“FREE HOURS” meant a general exodus to the out-of-doors, weather permitting. For many years afternoon study hours were over at five o’clock. No school on Mondays, with study hours all forenoon, and the entire afternoon free. Even without gymnasium and athletic director, there was quite a variety of activities to engage in if one did not have exercise sufficient carrying wood and water. For the boys there was the “outdoor gym,” a gallows-like framework with ropes, rings, and turning pole. The Messenger had several items anent it: “G. O. had the misfortune to sprain his wrist while jumping off the rings recently.” “A new set of rings and ropes has been purchased for the gymnasium.” Besides, there were quoits to pitch, horseshoes to throw, and, most exciting of all — baseball to practice. For the girls there was croquet on a cleared patch of ground in front of Ladies’ Hall. One photograph shows young ladies standing sedately among the arches, in their long full skirts, with heavily trimmed hats on their heads, and gloves on their hands. Let us hope that the hats and gloves were donned only as a matter of posing!
SCHOOL GIRLS PLAYING CROQUET — 1888
Study hours and free hours were faculty-regulated during a long period of St. Olaf history. About 1911, after several unsuccessful attempts, the students finally obtained an extension of free hours, from 4:00 to 7:00, instead of 5:00 to 7:00 o’clock. In the March Messenger for that year we find this comment: “Of course this rule has met with universal approval, for it is a well known fact that too much confinement and too close application to books shatters the nervous system and destroys the red corpuscles of the blood. Fresh air and exercise dispel the lethargy of the overburdened mind and fills our being with that specie of emotion which causes the festive calf to cavort and gambol on its toes.”
An earlier petition for extra practice hours for baseball in the spring had been denied. That action, however, in no wise dampened the general enthusiasm for baseball. A Messenger in 1889 reported that the students had bought ten acres of land for a ball ground. The first game with Carleton had been played May 14, 1887, on a cleared place at the foot of the Hill to the east. Carleton won. In 1888 a Messenger reports: “The St. Olaf nine challenged the Carleton nine to a game of baseball, but it was not accepted.” There was, however, a game between the two schools in 1888, which St. Olaf won. The opposition blamed the cold weather for their defeat. They said that the Norwegians could stand the cold better than they. The Oles won a second contest. The “Carls” begged for another chance. The “Oles” won a third time. C. J. Rollefson had by this time mastered the throwing of curved balls. After the first of these three defeats the Carleton matron refused to give her players supper. When the baseball league was formed, in 1891, this same matron offered the Carleton team twenty-five dollars if they would win the championship, and ten dollars extra if they could win a game with St. Olaf. The matron sadly saved her money!
On May 17, 1888, the Oles defeated the “Silver Stars,” “once the pride of Northfield and champions of the state.” The St. Olaf College News column for June 16, 1888, reports: “After having disposed of all opponents in baseball in this city, the St. Olaf ball players are looking around for an outside game, and expect to fall down on the unsuspecting Randolph boys next Monday.” The Oles won that game by a score of 13 to 5.
Up to this time the St. Olaf boys had had no uniformity in suits except for the striped calico caps they all wore. After the success of the 1888 season, they thought they were entitled to uniforms. Procure them they did. But, sad to relate, the average scoring for 1889 fell below that of ’88. TheMessenger interpreted the losses as “being due to personal vanity and anxiety to keep the suits neat and clean.”
The first game with Luther College, 1891, was a tense affair. The Oles were defeated by a score of 9 to 4. What has been spoken of as “our great game of the nineteenth century” was one played with Luther College, on Manitou Heights, May 17, 1892. Score 3 to 2 in favor of St. Olaf, with “no one out when the winning score was made.”
Ivan Ringstad, one of the expert pitchers of the late eighties, tells in the Viking ’08 that there were many baseball teams in his day, each finding its own diamond somehow, somewhere. The “Preachers” played below the front hill. The “Cyclones” had to be content with the gentle slope on the south, where it was necessary to place the tallest member out in left field so that the home-plate might be seen from that position. One eventful day the “Cyclones” walked to Dundas to play the “Dundas Invincibles” and won by a score of twenty to thirteen. The “Invincibles” consoled themselves with the sure conviction that they would have lived up to their name had not one of the mothers called the best player in the middle of the game to go and fetch her cow! The “Waterford Stars” were also met in combat by Ole teams. Names of some of the seven baseball teams at St. Olaf in 1889 were: “Vikings,” “Juniors,” “Superiors,” “Inferiors.”
Interest in baseball ran high, disregarding opposition in certain quarters. The complaint was that it took too much time from studies and caused too much excitement. One lad cracked his voice yelling at a game and was for a long time unable to sing. His father categorically denounced baseball!
