Green Key weekend has spottiest but most colorful history of all Dartmouth celebrations

by Karla Kingsley | 5/17/02 5:00am

When alumni reminisce about Green Key weekend in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, many remember what was their favorite time of the year -- a weekend of nice weather, girls on campus and, of course, plenty of alcohol.

Alumni described Green Key as a welcome respite from the cold New Hampshire winter -- it was a time to relax, pull out the summer clothes, picnic on the golf course and go swimming in favorite locales.

For many alumni, fraternities formed a central part of the social experience that was Green Key. Alumni recalled that there used to be over 20 fraternities, and each one would have parties and bands playing throughout Green Key weekend. Robert Brown '59, a member of what is now Gamma Delta Chi fraternity, had fond memories of his organization.

"That house is one hell of a house," he said, describing the architecture and the unique structure of the basement. "When we had a party it was nine bands and $2,000 worth of liquor at 1956 prices. And I survived."

Bill Colton '60, also a member of Gamma Delta Chi, remembered another important feature of the house's architecture -- the porch roof. "We used to put mattresses out there and sip beer," he said, noting that it was before the administration "clamped down" on alcohol.

Other alumni memories were also scattered with tales of beer. Because there was less alcohol regulation by the administration "back in the day," nearly all of the frats had parties.

"The only restriction on kegs was how many you could afford," said Jim Adler '60, who described students' drinking as "good sustained partying all weekend long," in contrast with the binge drinking and pong games common today.

In spite of the large amounts of alcohol, Brown said there usually wasn't a whole lot of food in the fraternities -- except for Mrs. Dickey's rat cheese, dubbed by the former College president's wife herself. "We would buy 50 or 60 pound wheels of this cheese," Brown said. The brothers placed the cheese on the corner of the bar, and "it just sat there and grinned back at us the whole weekend."

Along with large quantities of beer and liquor, the frat parties also provided musical entertainment. Frats would invite up to five bands to play during the weekend, and some would even have their own "inter-fraternity hums."

Eric Hatch '68 remembered being impressed by the singing ability of some of the groups, especially Alpha Theta, the "chronic champions." Each inter-fraternity hum was made up of members who would sing on the front porch of each house. He compared the groups to barbershop choruses, adding that each frat tried to get the maximum amount of brothers to join in.

There was, however, one problem. "Half of them were tone deaf, so they were told not to sing," Hatch said. "It was called sandbagging ... you just stood there and moved your mouth."

Although the fraternities played a prominent role in the social scene during Green Key weekend, students eagerly anticipated other parts as well. The Green Key dance was a big event, especially for freshmen, who were not allowed inside the fraterntiy houses.

Brown said that the dance was "a nice measure to take care of anyone who was not part of a fraternity," adding that "the College would hire a pretty damn good band."

The dance was also a favorite activity for students with dates. Since the College was still all-male in those years, the large influx of 1,000 to 2,000 female students from surrounding colleges was another appealing aspect of the weekend.

According to Adler, women came from Holyoke, Smith, Wellseley, Bennington, Green Mountain Junior College and Colby Junior College. Other students invited girlfriends from home.

The women used to rent rooms from town residents, take over some of the dorms and even stay in some fraternities, but not alongside men. "Co-habitation was not routine," Allan Cameron '60 said. The men would move out of the fraternity houses and stay with friends, because rules prohibited men and women from being on the second and third floors at the same time.

Adler compared regulations on co-ed living and male-female interactions to alcohol regulations, noting that during his years, "Alcohol regulation wasn't really an issue. We could have what ever we wanted, but regulation was unbelievable about being alone with women."

Adler remembered one now obsolete rule -- each fraternity had to have a chaperone, usually a recent graduate, who would stay on the first floor of the house. He added that regulations have changed greatly over the years. "We had a hard time hooking up, but we had no trouble drinking .... today it's just the opposite!" he said.

Most alumni contacted by The Dartmouth preferred Green Key to Winter Carnival and Homecoming because of the more relaxed, casual environment it provided, in contrast with Winter Carnival, which was more of a "tremendously big production," according to Cameron.

"I remember [Green Key] as more relaxed. ... There was less pressure to live up to some preconceived idea of a fun weekend," Colton said, referring to the movie "Winter Carnival," which portrayed the Dartmouth holiday.

Brown agreed, calling Carnival "over the top" and noting that Winter Carnival and Green Key weekends were "at least 180 degrees different."

In spite of the relaxed atmosphere, students partied hard and still needed a way to wind down on Sunday -- hence "milk punch parties." Colton dubbed milk punch -- a drink infamous for curing hangovers -- the "college version of a Bloody Mary."

Recounting somewhat unpleasant memories, Colton described the milk-like concoction and how it was made. "I remember the milk punch parties, they would hide an old bathtub someplace and bring it out Sunday morning to make milk punch," he recalled, continuing, "It was the most god-awful thing. It was gross. I can't for the life of me figure out what was in it."

Whether they enjoyed the fraternity scene, the music, the women or the weather, alumni produced fond memories of Green Key, the weekend when, according to Brown, "the back of winter was broken."