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Fridays with Fred: Senior class trip, wherein ‘all the devils are here’

The old tradition of a 10-day senior vacation.

“Next Friday the members of the Senior class will have finished their examinations, and then they will leave the old familiar halls to pitch their tent upon the beautiful, green banks of Lauderdale Lake.” –the Round Table, May 24, 1893

Today, it’s hard to imagine the entire senior class of Beloit College embarking on a 10-day vacation together, but in 1893, the senior class numbered only 22 students, the largest class in the college’s history to that time. Even with so few in number, a class vacation was an exception, not the norm, according to the Round Table:

“…Ninety-three should be congratulated in that there exists sufficient unanimity among its members to warrant such an undertaking. There has been but one class in the last eight years (all honor to ninety for its enterprise) that has hung together well enough to enable its members to spend their Senior vacation together.”

A couple of scattered notices in Beloit newspapers and a summary of events in the Round Table would seem to provide the only extant recollections of the class of 1893 vacation, but we are fortunate in having an even more entertaining and vivid look at the class’s adventures, through photographs taken by their classmate, Herbert Gaytes.

Sometime in the early 1960s, a wooden crate arrived at the college, packed tightly with small cardboard boxes containing several hundred glass plate negatives and photographic prints. The photographer, Beloiter Herbert Gaytes, had long before moved to Oakland, Calif., where he passed away in 1959. While a student, he developed an abiding passion for photography, mastered darkroom techniques, and began taking photographs of college and city life as well as views of downtown Chicago and the World’s Columbian Exposition. A gifted amateur photographer, Gaytes created booklets of photographs on various themes and sold them to students and residents. He took his camera along on the class vacation and documented a variety of activities, demonstrating both a fine eye and an irrepressible sense of humor. Afterwards he exhibited the results at the college’s new art gallery (South College) and sold prints at the college bookstore.

Departing right after final examinations, their vacation at Lauderdale Lake in Walworth County was a last opportunity for togetherness before the soon-to-be graduates would go their separate ways. The Round Table cataloged some of their fun-loving exertions – “the hard fought ball games when excitement reigned intense and the country rang with victorious shouts” – “those moonlit evenings on the lake, gay with chorus and songs” – and lamented the end of the revelry – “the green woods and shady glades of Lauderdale have lost at last their wandering visitors. The tall hills have ceased to echo the joyous songs as they were wafted over the lake by the warm breezes of summer…The people surrounding the lake may again return to their deserted homes, for the seniors have returned from their vacation.”

Upon their return on June 5, the class capped off their vacation with some tasty “eats” at the home of Mrs. Gaytes, Herbert’s mother. Each senior took a moment to jot down a “philosophical” note in their class album, sampled here:

“I wrestled manfully and came off completely victorious over a delightful spread.”

“If anyone attempts to haul down the flag of ’93, shoot him on the spot.”

“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”

“Ta, ra, ra, Boom-de-ay.”

“Veni, Vidi, Vici – the feed

93 – sound and hale,

We’re the people! Lauderdale”

“A most glorious wind up to a jolly Senior Vacation.”

Fred Burwell ’86
January 05, 2012

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