In the early 90’s St. Olaf won the pennant several times in the inter-collegiate league, which had been formed between Carleton, Shattuck, Pillsbury Academy, and St. Olaf. Games with Luther College, though outside the league, were hard fought battles.
The admission charge at St. Olaf games was ten cents in the “good old days”! Once the proceeds amounted to three hundred dollars. That must have indicted an attendance of three thousand. The diamond was closely surrounded by horse-drawn buggies, and there had to be ground rules for batting.
Enthusiasm was at a high pitch during the baseball season. The good old official yell was “a rouser.” Lustily the boys would beat out in decided staccato:
“Eh! Ah! Ah! Oh!
Yah! Yah! Yum! Yoh!
Anikenek! Kenek! Kenek!
Rick! Rick! Rick!
Arrapah! Arrapah! Alamahaw!
St. Olaf! St. Olaf! Hi! Hurrah”
Even on the diamond the Norwegian language came in for its own, and a favorite yell was: “Ola! Ola! Northfield Skola! Slaa med klubba, Ola! ”
Sometimes in songs the languages would get scrambled somewhat. For example:
“Ola, our Norske Ola!
We love our skola.
For you vi trola, trola.
You know vi love you sola.
For you vi hola,
Our Ola, O!”
Occasionally songs took on a military flavor, as in: “Cheer the boys in the gray, cheer them on to victory! Let us rally round the colors of old gold, for to cheer our comrades and to make them bold.”
The girls sitting decorously, in their long skirts, buttoned shoes, high collars and long sleeves, showed their approval and enthusiasm by waving canes, to which old gold pennants of satin or felt were attached. The first Viking has this to say of the preceptress, Agnes Mellby: “She is always present at baseball games and is one of the most eager to fling out to the breezes the ‘old gold.'”
On several occasions the players showed themselves to be real Vikings. In the middle nineties the game that was to decide the championship in the league was being played between Carleton and St. Olaf. Ed Sinkler, the famous catcher of that period, broke a thumb, but continued to play until victory was assured and the pennant won. Then he was carried triumphantly by his comrades down to a drug store for medical attention. The large, red, velvet banner with its gold letters was proudly displayed for many years. Who knows where it is now?
At the beginning of the 20th century a left-handed batter, O. C. Brenna (called “O see Brenna! “), in a game on the Carleton field, received an irreparable injury. In his eagerness to strike the ball, he swung a little too soon. The ball hit the bat and glanced off into his left eye. Spartan-like, he played out the game, despite intense pain and the protests of solicitous friends.
Regarding football, the first item we have found is from “St. Olaf College News” items September, 1887, as follows: “The football game between Carleton and St. Olaf teams had to be postponed on account of rain last Saturday. The game was played on Monday but without any definite result. For two long hours the battle raged and the ball had not once been put through the goal. To the spectators it looked as though the fate of the “Kilkenny Cats” might be the fate of these two teams, but they wisely concluded to quit before it came to that. For full particulars read about the football game in Tom Brown ‘ s School – days at Rugby .” The Messenger for October, 1887, reports: “The Kickers” have played two match games of football with the Carletonians. The first one on Monday, October 10, after two hours’ hard work, showed nothing gained by either side. The second game, on the Saturday following, lasted two hours and fifteen minutes and ended by again leaving the two teams even.” Equality of the first order!
A game with Shattuck in the early nineties was exceptionally rough. After it, one of the players became sick with typhoid fever. An epidemic broke out. The little two-story meat-house, west of Main, was taken over as a hospital, and an old man from Dundas hired as nurse. Two students died. Logically or not, this epidemic seems to have put an end to intercollegiate football at St. Olaf — until the year 1919. Petitions to the faculty for the allowing of intercollegiate football were regularly, for many years, received and denied.
Although spring and fall were the most delightful outdoor seasons on the Hill, the snowy winter months, too, brought the students in and out among the trees in exhilarating exercise and frolic.
What more suitable place than Manitou Heights for tobogganing? Full participation there was, by girls and boys together. Under “College Crumbs” in the very first edition of the Messenger we read: “Coasting is the principal amusement now-a-days, and boys and girls ought to be out and try to slide away rheumatism and every other illness.” Also this: “One of our toboggan conductors seems to care most for the welfare of the girl that sits nearest to him. So beware of getting too far back.” With no automobiles to look out for and very little other traffic, the toboggans had the right of way, and they slid from the top of the Hill three or four blocks down the avenue. But, woe to those who on the curve at the foot of the Hill failed to bend inward. It meant a sure spill, with hair pins lost in the snow, hats off, and feet entangled in numerous layers of skirts.
