The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Rivalry Week traditions through the years

Previous Rivalry Week traditions included erecting sky-high bonfires on the center of the Quad. (Photo courtesy of the College Archives)

From building bonfires as tall as Pardee Hall to hitting junkyard cars with mallets, Lafayette students have come up with many creative ways to show their disdain for Lehigh University after 138 years of rivalry.

Walk across campus right now and you’ll see one of the most prominent traditions: white, twin-size sheets hang from nearly every building with clever digs at Lehigh splattered across them in black paint. From cleverly crafted Wordles to amateur playground insults, there’s a banner for everyone.

But it wasn’t always this way; having only started in the late 90s, the Lafayette-Lehigh banner tradition is still relatively young.

The banner tradition comes from the fraternity decorating competitions of the 1940s and 50s. During the lead-up to big football games, Lafayette fraternity members would spend weeks and exorbitant amounts of money in a competition to decorate their houses. The final displays were often an intricate blend of wooden cutouts and lightbulbs put together in an effort to win glory and permanent possession of an engraved silver cup.

In 1940, for example, the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity decorated its way to victory with their large “cutout of a Lehigh player being struck by a bolt of lightning,” and the Delta Tau Delta fraternity earned second place with its display of “a huge steam roller surging over a fallen Brown and Whiter.”

In addition to the intricate fraternity displays, the Lafayette College of the 20th century had another exciting tradition: the bonfire. After football victories, it was popular to construct a bonfire on the Quad. Lafayette students would spend hours gathering copious amounts of wooden debris from stores and private donors, then hours more piling the wreckage around a sturdy center pole or a particularly large tree.

The tops of the pyres reached heights matched only by Pardee. Built from mannequin busts, wheely chairs, old typewriter boxes and anything else that might burn, the construction needed to be sound enough for students to rapidly scale it to add more items.

Then, after being doused in kerosene and lit with a match, a crowd of students would sing the Alma Mater and other classic songs as the fire roared. Students only went home when all that remained were the glowing embers and a dusty, grassless circle on the Quad.

These days, the college has swapped pyromania for a more primitive form of destruction: hitting things. This past Tuesday, after waiting in a line extending around the Quad, students were given the opportunity to blow off some steam and raise money for cancer research by beating up an old car spray-painted with Lehigh’s name.

After the passenger windows were pre-smashed, students armed with heavy metal mallets and protective eyewear besieged the old Chevrolet Impala. The remains of the car were then towed away, the blue plastic tarp beneath catching the smaller debris.

Although the Lafayette-Lehigh traditions of the modern era may not be risky as those of the past, the traditions all work to achieve the same goal of generating a sense of community and togetherness amidst the student body by uniting everyone against a common enemy: the Mountain Hawks of Lehigh University.

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Elisabeth Seidel
Elisabeth Seidel, Design Director/Assistant Business Manager
The funniest culture designer.

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