The more things change, the more they stay the ‘Best Ever’

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On March 1, 2022

Since 1908, Miners have celebrated St. Patrick, the patron saint of engineers. Yet, the event has evolved considerably from that first celebration. As S&T prepares to celebrate the 114th annual “Best Ever,” here’s a look back at what the event looked like a century ago.

Harry Nowlan, the 1912 St. Pat, rides in his chariot through downtown Rolla. This marks the first year in which there was an evening program.

By 1922, Miners had been celebrating the holiday for more than a decade and had introduced new activities to the celebration. Between 1912 and 1915, the junior class, which was responsible until 1930 for planning the festivities, added snake killing and had St. Pat – portrayed by a student, then as now – ride a manure spreader during the parade. They also initiated a ceremony to crown a queen of St. Pat’s, later known as the Queen of Love and Beauty. All of these activities continue as part of modern festivities. By the early 1920s, the celebration had developed a schedule of events that pleased both the student body and the residents of Rolla. St. Pat’s grew into a highly anticipated community event.

Paying homage to ‘the big boss himself’

James E. Jewell, St. Pat of 1922, watched over the “stunts” during this authorized holiday, according to the Rollamo. Activities included a parade, the Masquerade Ball and the knighting ceremonies.

A century ago, everything began on a Friday morning when the campus and the community took time to “pay homage to the coming of the big boss himself.” St. Pat, after arriving on a hand car, led a colorful parade from the Frisco Railroad depot downtown, where the Rolla Bandshell now stands, to campus. Rolla residents packed the sidewalks to see the bands and floats, which students often used, according to the 1922 Rollamo, to “set forth vividly, before the wide world, the weaknesses, caprices, sins, whims, and idiosyncrasies” of the faculty. All the seniors, dressed in green robes and caps and rode along in cars, while the freshmen trailed them carrying their shillelaghs. 

Once all reached the campus, St. Pat and his court mounted a platform constructed in front of Parker Hall. In 1921, the freshman class detonated some “aerial bombs” to honor the seniors. One of the bombs released a parachute “from which floated a large silk Miner flag.” 

After a speech, St. Pat commanded each senior to come forward and “kow tow” before kissing the Blarney Stone. He then dubbed each a Knight of St. Patrick. Also, some faculty were dubbed knights. A program of music and comedy followed this ceremony in the Parker Hall auditorium in the afternoon.

‘The supreme event’

In 1926, the gym was transformed for the masquerade ball. The cold, rainy evening was forgotten as Dorothy Keiser was crowned the Queen of Love and Beauty for the 1926 St. Pat’s celebration by St. Pat Ralph G. Hilpert.

A gala masked ball, which all considered “the supreme event of the day’s festivities,” came on Friday nights. The junior class decorated Jackling Gymnasium, transforming it into a “veritable dreamland.” The seats above the gym were packed with onlookers who marveled at the crepe paper streamers of various colors, shamrocks, and balloons, all illuminated by a crystal sphere of mirrors that reflected light from spotlights. The event started at 9 p.m. with an orchestra, usually from St. Louis, performing for 200 to 300 masked dancers. Usually at 11 p.m., St. Pat would be seated on his throne and be joined by the St. Pat Queen who was accompanied by maids of honor. Then came a “Grand March,” often led by professors or local dignitaries followed by all the masked dancers, in front of St. Pat. Dancing would continue into the early morning hours.

On Saturdays, the fraternities and eating clubs would hold house parties where the male students could invite women to join them prior to another evening of dancing in the Jackling Gymnasium.

‘The best that had ever been’

In 1930, at midnight, the heralds announced the approach of St. Pat to the Masquerade Ball. Silence reportedly fell over the crowd as former queens entered Jackling Gym, part of a procession needed to crown Madge Lennox the 16th queen of St. Pat. A.J. Tiefenbrun as St. Pat stepped forth to welcome her to the throne, according to the Rollamo.

On Sundays, the exhausted out-of-town revelers boarded trains to return home as students proclaimed that their St. Pat’s celebration, with all its pomp and display, was “the best that had ever been.” As freshman Harry Kessler, after his first St. Pat’s experience, wrote to a friend in 1921, he had had “one Hell of a Time.”

Most years the annual St. Pat’s celebration attracted positive attention in the statewide media. For example, one St. Louis reporter claimed that the event surrounding the St. Pat’s activities made Rolla “a town you ought to see before you go to Paris and die.”

In subsequent years, the annual St. Pat’s celebration continued to evolve, but it has remained an event that draws alumni, current students, faculty, staff and the community together more successfully than any other moment in the academic year.

Dr. Larry Gragg, Curators Teaching Professor emeritus of history and political science, is the author of Forged in Gold: Missouri S&T’s First 150 Years. The book chronicles the university’s history from its founding in 1870 through modern times.

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On March 1, 2022. Posted in email, Featured, Gateway Featured Stories, News

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