There was a time when winters were to be depended on, without alternate thaws and freezing.The Northfield News , March 18, 1899, says: “This winter without doubt breaks the record for continual sleighing. Up to the present date we have had one hundred sixteen consecutive days of capital sleighing.”
Tobogganing was probably at its height of development and popularity in nineteen eleven and twelve and thereabouts, when the slide went down the Hill north of the present Holland Hall straight into St. Olaf Avenue, with electric lights strung along its course. As many as seven toboggans, seating up to fifteen each, were in use at one time. The day wasn’t complete without a slide or two, even though it had to be taken after a party, in evening dress!
Skiing also found a natural practice ground on the Manitou slopes. The descendants of the Vikings have always in a mild fashion, and sporadically in lively competition, indulged in the sport. Especially the men. The first skiing club was incorporated under the name “Trysil Knut Ski Club.”
One hour free time was not much for going down to the river to skate, as was done before the making of the college rink. But the entire free Monday afternoons allowed ample time. The skaters themselves cleared the ice as much as was deemed necessary, and they skated as far as Dundas. A favorite sport was for two of the best boy skaters to hang on to ends of a long pole and invite the girls to cling along it and the whole string go sailing along.
The college rink, prepared in 1888, on the level spot below the present Holland Hall, allowed for more actual skating, albeit there was only a small circle to follow round and round. A standing committee to keep the rink in condition was elected at a student mass meeting and found it not at all a thankless task. According to a Messenger in 1895, “The girls at the Hall entertained the boys in the parlor, Monday, January 14, when they were through with their work on the rink. Refreshments were served, and a good time enjoyed.”
But not all the fun was out of doors. As long as the Main was the only large building on the Hill, the college parties were held in the dining room, where the boys made rapid work of carrying tables into the hall and pushing benches to the walls. The program, if any, was held up in No. 7, and from there couples marched down the two flights to lower regions for games. “Fun in the basement” they called it. The closing number was often a cake-walk. A delectable layer-cake was placed in a window and labeled the prize. The character of the winner came immediately into evidence. The generous one divided his cake with others, the miserly one took it to his room to enjoy alone!
Most of the entertainment was student or teacher inspired. No movies to pull a long stream of students downtown for every change of show. Oh, well, a student of ’98 does recall having seen his first moving picture in Northfield. The place was above one of the stores on Division Street, and the picture apparently a railroad advertisement. When a steam engine came puffing and chugging on the screen, it looked for all the world as if it were making straight for the boys in the front seats. They all jumped up and ran to the back of the room! That was in 1898.
On the Hill, Professor Felland served as photographer and on many occasions entertained with the showing of stereoptican views as well as pictures he himself had taken. Thanks to him, St. Olaf has almost a complete photographic history among its treasures.
Every student generation recalls with pleasure the opening receptions in the fall, where every effort was made to get people acquainted quickly. One common method was to give each person a card and a pencil and tell him to get as many signatures as possible. Prizes were given to the one who had the longest list of names. Witty talks were a feature of the entertainment, as well as music of various kinds. One speaker was never permitted to forget a story he told. It was about a student who came late to school and the president asked him if he thought he needed three more days of grace. “No,” said the bashful student, “I needed three more days of Emma.” That presiding senior happened to take as his partner down the stairs for refreshments a new girl, whose name later was learned to be Emma!
Programs were fun and not bugbears. When a celebration was in order, the first thought was for a program. Speeches were most painstakingly prepared and oratorically delivered. Declaimers energetically gesticulated their way through memorized recitations, such as “The Rising in 1776,” “How Ruby Played,” and Ibsen’s long poem “Terje Viken.” Vocal solos, duets, trios, quartets, octets were forthcoming on short notice. Piano numbers came as solos, four hand, six hand, and even eight hand selections. Violin, cornet, and clarinet solos furnished variety. Often faculty and student talent joined forces in these special programs.
Thanksgiving Day, Washington’s, and Lincoln’s birthdays, especially, called for worthwhile programs; and these were generally followed by social gatherings.
On rare occasions the program might even be preceded by a banquet, as was the case on February 22, 1894. Witness the menu:
February 22, 1894
Collegets Spise Sal Kl. 7 Aften
FISKE BOLLER KJÖD BOLLER
SPEGE KJÖD RULLE PÖLSE
JULE KAGE RUG BRÖD
FLAD BRÖD LEFSE
KAVRING HVEDE BOLLER
GJEDE OST PULT OST PRIM OST
FATTIGMANDS BAGELSE ROSETTE BAGELSE
FRU MONSON KAGE KRUM KAGER
KAFFE MELK CHOKOLADE
The dining-room was converted into a “norsk gjestesal,” and waitresses were dressed in Norse costumes. Just why should they be celebrating George Washington’s birthday with a Norwegiansupper? Perhaps there was a belief that our first president’s antecedents had come from Norway — as some maintain — with the name “Vaske-tun,” later anglicized to “Washing-ton.” Be that as it may, in the program that followed — in No. 7, of course — President Mohn gave utterance to the statement that although they were loyal Americans, they wished to retain what was good in their Norwegian inheritance that America might be the richer thereby.
