Of Pranks and Songs and Sodden Peep Nights

Returning from the movies in Mount Vernon one night, my friend Fred climbed the stairs to his third-floor single in Leonard Hall, only to find the room empty. No bed, no desk, no bureau, no chair.

He immediately knew what had happened. He rushed back to the stairway and peered out the front window. There, down on the grass near Middle Path, was his furniture, arranged exactly as it had been in his room. The desk lamp was lit and the radio was playing.

Fred had been victimized by the old Removed Room Prank.

Pranks and homemade traditions were very much a part of student life during my years at Kenyon. In 1947, my first year, students decided to revive two pre-war traditions, the beanie and the leapfrog. Freshmen (known as "fuzzies") were ordered to purchase purple beanies and wear them at all times. And we were required to leapfrog over the post at the entrance to the south campus. Those of us who were seventeen or eighteen did as we were ordered. Our classmates who were World War II veterans refused.

Everyone, though, participated in the Kenyon tradition of singing. The fraternities would march down Middle Path, singing their official songs, and once a year there would be an interfraternity singing contest. It was taken very seriously--so seriously that some of us less skillful singers were instructed to mouth the words rather than sing out.

We also sang in Peirce Hall, following the noon meal on Sundays. Kenyon songs predominated here, ending, of course, with "The Thrill." But just before that, there was often a Sing Around the Hill. Fraternity pledges were required to learn not only Kenyon songs and the songs of their own fraternities, but the marching songs of the eight other fraternities as well. We'd start with "A Band of Brothers in DKE" and conclude with "March On, Archon." (Students who did not belong to fraternities had mixed feelings about this event.)

Peirce would sometimes resound with the Anvil Chorus from Verdi's Il Trovatore. We'd sing just syllables, not words. And we'd end with the name of a student who, the night before, had consummated (or claimed to have consummated) a certain rite of passage.

Chapel wasn't exactly a tradition; it was a requirement. But there were traditional ways to dodge it. Overachieving agnostics would attend the services but sit in the rear of one of the wings and do their studying. Students could receive chapel credit by attending services in Mount Vernon and signing a roster; at least one Catholic student (who shall remain nameless) became very skilled at signing multiple names on the roster at St. Vincent's.

Then there were Peep Nights. They usually began on a hot evening when all of the windows were open, with a provocateur making "peep-peep" noises outside of a neighboring dorm or division. Someone inside would fill a wastebasket with water and throw it out the window on the peeper. The peeper's allies, armed with wastebaskets of their own, would storm the stairs of the dorm to retaliate. At least one battle between North Leonard and Middle Leonard ended with a visit from the campus police.

Much has been written about Dance Weekends, from the imported dates to the big-name bands that played on Saturday night. Less has been said about Sunday morning, when we would gather at the football field for a milk-punch party, featuring milk mixed with cheap whiskey in a large wash bucket. After the ladies departed, we were able to revert to our normal gross behavior and language, and the thank-God-they're-gone parties would begin.

There's so much more. The nicknames we had for professors and administrators. The Homecoming bonfire. The Beta Rock and its frequent waterings. And that Peirce Hall Coffee Shop favorite, the PBLM: a peanut butter, lettuce, and mayonnaise sandwich.

Ah, the PBLM. That's a tradition you don't easily forget.

Doug Downey gathered these memories as part of the Kenyon Stories Initiative, an effort by Alumni Council and the College to collect personal accounts of life at Kenyon through the generations. Doug had the help of Ed Karkow, Mike Schiffer, Bob Vallera, Lew Weingard, Roger Whiteman, and Bob Wilson, all from the Class of 1951; Ted Thomas '49; and John Hallenberg and Jim Hunt, Class of 1953.

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