Comfort in the Unexpected: ’24s Meet the ‘Sun God’
I thought I knew exactly what to expect from my freshman fall. I had meticulously read the COVID-19 regulations, researched campus culture and tempered my idealistic visions into a pretty realistic picture of how the term would materialize. But Dartmouth has a way of throwing surprises at us. I hadn’t expected midnight CVS runs to be so crucial to my survival, nor to find such sheer joy in eating maple-flavored cotton candy.
And I certainly never expected that I would encounter, on my first late-night walk around campus, a winged, masked figure carrying a staff and playing vaguely ominous music.
Johnathan James Recor MALS’11 — better known to most students as the Sun God — made his first appearance in character in 2009 during the inauguration of former Dartmouth president Jim Yong Kim. New to Dartmouth, Recor donned the costume as an outlet to express himself, and students were quick to dub him the “Sun God.”
“Leveraging art is a way for me to overcome certain anxieties that I've had, and it ended up developing into more of a performance art piece,” Recor said.
With work commitments increasingly keeping him from campus prior to the pandemic, the Sun God seems to have made a recent resurgence courtesy of COVID-19. The shift to remote work has enabled Recor to spend more time in Hanover, and students have taken notice. He is frequently seen driving around campus in a car adorned with a Dartmouth sign, flag poles, shiny metal spikes and much more. As he drives, Recor plays music, sound bites and movie clips. At night, he often wanders around wearing an ornate face mask, carrying a staff and occasionally donning a large pair of wings.
Recor initially adopted the Sun God costume as a way to cope with personal heartbreak, and when he returned to Hanover this fall, he said he recognized similar feelings within Dartmouth’s student body.
“Everyone was wearing a mask via the pandemic, and all seemed to be downtrodden with their own heartbreak of sorts,” Recor said. “As a result, I felt compelled to return with the mask because Dartmouth is my family, and it’s important to me that we all stick together.”
Interactions with students have been particularly rewarding for Recor.
“I think, because of the pandemic, the interactions have been positive, and I would even dare say loving to some extent,” Recor said. “… The traditional Dartmouth is just not available to [students], so I think when they see me, they get a glimpse of what Dartmouth was, to some extent, and I think it just builds that excitement in them. I'm just happy to do it for them.”
Virginia Wei ’22 didn’t see the Sun God at all for her first two years on campus, aside from occasionally spotting his signature car driving around. But she had heard stories about him from upperclassmen and viewed the Sun God as an almost “mythical person,” who used to be present on campus and had since left Dartmouth behind. Now, she said, you can see him at almost all hours of the day.
The Sun God has also captured the attention of the ’24s. On the same fateful night I encountered the Sun God, Luke Miller ’24 brought the figure to the attention of the entire Class of 2024 in the class GroupMe. When Miller first glimpsed the Sun God, he described seeing a figure backlit by a streetlamp with big wings and a staff. Confused and looking for answers, he sent a picture to the GroupMe and was met with a response from undergraduate dean Natalie Hoyt, who explained that Recor created the Sun God persona to elicit wonder and love for all things Dartmouth.
“[H]e does what he can to create the fire and whimsy of this magical place,” Hoyt wrote.
In the absence of other Dartmouth traditions, encountering the Sun God has become a unifying experience among the ’24s.
“The one thing we can do is go on solo walks alone. And that’s when the Sun God shows up, when you’re walking around in the evening, so I think that’s one thing that all of us have in common,” Miller said. “It’s a pretty bizarre experience. I don't think it happens anywhere else.”
Alexander Kish ’24 also believes that the wackiness of encountering the Sun God has helped the ’24s bond. He said that it gives ’24s something to discuss outside of a shared experience in classes.
“It makes you laugh and chuckle and smile, and we’re all impacted in terms of good vibes,” Kish said.
Many ’24s have taken to chatting with the Sun God on his evening walks around campus. When Kish heard the Sun God’s trademark music outside his dorm at night, he and a few other ’24s went off on an impromptu search for the Sun God. Kish said that the spontaneous and fun search was a bonding experience for him and his dormmates.
The ’24s may have lost First-Year Trips, in-person classes and the Homecoming bonfire, but there are aspects of our own Dartmouth experience that are unique, and that makes them valuable. I might never have expected that encountering a mythical persona on my nighttime walks would become such a staple of my time at Dartmouth, or that I would constantly see the decorated car on my trips to get Collis pasta. But these are defining characteristics of my experience nonetheless, and they’re ones that I’m glad I have.