A banquet of the aforesaid sumptuousness calls to mind the Norwegian suppers served down town annually by the Ladies’ Aid Society of the Norwegian Lutheran Church, and patronized by the college almost one-hundred per cent.
The large printed poster for one year looked as follows:
By the Ladies’ Aid Society of the Norwegian Lutheran Church
LUDE FISK RULLE PÖLSE
LEFSE FLAD BRÖD RUG BRÖD HVEDE BOLLER
PULT OST PRIM OST
FATTIGMANDS BAGELSE KRUM KAGER
ROSETTE BAGELSE BERLINER KRANDSE
FRU MONSON KAGE KAFFE
Young lady waitresses will appear in National Costumes
MUSIC BY. ST. OLAF BAND
Admission to Hall 10¢ Supper 15¢
Police were on hand to keep order in the huge crowd. The supply of food did not run out before all were satisfied, for the little band of ladies’ aiders of the then small congregation had brought trunks full of “krumkager” and clothes baskets full of “flat brad” and “lefse.” Truly an event to remember from one’s school days in Northfield.
The occasions, aside from the gastronomic treat of the Norwegian supper, that drew students down town were band concerts, annual oratorical contests, Shakespearean plays by recognized troupes, concerts by illustrious musicians, and lectures by famous persons. Concerts by Ellen Beach Yaw, with her range of five octaves, and by the violinists Camillo Urso (1873), Ole Bull (1879), Edouard Remenyi (1881), and Maud Powell, and by the singer Carrie Jacobs-Bond in the rendition of her own well-known songs were long-remembered treats. An unusual kind of news item may here be appended, from February 1888: “A number of St. Olaf students attended the Carreno concert . . . All certainly admired Madame Carreno’s wonderful skill as a pianist, but refrained from giving any enthusiastic applause in admiration of her skill for fear of being understood to applaud the music which they did not understand.”
The two-college town had little difficulty in procuring famous lecturers from inside the country and out. To mention a few from far back: Paul du Chaillu, Jacob Riis, Bjornstjerne Bjornson, President Hayes, Henry Ward Beecher, Wendell Phillips, Judge Ben Lindsay, Maria Sanford, Thomas Dixon, Jr., and William Jennings Bryan.
These entertainments, in the opera house or in the Congregational Church, were gala events when boys might “take girls.” Very formally done. Permission received from the preceptress in each individual case. The girls dressed in opera shawls and best finery.
Especially the seniors made use of this privilege of being escorts. That meant that the few college girls there were and those in the senior class in the academy (First Class) were in great demand. In the early part of the twentieth century there was a popular play called “The College Widow,” in which the “widow” was a lady student who every year kept company with a senior. This play was strikingly applicable to St. Olaf.
Under such circumstances it was easy for a certain popular girl to boast that she could have the company of any boy at school. That statement became the challenge for a jest. It was arranged that sixteen boys should call on her and invite her to the same entertainment. One by one they came. She accepted the first one, who happened to be to her the least desirable of them all. Another point of view in the episode was that of the house father who grew impatient answering the door-bell for all these callers. Finally he spoke up: “If there are more of you boys calling on Miss __________, you had better come in a group.”
At a party in President Mohn’s home a somewhat related stunt was worked. “Wahoo,” well-known for his jokes, moved about the group unobtrusively and at the opportune moment asked each girl in turn if he might take her home. All accepted, without knowing about the rest, so that when the other boys came to ask them, they politely replied that they were taken care of, thank you. Thus, “Wahoo” took a string of girls home that evening! Fortunate for him that most of them lived in Ladies’ Hall!
A great deal of the social life on the Hill was concentrated on the seniors each year. Faculty members, one after the other, invited the seniors to their homes. To furnish a balanced sociability, the college girls as a group together with those of the highest class in the academy were generally included. Contests of various kinds were arranged and prizes presented.
Senior picnics at Union Lake or Fox Lake were time-honored events. All the two-seated livery rigs in town were in demand on those lovely spring days when the seniors and their chosen ladies drove out for an all-day outing. A departure from regular custom is reported in the Messenger for May, 1896, in this unromantic item: “Some of the students had planned a Union Lake trip on May 14. However, the lakes on the way, caused by the falling rain, were considered large enough, so they encamped by some of them.”
