Perhaps it’s because Wisconsin winters are so long. Every year, after the vernal equinox has come and gone and the glaciers retreat and the polar bears return to their lairs, Badger students emerge into the sunlight and immediately want to throw a party. This year’s big spring bash is All-Campus Party, sponsored by the Wisconsin Alumni Student Board. It runs from April 20 to 27.
But ACP is hardly the first effort to launch an annual spring bash on or near campus. A century ago, there was May Fête, complete with a Maypole on Bascom Hill. And in the 1920s, boaters on Lake Mendota decorated their vessels with lights for Venetian Night. In 1915, campus held what it called its “first annual” Spring Festival, which is evidently different from the “first annual” Spring Fest that started in 1940. From the late 1930s to the 1970s, the Lakeshore residence halls held Dormsylvania (ten days of competitive goofing off, nominally inspired by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor), and in 1969, the student-heavy Mifflin Street neighborhood inaugurated Madison’s first official block party. And those are just some of the longer-lived traditions.
In 2001, ACP began carving out its own niche in campus lore, and the party has become popular — largely because its events are broadly inclusive, alcohol-alternative, and cost-free. Still, at 13 years old, it’s a relative novelty.
Black and white images courtesy UW-Madison Archives.