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1982: The Rise and Fall of Easters

Mad Bowl, Easters 1975 Ed Roseberry

The University’s Easters celebrations began innocently enough in the late 19th century as formal dances, held Monday through Saturday of the week following Easter Sunday. In those early days of Easters, students pledged that they would not attend the evening’s dance if they’d had a drink of alcohol after noon of that day. “These formal dances were in glaring contrast to the carryings-on at Easters in the 1970s, when many students and their dates wallowed about in mudholes, swilling grain alcohol drinks from large fruit juice cans,” wrote Virginius Dabney in Mr. Jefferson’s University. The sense of decorum that infused those early Easters dances gradually gave way to weekends of revelry that centered on the Rugby Road area. In 1939, when spring vacation was scheduled the same week as Easters, students voted to forgo spring break so they wouldn’t miss “the most enjoyable part of the year,” according to Corks & Curls.

In the early ‘70s, rain and water hoses transformed Mad Bowl and the yards of fraternity houses into mud pits, and seemed to wash away the last vestiges of restraint. Easters had become the mud-caked spectacle that Playboy magazine called “the best party in America.”

The collateral damage suffered by the newly renovated McCormick Road dormitories was particularly galling to University administrators. The mud that found its way to the dorms clogged shower drains, flooding entire floors.

Students from around the country flocked to Grounds in ever-increasing numbers to attend Easters. In 1976, an estimated 15,000 people packed Mad Bowl and the surrounding area for a raucous party that signaled both the peak and the beginning of the end for Easters.

The event—with its huge crowds and attendant mayhem—had become unmanageable. “It was becoming obvious that a halt would have to be called on these stupefying collegiate gambols,” Dabney wrote.

The Mad Bowl party was the first casualty during a several-year period in which Easters festivities were either phased out or moved to alternate locations. In the fall of 1982, Robert Canevari, dean of students, recommended ending the University tradition of “Big Weekends.” While other weekends such as Openings and Midwinters were allowed to continue, a final decision was made to terminate Easters, despite considerable student protest.