The senior parties culminated in the junior-senior reception, shortly before commencement. Each junior class outdid the preceding in elaborate decorations, novel entertainment, and delicious refreshments. They were prodigal in time, work, and expense. Entire ceilings in large, bare rooms were softened with colored cheesecloth or crepe paper streamers. A mammoth job. Early morning hours were spent in gathering tubs full of ferns from the near-at-hand woods. Printed programs, tied with class ribbons, with lists of participating classes, itemized program and menu, provided valued keepsakes. The evening festivities generally ended in a grand march. Ladies held up their long, trailing skirts with one hand and clung to their partners’ arms with the other, the while they marched the length and breadth of the room in intricate formations.
At these events, the uneven proportion of woman students came thoroughly into evidence. To quote the Messenger : “Owing to the scarcity of young ladies, desperate juniors and seniors might have been seen haunting the premises of Ladies’ Hall or rushing wildly down the hill, vainly seeking a ‘partner’ for the reception.”
“This reception of juniors to seniors has been in vogue for a number of years, and is the occasion of the parting of the upper classmen. The juniors had turned the music hall into a cozy parlor by their artistic decorations and pleasant arrangements. The guests of honor of the evening were, of course, the class of ’98. The faculty and ladies, First Class, and all the girls were also invited to participate in the festivities . . . the president of the junior class, Edward Mohn, stepped upon the stage and bid the guests welcome, and informed the seniors that the world was at their feet now, and all they had to do was to reach out and take it . . . Mr. Lysnes, of the class of ’98, then told of his day dreams — about how, returning in 1920 to commencement exercises, of all the strange things that met his sight. New buildings, a good baseball team, and no girls were some of possibilities prophesied.”
As if one such important reception were not enough for the worthy seniors, the class of innovations — namely, the ’04’s, tried to institute also a sophomore-senior party. The idea did not really take hold enough to become an annual event, but the first attempt was memorable — at least for the committee. As usual it was made up of one woman and two men. They named themselves “Comitia,” “Comitius,” and “Comitium” and had great fun making and carrying out plans. “Comitius” even wrote up the affair in an allegory about the “bees,” with a committee of “drones” under the direction of the “queen bee,” entertaining the “wasps” — for a reason known to themselves alone.
These “social committees” required the minimum of one co-ed, and therefore the few college girls had more than a normal share of committee meetings and committee work, “Extra curricular domestic science” it might have been termed in the days when the studies of the college women were mainly the classics, with no thought of “home-ec.”
Among indoor pleasures may be mentioned tableaux, plays, and bazaars. By 1880 the stage in the Music Hall, (No. 7), was complete with screens and a rolling curtain, the latter decorated with a painting of Lake Como, Italy. There was then a perfect place to present a tableau like “Sleeping Beauty” and the plays “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” “Rip Van Winkle,” “The Rivals,” “The Registry,” “The Garroters,” and the like, which revealed much histrionic ability and provided amusement which has proved an enduring joy to the performers. Especially do they remember unexpected, unrehearsed incidents such as when the queen’s little trainbearer, a professor’s daughter, lifted up her long skirts to pick a wood tick off her knee — during a tense moment in the play! It seems that one of the very first dramas given was “Mellem Slagene,” in Norwegian.
Of bazaars, the one the women put on in 1902 for the benefit of the library (Steensland) deserves description. The entire second floor in the Main was requisitioned for the big affair. One room was draped and decorated entirely in white, one in purple and yellow, and one in red, white, and blue. Girls dressed as Puritans and as Indians (with Mrs. Ytterboe’s variegated portiers for blankets! ) were on hand to sell articles made by the women of the St. Olaf family. Two smaller rooms were fitted out as oriental parlors, with rugs, lanterns, et cetera. In one of these a little gypsy girl sold home-made candies. Facsimilies of Martha Washington served coffee and doughnuts at ten small tables in one of the larger rooms. A girl in Norse peasant costume received money at the door. A short program in the Music Hall made the entertainment complete. The venture was an “overwhelming success” from every point of view.
One old fashioned way to have a good time was to plan a surprise party on a teacher. For example, it certainly was a lark for the members of the Newton Society with their ladies to ride in a bob sleigh out to Deer Park and surprise their beloved, stately, gentlemanly Doctor Running with a medallion picture, to play games in his hospitable home, and to be served refreshments by Mrs. Running — who evidently for this very purpose had been let in on the secret! Why the preceptress, Miss Mellby, should be presented with an enameled clock at one of these surprise parties is hard to fathom. She kept good tab on hours as it was!
Not being dependent on canned entertainment — in days before phonographs, movies, and radios — young people had to be more resourceful in amusing themselves than are people today.
Even serious situations like the scarlatina and small pox epidemics had their elements of fun.
