150 Years of Tradition at Syracuse University: a digital exhibition

Rooted in the Past Introduction

Traditions add vitality and heart to everyday campus life. The traditions displayed here have their origins in Syracuse University’s early history. A number of them are long-gone customs and events, but others are still alive and strong today. Each speaks to a University heritage full of spirit, honor, competition, and hard work.

Long-gone Traditions

“Song — Old Calculus” from Calculus Burial program, “In Memoriam, John R. Calculus and his wife Anna Lytics,” 1880. Syracuse University Special Events Collection, University Archives.

Photograph of the coffin of Calculus, to be burned on Skaneateles Lake, 1885. Howard Dixon Mitchell Scrapbook, University Archives.

Late 19th-century liberal arts sophomores at Syracuse University were required to take calculus, a course most students loathed. At the school year’s end, they gathered to ceremonially “dispose of” Calculus, a tradition dating back to 1873. Housed in a coffin, Calculus was buried on Crouse College Hill, cremated, launched in the air by balloon, or sent to a watery grave in one of the lakes of Central New York. In addition to an elaborate ceremony involving dirges and a eulogy, the event was accompanied by a festive picnic and live music.

“The Salting,” The Syracusan, September 22, 1892. Syracuse University Student Publications Collection, University Archives.

Photograph of the 1923 flour rush between the Class of 1926 and Class of 1927. Syracuse University Photograph Collection, University Archives.

Competitions between freshmen and sophomore classes were the source of many traditions at Syracuse University. The tradition of the “rush” first emerged when sophomores began to throw salt at the freshmen and even rub it in their hair. The ritual then evolved into the upper class thumping the first-year class with bags of salt. This then developed into sophomores defending Crouse College Hill against charging freshmen, whose object was to reach the summit. After a while, there were many different rushes occurring on campus — Flour, Salt, Snow, Cane, and Orange, but the Salt and Flour Rushes were the most popular. World War I put the tradition on hold, but by the 1940s it appears to have stopped altogether, especially after a sophomore was injured in a 1941 rush.

Photograph of Ruth Blount, May Queen, on Women’s Day, 1917. Syracuse University Photograph Collection, University Archives.

In 1914 Eta Pi Upsilon, the senior women’s honor society, founded Women’s Day as a tradition held every May to honor Syracuse University alumna. As part of the celebrations, a senior woman was chosen as May Queen. Women students would gather together for the coronation ceremony and pageant. Women’s Day was later called May Day and Spring Weekend. Events included the Strawberry Breakfast, Step-Singing, parades, and the lantern ceremony, when senior class women passed the lanterns of spirit and knowledge to junior class women. Other Greek organizations would help to co-sponsor these activities.

Photograph of Alpha Tau Omega brothers and their cannon, 1954. Syracuse University Photograph Collection, University Archives.

A 38-year football and Greek tradition, the Alpha Tau Omega cannon was a gift from a 1922 alumnus. Alpha Tau Omega brothers, called cannoneers, wheeled it onto Archbold Stadium for home football games. They fired the cannon for every Syracuse touchdown. In 1960, at the Syracuse versus Penn State game, the cannon accidently caused an explosion, injuring several students. No one was badly harmed, but University administration forever prohibited the cannon.

Photograph of “Marooned Beat Colgate” poster at the Zeta Psi house on Colgate Weekend, 1954. Syracuse University Photograph Collection, University Archives.

From 1891 to 1961, the annual Colgate Weekend centered on a football game with Syracuse’s great rival, Colgate University. The weekend also included bonfires, dances, wild parties, raids on Colgate’s campus, and the annual Tau Sigma Delta-sponsored poster contest. Greek and residence houses on campus would create giant placards with a “Beat Colgate” theme.

Living Traditions with Old Roots

Photograph of student playing the Crouse Chimes (with editorial markings for publication), 1943. Syracuse University Photograph Collection, University Archives.

For more than 50 years, Delta Kappa Epsilon brothers played the Crouse College chimes, which were a gift of John Crouse in 1889. The responsibility was eventually passed on to music fraternities and then in 1989 to a group of students called the Chimemasters. They climb a 70-foot ladder into the tower to play a variety of pieces, from church hymns to pop songs, for all of campus to hear.

Yearbook photograph of a member of the Chimemasters playing the Crouse Chimes, 2005. Syracuse University Yearbook Collection, University Archives. Photograph by Ryan Saks.

Photograph of Chancellor William Tolley at the Chancellor’s Review of the ROTC in Archbold Stadium, 1965. Syracuse University Photograph Collection, University Archives.

The Annual Chancellor’s Review of the Syracuse University Army and Air Force ROTC cadets celebrates the cadets and their commitment to service. Cadets perform drills and ceremonies in formation and receive awards for their achievements. The tradition traces its roots to May 4, 1917, when Chancellor James Roscoe Day reviewed the University’s Cadet Corps, a regiment of ten companies of faculty and students. It set the precedent for the current Chancellor’s Review, an event now sponsored by the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs.

Photograph of Chancellor Kent Syverud at the Annual Chancellor’s Review of the Syracuse University Army and Air Force ROTC cadets, 2015. Syracuse University Photo & Imaging Collection, University Archives. Photograph by Stephen Sartori.

Yearbook photograph of students on the Kissing Bench, 1963. Syracuse University Yearbook Collection, University Archives.

No one knows how the tradition of the Kissing Bench came about. By the 1950s, it was believed a female student kissed on the bench was guaranteed to marry one day. Today, tradition holds that if a couple kisses while sitting on the granite bench, they will eventually marry. The Kissing Bench was a gift from the Class of 1912 to Syracuse University and now sits between the Hall of Languages and the Tolley Humanities Building. It was the first graduating class gift to the University.