband Poney ’91 brought their daughter Annie to this year’s celebration to show their daughter “all of this craziness,” Julie said.

Julie and Poney, who both graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences, currently reside in Downtown Ithaca. Although they had not celebrated Dragon Day in a couple of years, the couple came to enjoy “the beautiful spring day,” Julie said.

“I don’t know what theme they chose this year, but right now it’s just drunk,” Julie said, describing the paraders as they marched passed her.

Karl Smolenksi grad, a current staff member, brought his daughter Remy to Dragon Day, dressing her up as a monkey, which gained the attention and affection of many in attendance.

“When I was a student I saw parents bringing their kids and I thought that was nice since you don’t see kids on campus very often. I wanted to do it as well,” he said.

Smolenksi, who has seen about 25 different dragons terrorize Cornell’s campus, said that the tradition “hasn’t changed and sort of stays the same … I hope that Dragon Day continues for a very long time.”

This year, however, the tradition of Dragon Day did change, with environmental regulations set forth by the State Department of Environmental Conservation allowing only wood and agricultural products to be burned. Thus, the sacrificial burning was not of the the students’ dragon, which was built with such toxic materials as paint and glue.

“The new regulations are that [the students] are not going to be allowed to burn the dragon this year,” Cornell Police Sergeant Scott Salino explained. “The materials that [the students] built [the dragon] with are not compatible with EPA standards … they built a symbolic nest to be burned this year.”

In place of the dragon, student set light to the dragon’s nest, which was made of lumber and hay. Many students, however, were upset with these changes made to Dragon Day tradition.

“Normally we burn the dragon itself, and normally we take a victory lap, but this year I was 10 feet behind police tape,” said Joe DeSense ’09, a fifth year architecture student. “I wish it wasn’t as regulated as it was this year. It used to be a lot freer in the past.”

Cornell Police, which had the whole department working the event, had to make sure that the burning of the dragon was not harmful for anyone involved.

“It can be a dangerous event to cover, but with the right people and personnel on the property, it can be a nice, safe event,” Salino said. “The department takes it serious so that we make sure everyone has a fun and safe time.”

Although DeSense realizes that the regulation is to increase the safety of the celebration, he thought that the administrators could have “handled it better and tried to work our traditions in with it a lot better.”