It was in 1903 that the scarlatina epidemic struck Ytterboe Hall. As there was no hospital on the campus as yet, the third floor was converted into an infirmary. The well students were delighted over the enforced vacation. Students are unique in their non-demand to get their money’s worth! Off campus students had to find boarding places in town, and had a jolly time among themselves. Those who were responsible for copy for the first Viking , just then being printed, petitioned for permission to move out of the dormitory. This was no sooner granted than one of them came down with the illness. He and the then small remnant of patients were lodged in a small house by the south hill road where they whiled away the time of quarantine.
The sad sequel to this epidemic was the fatal illness of Professor Ytterboe, caused by his efforts at fumigating the dormitory.
As a consequence of this experience the lack of hospital facilities became the concern of the St. Olaf Association — an organization of ex-students apart from the alumni. The result was their gift of a college hospital, in 1908.
Fortunate it was, when the smallpox epidemic broke out in 1909, that there was a hospital ready for isolating the patients. Sister Amalia from the Chicago Deaconess Hospital came to take charge. With a well regulated schedule and a staff of officers, life went on smoothly, and even pleasantly, for the quarantined. Most of the patients were boys, and they were desirous of a more balanced community. One of the “artists” put up an elaborate sign: “Girls wanted.” When this brought no results, the “Pest House Band” let themselves out, under cover of darkness, and serenaded the Ladies’ Hall girls, hoping, presumably, that some germs would enter through the open windows! Among the thirty patients there was at least one girl, for her name has gone down in history as that of the “president of the Bread and Milk Gravy Society.”
There was much sympathy for these shut-ins, and many were the gifts of food that came their way. One particular fellow on the outside beheld with hungry eyes these con tributions until he actually screwed up courage enough to go to the back door of the hospital and ask for a “handout.” He received it, albeit with the threat that he might get the germs. “I’ll take a chance,” he said, “for you have better food than we have.”
The most sensational event of this quarantine period was the band concert on a certain balmy spring evening. The announcement was made in all seriousness at the supper table, and the students in a body assembled in front of the hospital porch. The band of seven pieces, including the “barreltone,” tomato-can drums, and tub-drum, appeared on the verandah. The first number was announced: “The Long Green Wedding March.” The director, with great pomposity, raised on high his broom-stick baton. “Each musician filled his lungs with air, and, then — the entire band silently arose and slowly and sorrowfully filed back into the hospital.” Before the full import of the joke had pervaded the stunned audience, there appeared in the front window a placard with the words “April Fool.”
That April first was a happy day for the non-confined students, who had been worrying about whether they might go home for Easter vacation. The board of health sent up the message: “The board of health considers St. Olaf students perfectly harmless, and there is no reason why they should not be permitted to leave town.”
Commencement was, without doubt, the big event of the year. As a rule, academy exercises were held on Monday, and the college graduation on Tuesday. No caps and gowns to cover up tailor-made suits and dainty dresses. And, the dresses were beautiful and feminine in those days. Agnes Mellby said of the academy girl graduates in 1891: “Ida Gilbert, in a pink albatross dress, looked like a belle; Marie Kron, in white serge, looked like a bride; and Martha Nesheim, in golden lace over brown taffeta, looked like a duchess.” On Sunday the baccalaureate sermon and the special lecture provided by the Bible Class. Norwegian and English used in hymns and talks. Every student stayed. No thought of leaving till the last bit of festivity was over. Relatives of the graduates were entertained at the college free of charge!
Aside from commencement, the two biggest celebrations for the students as a whole have generally been Founders’ Day and the day of Norway’s Independence.
In the morning of November Sixth there was, as a matter of course, a program commemorating the founders of the school. In the afternoon a game. In the early evening there was an illumination of the Main, with the band playing and the crowd assembled at the foot of the Hill.
This elaborate illumination of the Main was a sight that would thrill even the most blasé students of modern times. A local paper has this description in 1885, on the eleventh anniversary: “At 7 p.m. all the boys were at their posts ready at the sound of the bell to light the 400 candles. The bell tinkled, and in less than a minute the entire front of the building threw out a flood of light, streaming toward the city, making it a sight of beauty for spectators in the distance; and it is said that the best view was obtained from the Carleton campus. The illumination was more varied this year than on former occasions. The entire front was at first illuminated; (In each window laths were laid to which twenty-eight to thirty candles were attached) then the lights were changed so as to form a pyramid; then the tower proper and third story were lighted, making a huge cross, then changed into a double arch, and finally the front was again lighted, in which position the lights were kept until eight o’clock, when they were extinguished.” This illumination was followed by a display of fireworks. No half way celebration! After that a program of orations, declamations, and music by the students in the Music Hall. A reception in the dining room brought to an end a memorable day.
