Your father’s speed and agility undoubtedly helped him during “bag rush,” an annual rite held each spring in Library Mall. Huge canvas bags, packed with leaves or straw, were arranged on the grassy area between State and Langdon streets, where freshmen lined up on one side of the field, opposite the sophomores. At the starting signal, the undergraduates rushed out, grabbed the bags and tried to wrestle them to their own ends of the field. The messy battle that ensued frequently led to the shedding of clothing. Concerned about the lack of decorum, university officials moved bag rush to the football practice field in the shadow of the stadium and, eventually, the tradition was discontinued.
Speaking of attire, the beanie hat your father mentioned was likely a freshman cap — a small, dark green Eton cap that had adorned the heads of first-year students since the turn of the century. The freshman-cap dress code was repealed in 1923, along with Cap Night, a ritual held in May to represent the end of servitude for the advancing freshman class. Students celebrated by dancing around a large bonfire and burning their caps. Cap Night 1923 (your father’s freshman year) led to several broken bones and serious burns and ultimately, the end of another storied Wisconsin tradition. Little wonder your father had so many tales to tell you.
Read about other campus traditions in WAA’s 150th anniversary Nostalgia Archives.