100 Years of Hobo Day

Generations pass, traditions change, spirit steadfast

Hobo Day 1912 — Students dressed as hobos, the band marched downtown, and a fine spread was consumed before all headed to the football game.

Sounds like how one could describe Hobo Day 2012.

But the picture of Hobo Day 1912 bears as much resemblance to Hobo Day 2012 as the Bummobile does to a hybrid SUV. There are tires, an engine and seats that move people from one location to another, but the look and features of the automobiles are unfathomable to people on either end of the 1912 and 2012 vehicles.

Likewise, students today and then couldn’t imagine what Hobo Day was or has become.

But through the generations, the spirit of students ready to rally together for good times, camaraderie, good food and crazy fun remain steadfast.

Hobo Day’s roots can actually be traced back to a nightshirt parade in November 1907. The 1909 yearbook described the event thusly:

“It was the eve of the game with Dakota Wesleyan and in order to stir up enthusiasm among some of the dormant members of the college and the people of Brookings, a Nightshirt Parade was decided upon.

They certainly were a queer looking aggregation — nightshirts of every description …

“Branches were stripped from the trees in the grove to make a roaring bonfire. Songs and speeches were rendered in a fitting manner and one after another the college yells were given. …

“As the fire began to die down, torches were prepared, a line of march was formed, and headed by the band, started for the city. Arriving downtown, they gently removed from the opera house a few lukewarm students and forced them to don nightshirts and get in line. A grand march was enacted on Main Street and the noise shook the buildings.”

The idea of men dressed in nightshirts, common in that era, may seem incomprehensible to today’s reader.

But what upset college authorities then was that the men were accompanied by college women dressed in sheets. It was announced that “it was undignified and unseemly for college women to roam the streets of Brookings draped in sheets,” according to a 1924 Hobo Day edition of the college newspaper.

So 1911 marked the end of the Nightshirt Parade.

Hobo Day tried first in Missouri

Credit for a new celebration — Hobo Day — goes to Raymond Adams Dutcher, who was raised in Brookings and earned bachelor’s and Master of Science degrees in chemistry in 1907 and 1910, respectively. He also did graduate work at the University of Missouri and earned a Master of Arts degree in 1912.

But he learned about more than biochemistry and nutrition at Columbia, Mo., which had its own hobo day celebration.

The event failed there because too many authentic hobos turned out and scared off the college students. However, at South Dakota State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, the students figured Hobo Day would work here if proper precautions were taken.

The first Hobo Day

The 1924 special edition of the college newspaper described that first Hobo Day — Nov. 1, 1912, — this way:

“With the assistance of the town law enforcers, who promptly ‘jugged’ any unlooked-for visitors, the day was put over with great credit to all concerned in the fall of 1912. The problem of providing eats for the crowd of merrymakers was met by the Women’s Club of the city, who offered to feed the students in true hobo style.”

(Jug, meaning to imprison, was a common term in that day and later was seen in Hobo Day floats — “Jug the ______.”)

According to the 1914 yearbook, printed in May 1913, on the original Hobo Day, “the campus was transformed into a hobo camp … the girls having adopted resolutions to co-operate with the boys. There were ‘bos’ slim, fat, tall and short, and Indians from many tribes.

“Everyone attended class the first two hours, but very little knowledge was added to our already over supply. At ten o’clock, hobos and Indians assembled in the chapel, from which place they marched to the depot to meet the Yankton football team.

“The parade was headed by the band in hobo attire. … Some members of the band were hardly recognizable, even by their closest friends.”

After the depot rally, “a rush was made for meat markets, bakeries, grocery doors and back doors. By noon, all had arrived at the jungles (wooded areas) and were busy getting their hobo and Indian dinners.

Some had ‘mulligan stews,’ others boiled beef steak or roasted wienies and all had a good supply of bread, butter, ‘spuds’ and coffee.

“After dinner had been eaten and the fires had been put out, everyone went to campus” for vaudeville entertainment, the football game, and a ceremonial dance led by the band at halftime, the yearbook describes.

Railing against the razor

Yes, it was a different world. To wit, in 1924 famed State College botanist N.E. Hansen had a chrysanthemum show, which attracted 24,000 people.

Many of the early traditions, including the dressing as Indians, disappeared over time.

But whiskers — and decisions to raze or raise them — are timeless. In early Hobo Day history, men would devote two weeks to beard building. Soon the standard was three weeks of growth before Hobo Day.

By the late 1930s the one-month club was fully established.

By the late 1940s, beard growing was an event itself.

In a ceremony of mock solemnness, members of the Blue Key honor service fraternity would don black robes to serve as pallbearers for the burying of the razor. A wooden razor, an eight-foot long replica of a straight edge razor, was brought onto the field by members of Blue Key in a procession led by the Bummobile.

Trailing the pallbearers were members of Stakota Club, the women’s pep squad.

The event took place at halftime of a football game a month before Hobo Day and included a recitation of the razor rules:
• Natural growth of the beard will not be hampered or disfigured by trimming.
• Men who deem it necessary to shave will apply for a shaving permit to the board of regulation, which will meet from 12:30 to 1:00 every day in Room 210, Student Union (then in Pugsley). “No man will shave without a permit!”
• All violators of these regulations will be subject to action by a Kangaroo Court.
• Full proceedings of the court, including those summoned to appear, shall be published in the college newspaper.

Day continues as spirit of State

Probably not what Hobo Day creator Raymond Adams Dutchers envisioned when he hailed Hobo Day as an appropriate homecoming event for the college back in 1912, and he also couldn’t have imagined today’s popular Miss Homelycoming pageant and the humorous Cavorts skits.

However, Dutcher may have envisioned a future college newspaper saying something like this:

“Our hobos and hoboettes are the spirit of State, without them Hobo Day would be meaningless. Hobo Day has become the living symbol of South Dakota State College.” (An Oct. 18, 1950, editorial in the Collegian.)

More than 60 years later, Hobo Day continues to serve as the living symbol of South Dakota State University.

Dave Graves

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