Nota bene a news item from 1887: “November sixth is the thirteenth anniversary of St. Olaf. As it comes on Sunday there will be no illumination of the building this year.”
By the time of the twenty-fifth anniversary a more enthusiastic note is sounded. “The News Notes from St. Olaf” in the Northfield News are as follows: “On account of want of room in the chapel the morning exercises November sixth will be held at St. John’s church. At 9:30 the students will march in a body from Manitou Heights to the Milwaukee depot, where they will be met by the students from U. C. Seminary and directly from thence to the church. They will march in the following order: St. Olaf band, alumni, students of U. C. Seminary, and the St. Olaf students will close up the rear. The same order of march will be followed from the church back to the college.”
Those festive days were made especially enjoyable by the presence of alumni visitors, particularly the group that came down regularly from the Church Seminary in Minneapolis. Their presence was not appreciated quite so much in classes the following day, however, when lessons were likely to be poorly prepared. In a publication for November, 1889, we find: “The petition to be released from recitations Tuesday, November 7, has been granted by the faculty, and the students are thereby placed in a position to be able to devote all their time and attention to the entertaining of visitors and students of the U. C. Seminary.” A few years later there was again a November 7 without classes. Instead, an unusual kind of excitement provided in the form of a strike by the students who were annoyed at being denied the customary social gathering on the evening of November 6. This developed into a very serious affair, ending in the expulsion of the ring leaders.
The day of Norway’s Independence (May 17) was always fittingly and abundantly observed, as the following program bears witness:
Address of welcome by the president of the day
“Historical Sketch of Norway”
The REVEREND J. N. KILDAHL, of Holden
“Norwegians in America”
STUDENT A. O. SANDBO
15 MINUTE INTERMISSION
Norwegian Song (Composed for the occasion) by The Reverend L. M. Bjørn, of Zumbrota: “Adversities and Triumphs of Norway”
STUDENT N. T. BONDHUS
PROFESSORS GROSE AND EGGE
Speech — “True Liberty”
THE REVEREND L. M. BJÖRN AND DR. EGGE
Seventeenth of May observances continued to be important events in Northfield for several decades. Here, too, the prevailing custom of having printed programs is responsible for handing down to us records of events. Purposely we say “in Northfield,” for these celebrations were oft times more than a one college affair. Mr. R. L. Grondahl, of Red Wing, had published the program of the celebration in 1885, on the seventy-first anniversary of Norway’s independence.
The impressive parade was made up of:
1. Faribault Cornet Band
2. Heywood Post, G.A.R.
4. Orators of the Day
5. Common Council
6. Scandinavian Society Harmonien of Red Wing
7. Society Scandinaviska Sjuk Hjaelp Forening of Red Wing
8. Northfield Cornet Band
9. Society Harmonien of Faribault
10. Other Scandinavian Societies from abroad
11. Northfield Fire Department
12. Students St. Olaf College
13. Students Carleton College
14. Society Nordstjernen — North Star — of Northfield
15. Citizens on foot and in carriages
Starting out at one o’clock from the Archer House, it marched “across the bridge to Linden Street, north to Second Street, west to Plum Street, south to Third Street, east across bridge to Division Street, south to Sixth Street, east to Independence Street, north to Fourth Street, east to Winona Street, into the city park.”
Exercises at the park, according to the program, included: Music by Faribault Cornet Band; oration in Norwegian by Hon. F. A. Husher of LaCrosse, Wisconsin; Norwegian National Song by Harmonien Society; music by the Northfield Cornet Band; Oration in English by Professor O. I. Breda, of the State University; short speeches, with exercises closed by singing the national hymn, “America.” S. A. Siverts was “president of the day.”
As one looks at old college memory books one is impressed with the number and quality of programs on sundry occasions. Even as a relief from the strain of examinations a program would be the answer, strange as it may sound. A humorous program, most likely, or an old fashioned spelling match, or a debate on some foolish question, such as: “Resolved, that the cow is more valuable than the horse,” or: “Resolved, that the chafing dish is of greater importance than the study table” — generally “with no decision rendered!”
The fact that work was involved in entertainment did not in the least detract from, but rather added to, the enjoyment.
Campus Day was a case in point. The Messenger for April 1887, has this item: “The last holiday the young ladies distinguished themselves by raking together all the leaves in front of Ladies’ Hall, working resolutely all day, with scarcely any recess for meals.” And, for May 1896, this: “Some of the willing workers, under the leadership of Professor Ytterboe, cleared the woods between the college and campus of underbrush. It was hard work at the time, but all felt repaid when they sat down to supper prepared for the occasion.”
