Fridays with Fred - Spring Day
Spring Day at a small liberal arts college in southern Wisconsin. Will there be a relentless drizzle and 48-degree chill? Or a cloudless sky and t-shirt and shorts temperature in the mid-70s? Or, with a rascally snicker, will the polar vortex depart at last, leaving in its wake an out-of-season blizzard? Beloiters have experienced all of the above on a day set aside each year for students to abandon the classroom and celebrate a new season.
Spring Day is one of Beloit College’s longest-lasting traditions, but its origins are something of a mystery. The holiday hasn’t left much of a paper trail or even a detailed record of events. First reference found (so far) is in the Round Table on April 25, 1979, which states: “It was a little chilly, but then the powers that be should have known better than to schedule Spring Day on Friday the thirteenth…” Going back a year earlier, there was a publishing gap in the Round Table from mid-April through the end of May when the college’s last Beloit Plan-era summer term began. And, although there’s a good run of student calendars from that period, we’re missing Spring 1978. Perhaps an alumnus could solve the mystery. When was the first “Spring Day?” Was it a spontaneous event where students played hooky on a warm and sunny afternoon? Or was it scheduled well in advance by college officials?
Over the years, Spring Day locations have included the Chapin quad, the lawns between fraternity row and Haven and Wood residence halls, and the Fieldhouse. Activities have remained consistent and yet constantly evolving, too: outdoor picnics and barbecues (weather permitting), taco trucks, hacky sack contests, face painting, dunk tanks, Locks of Love hair donations, “Turtle Trot” runs with the president, “Pie a Professor,” and, more recently, Quidditch Club pickup games, and Holi, a Hindu celebration also known as the “Spring Festival of colors.”
Bands performing are always a highlight of Beloit’s Spring Day – reggae, alternative rock, hip-hop, and other genres. From the 1980s on, Beloiters danced to Yo La Tengo, E-I-E-I-O, and Soul Asylum, later a Grammy Award winner. A schedule from 2005 lists the Groovie Ghoulies, Further Seems Forever, and the Methadones, among several unusual band monikers.
Occasionally, professional photographers capture Spring Day festivities as college publicity. More often, though, only snapshots survive, and there are great gaps in the archives collection. Photos, a few flyers and schedules, and some colorful t-shirts tell only part of the story. Perhaps, over time, further photographs, oral histories, and alumni reminiscences will document this enduring Beloit College tradition and solve the mysteries – when did Spring Day start and whose fabulous idea was it?