by Meredith Minter, class of 1984
Tomorrow, at about 10:30 p.m., a strange phenomenon will manifest itself on campus. An orderly row of lights will come bobbing down Crush Path, apparently singing.
To the poetic, the scene may well suggest a band of will-o-the-wisps afflicted with geometry. The prosaic, on the other hand, will see in it the futile headlights of an interstate highway traffic jam.
Of course, no one will be alarmed. It will just be Pumpkin Parade. Seniors, their dark robes invisible in the night, will bear their jack-o-lanterns to the steps of East.
Once, only Even seniors did that; the Odds made a triple circle around their Tree. But now, all seniors, contravening Horace Greely, go resolutely Eastward.
How did jack-o-lanterns and seniors come to go together? Well, in the early years of school, it was the custom for Halloween dinner to be a party. Seniors attended in robes; underclassmen in sheets. All lights were turned off, and the room was lit by pumpkins.
In 1908, the party got wilder than usual, and a group of seniors, grabbing what pumpkins they could reach, paraded around the dining hall. The glowing pumpkins and black robes looked so well together that the class of 1910, impressed, did the same thing in 1909, making a triangle on front campus with their pumpkins.
The class of 1911 had an even better idea. Shouting enthusiastically, they bore their pumpkins to a snack bar across the street. 1912 did likewise.
In 1913, deciding to stay on campus, the class of '14 ended at East. The next year, the Odds went to the Tree. A pattern had been made.
In the 1930's, two things happened. The Parade was moved from its original after-dinner time to 10:00, and the sophomores, who had long been carving the pumpkins, began to serenade the seniors. (Before, seniors had sung to sophomores.) Some years later, the president began to serenade the seniors, too.
Despite the profusion of candles, Pumpkin Parade has only caused one serious fire. That happened in 1949, when a thoughtless senior left her pumpkin on her windowsill—right next to her paper curtains.
The inevitable soon happened, and flames spread to the molding and the bed. A closet began to burn merrily.
The sprinklers were activated, and put out the fire in short order. However, having coped with fire, the girls in her dorm then had to contend with flood. The water poured down in torrents, seeping steadily through to floors below. Everyone's towels were drafted to protect the date parlors, which seemed in the greatest danger of ruin. Meanwhile, of course, the Parade went on.
Originally published in The Sundial on October 30, 1981 (Vol. 66, no. 7, p. 4)
This article is taken from "The Past Master," a column written by Meredith Minter Dixon, class of 1984, for the Randolph-Macon Woman’s College student newspaper, The Sundial. It is published here with her permission.
Mrs. Dixon has written an invaluable multi-volume set, Maconiana: A Social History of Randolph-Macon Woman's College. For additional information, please visit her author's page on Amazon.
Please contact Mrs. Dixon (dixonm at pobox dot com) if you have comments or questions about her articles.