For some years Campus Day was a regular event. The entire student body took part in a big raking bee. A special inducement was, perhaps, the hearty and attractive supper which the women prepared. One year it was related that “the girls spread 3,000 sandwiches for the picnic supper.” Believe it or not, the day was topped off with a period of old-fashioned games, band music, singing yells around the bonfire. Sturdy stock those early Oles!
The impression must not be left that all ground work on the Hill was expected to be done as pure fun. Oh, no! During one vacation Dr. Glasoe, with the help of two students, who were paid fifteen cents an hour, grubbed out trees and completed the grading of the road up hill from the head of St. Olaf Avenue to Ytterboe Hall. Grubbing but no grumbling. Neither did Olaf Norlie complain, when as a junior, in 1896, he assisted a teacher in the academy for the honorarium of fifteen cents an hour. After all, he considered it was better pay than twenty-five cents a week for chopping wood, off and on during the week, and helping with the washing on Saturday, at the home of a professor, as he had done previously. One real old timer recalls being paid ten cents an hour for helping “Little Halvor” the janitor. So, prices did go up!
The probable thought that finances at St. Olaf were on a much lower level than at other schools of the period will not be long entertained when one learns that James Russell Lowell, a son of one of the first families of Boston, was given an allowance of fifty cents a week while attending Harvard. And when one reads that Edward Everett Hale tried hard to open a bank account with forty-five cents, “which he was proudly setting aside as the profits of one of his books,” we need not wonder at St. Olaf students depositing fifty cents spending money with the treasurer, nor even smile when told about the girl who asked him for twenty-five cents and received the curt reply: “What did you do with the twenty-five cents I gave you last week?” There was such a thing as stewardship in those days.
To come back to the subject of the campus. The St. Olaf family has always taken great pride in the college grounds. At the time of the erection of the Main, the brow of the Hill was so denuded as to look like a bald head. Besides, much wood had been hauled out of the deep woods for fuel. An attempt at a fringe of evergreens on the front edge of the Hill was made, but when a fire destroyed it, the decision was to leave the space open and unobstructed. Looking ahead to future bonfires, no doubt! In 1887 Pastor Muus donated one hundred evergreens for planting on the north slope of the Hill, and the Reverend I. M. Dahl donated funds for the planting of evergreens in the Vale of Tawasentha. The planting of those trees was generally entrusted to Ole Helgeson and Pat Murphy, two men who did not speak the same language, but who nevertheless managed to do a good job together. A device for watering those many seedlings was a barrel on wheels, filled at the windmill pump, and propelled by student sinews.
For many years Arbor Day was celebrated with the planting of trees on the campus. That sounds strange in a wooded area like Manitou Heights. There were, however, no native evergreens, and these the Norwegians missed and wanted to supply. Furthermore, some plots, such as Norway Valley, had been stripped of all timber. A news item from April 28, 1888 reads: “The students are busy today, Arbor Day, planting trees. One hundred evergreens donated to the school by the Reverend I. M. Dahl of Lake Mills, Iowa, have been planted on the south and north sides of the Hill and along the driveway leading up to the buildings. Trees are also being planted along St. Olaf Avenue.”
Of the flowers planted during the 80’s in front of the Main one rosebush is still in luxuriant growth and has steadily remained resistant to insect pests. It was planted by Mrs. Mohn as a slip from a bush in Decorah that had been brought from Norway. Every summer it is profusely covered with pink blossoms of a haunting spicy fragrance, reminiscent of a potpurri. Have you noticed it?
Professor Felland, ever on the alert in the interest of flowers and trees, was one of the first teachers in botany, and he carried out many practical projects which greatly beautified the campus. The first was the planting of shrubs and flowers around Ladies’ Hall. How many recall with delight the big snowball bushes that bore profusely for several decades! Another was the planting of Faculty Grove on the north slope of the front Hill. He arranged to have every faculty member plant a tree of his own choice. That is how we have there now such a variety as Russian olive, horse-chesnut, burroak, mountain ash, birch, Russian willow, weeping willow, American elm, green ash, birch, poplars, and even an apple tree. Later generations of Oles have been ever so thankful to Professor Felland for the Alumni Garden below the Hill on St. Olaf Avenue, which turned into a place of beauty the eyesore which had been the Lockett property. All agree that it is much more pleasant to have one’s sense of beauty gratified by rows of peonies and a tall hedge of variegated lilacs than to have one’s sympathies drawn out toward a big, yellow, shaggy dog pumping water in a treadmill.
As It Was In The Beginning
To Be Read First, Please
The Big Woods
On the Banks of the Cannon
Up to Manitou Heights
The Hall in the Woods
From Dawn to Dusk
A New Tree Grows on Manitou
In and Out Among the Trees
Boughs and Branches
The Woods Recede