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The Dartmouth
May 26, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

The Death of Green Key's Traditions

This Green Key Weekend, most Dartmouth students will head out to parties and hear a few bands, but there are not many traditional activities or events that give the weekend a special character.

This lack of special, traditional events, however, is a recent development. From its origins in the late 1920s to the late 1980s, Green Key Weekend was a time for interfraternity competitions and campus-wide events which not only persisted from year to year, but were the focus of student attention and participation.

Wetdown Ceremonies

One tradition that formerly took place on Green Key Weekend was the "Wetdown Ceremony."

These ceremonies were first held in the 1880s and were an opportunity for outgoing seniors to throw beer, lemonade and raw eggs at newly-elected student government officers as they ran across the Green.

The ceremonies grew more unruly as time passed. Newly-elected officials were later flogged and whipped with belts as they ran across the Green.

In 1966, the College administration decided something had to be done to cut down on the injuries received during Wetdowns.

Chariot Races took their place and Wetdowns were officially banned in 1969.

Chariot Races

Chariot Races, over time, became a battle among the fraternities. The races entailed three laps around the Green and beer kegs were awarded to the fastest, slowest and most colorfully decorated chariot.

Participants were pelted with mud and refuse -- the most traditional being flour and eggs -- as they raced around the Green. In 1968, The Dartmouth described the chariot race as taking place through "a cloud of raining projectiles."

Chariot construction was a crucial part of the competition. Chariots were built out of two wheels and a seat. Fashioned to resemble Roman chariots, some of the chariots were even equipped with all weather tires or inoperative V-4 engines.

Given names like "Thunderbolt" and "Wild Thing," the chariots were thrown together from old rocking chairs, cider barrels, wicker baskets and, of course, kegs. The chariots rarely lasted an entire race due to the high speed turns and rickety construction.

The 1983 chariot race was interrupted and canceled after a Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledge was hit in the head with a full can of soda hurled by excited onlookers.

"I missed a week of classes and had headaches and dizzy spells for a long time," the injured chariot racer said. "I can remember being hit in the head about five times before the last one."

He also blamed a partial hearing loss the next year on his chariot race injury.

The chariot race became the second half of a challenge course in 1984, and, by 1986, it was the final leg of a five-station relay race.

Other activities that took place in the obstacle course were a keg-tossing event and a tug-of-war.

The chariot races disappeared after 1990, because the president of the Coed Fraternity Sorority Council at the time said the focus of Green Key Weekend was shifting from interhouse competitions to individual house events.

He also claimed he had not been made aware of what responsibility he was supposed to take in organizing the Green Key Weekend events before the weekend.


Hums began as an evening of singing in 1899. As years passed, the event evolved from a night of entertainment into a competitive event associated with Green Key Weekend.

By 1937, fraternities had begun to compete with each other to come up with the best original songs.

James Lustenader '66 said when he was at Dartmouth, Greek houses took Hums seriously and "used to start practicing in February."

Lustenader said the winning house appeared in front of Dartmouth Hall or in Spaulding Auditorium during Green Key Weekend.

During the 1970s, Hums metamorphasized. After a brief suspension from campus in the early 1970s due to student unrest, Hums made its return in 1973.

Soon the songs themselves became more boisterous, as the spirit of the weekend changed. As fraternities aimed for humor in their Hums songs, more and more people became offended at their content.

In 1976, Theta Delta Chi fraternity won the contest and upset much of the College community with their song "Our Cohogs," which many deemed offensive to women.

In 1978, Alpha Theta fraternity was condemned by a College administrator for a song which criticized the judges of Hums -- many of whom were, in fact, administrators.

Some Greek houses began their own student-run Hums in opposition to regulations imposed by the administration to limit their offense.

The 1984 Alpha Delta fraternity social chair said Hums were "a lot more fun when taste was not a consideration."

"In the past, the worst of these songs failed to respect the rights and sensitivities of members of the Dartmouth community," read a memo sent from the office of the Dean of the College to all Greek presidents, urging less offensive material.

Popular topics for Hums in 1986 included Thayer Dining Hall, the Office of Residential Life and the shanties that had been placed on the Green during the winter in opposition to the College's divestment in South Africa.

Hums disappeared, along with the chariot races, in 1990, due to both the changing nature of the weekend and the CFS president's failure to arrange the competitions.