The tradition of Reunions Weekend began more than 100 years ago, when the Class of 1908 mailed out the following message in January 1913 for its five-year reunion: "From June 14th to June 18th, 1913, the old University will be the scene of the first real live reunion that's ever been pulled off at Virginia. Every man who left in 1908, whether a graduate or not, is a member of the class of 1908 and is expected to be there with bells on. THIS MEANS YOU!"
Despite the newness of the event, the plans were elaborate. After congregating in Richmond, alumni boarded "a special train, with a special band and in characteristic uniforms, [journeyed] on to Charlottesville," reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The "characteristic uniforms" for the Class of 1908 were sailor suits—each of the classes in attendance dressed in themed costumes throughout the reunion, including pirates, farmers, clowns and policemen.
In Class of 1908, edited by class secretary Lewis Crenshaw, the scene of the alumni's arrival is described in detail. "The mayor and citizens of Charlottesville, feeling that all honor should be done the men of 1908, appointed a special reception committee to welcome the tired travelers to the old town," Crenshaw writes. "For a few minutes all was confusion. The roars of greetings from several thousand throats blended with the martial notes of the 1908 naval band."
The class then marched down Main Street, accompanied by a car "crowded with representatives of various newspapers, local and otherwise, getting every detail of the reunion for their respective sheets. As a result, all the leading Virginia papers carried extensive write-ups."
However, according to Crenshaw's accounts, Charlottesville citizens didn't need a newspaper to get the reunion details. "It looked as if every man, woman and child in Albemarle County had come in to greet 1908. Strangers knowing nothing of the cause of the excitement would've thought the circus was in town, and as a matter of fact they wouldn't have been far wrong."
Crenshaw reserved his most glowing prose for a gathering at Lambeth Field, featuring a costume parade and pageant for all attending alumni—the oldest of whom was from the Class of 1853—and a baseball game between the class of 1908 and 1913. "On Monday afternoon 1908 inaugurated an event which will be spoken of with bated breath when the Hot Feet's toes have become frostbitten and the Zoos and Sevens no longer corner the chalk market," writes Crenshaw. "Only the press agents of Barnum and Bailey are competent to describe the scene, which cast into insignificance the mimic majesty of the Mardi Gras, and obliterated at one fell swoop the memories of Caesar's triumphal return to Rome."
A reporter from the Virginian-Pilot also seemed impressed by the event: "Not since Thomas Jefferson, Esq., founded the historic old institution of learning has there been such a celebration."
The tradition of bands in the "big tent" is one aspect of the 1913 reunion that still remains. Crenshaw describes that first tent in the same glowing terms used for the rest of that inaugural reunion. "Only those who came and saw and conquered can appreciate the size and magnificence of this canvas court, where mirth and music were twin monarchs, where the soft, sweet strains of the song birds alternated with the martial music of the band."