Possibly True and Highly Plausible History of the Princeton Nude
Definitely Not an Explanation!!
Dec., 1970 ; died April 11, 1999
While many Princeton
traditions have their origins in student activities from the 18th
or 19th centuries of campus life, the Nude Olympics clearly came
from a much more liberal period of societal history. It is virtually
impossible to conceive of students from any previous eras participating
in such wholesale lapses of decorum, and even if students were
so inclined, few would have dared tempt the wrath of the less
permissive deans. However, by 1970 many of the restrictive rules
of campus life from prior eras, including mandatory chapel attendance
and parietals, gave way to a more liberal set of behaviors.
Nude Olympics, an unofficial school tradition since 1970, begins
annually at midnight of the first snowfall as hundreds of cheeky
sophomores stampede through Holder Courtyard, which is lined
with a thousand or so spectators. Mobilizing at a few hours'
notice, students ready themselves by donning hiking boots and
hats and applying some body paint.
Snow Bunnies by Julie Rawe '97.
The Plausibly True
Origins of the Nude Olympics
The true origins
of the Nude Olympics can be traced to the confluence of several
inter-related events on campus beginning during the 1970-71 academic
year. At approximately the same time, traditional public attitudes
were facing real challenges, as Broadway theater included nudity
in plays such as "Hair" and "Oh, Calcutta," and the first Woodstock
Concert (1969) was often characterized as a Three Day Love-In
of 500,000 young people.
As the song
said, clearly, "Something was in the air!"
happened to be the first year women were enrolled at Princeton.
However, due to their limited numbers (128) and concerns by members
of the administration about security and safety of their new charges,
all the women that first year were housed in Pyne Hall, at the
southern end of campus.
women enrolled in the University as full-time students for the
first time in the Fall of 1969 (excluding the handful of Critical
Language women who were on campus in the later 60's studying various
languages not offered at their alma mater). In the fall of 1970,
during the second year women were on campus, a most peculiar tradition
was born somewhat spontaneously that would evolve to take on almost
mythic proportions in campus iconography, and even garnered a
mention from the President of the United States when George Bush
spoke at the dedication of Fisher-Bendheim Hall in 1991.
Like many other
campus traditions, the originators/instigators did not realize
that their actions would ever be replicated, modified, and institutionalized
by later generations. As a consequence, the origins of the Nude
Olympics were wildly mis-reported by members of the Press, especially
since the established University Public Relations officers were
less than enthusiastic about the coverage this peculiar event
or tradition received. In its final years, attempts were made
to control media access to the event, even barring photographers
and members of the Press from Holder Courtyard, where it was sequestered
in vain attempt to calm it down.
At that time (before the full implementation of the residential
college system), the vast majority of freshmen and sophomores dined
in five contiguous halls at the corner of University Place and Nassau
Street (now part of Rockefeller and Mathey Colleges). This dining
'Commons' happened to be a long, uphill walk from many parts of
the campus, and for years sophomores tried to select rooms in
Holder, Campbell, Joline, and Blair Halls, all close to Commons
(and far from Pyne Hall). To further exacerbate the situation,
the architecture of Holder was fairly unique on campus, a complete
quadrangle, with only four entrances making it an insular, enclosed
area, often the site of misbehavior and mayhem.
and Influences on the Development of the Nude Olympics
same period, there were also several other incidents and characters
that also deserve mention in any thorough history of the Nude
Olympics. These include:
- the Red Baron,
a mysterious male student who appeared at several exams in the
spring of that year, clad only in tennis shoes, a World War
1 fliers hat and goggles, much to delight of test-takers;
- El Deuco Perverto,
a mock heroic candidate for student government whose campaign
celebrated the perversity of campus life and was known for campaigning
door-to-door in the dormitories while wearing a trench coat
and sunglasses, and occasionally "flashing" his constituents.
One of the many highlights of his campaign was a parade across
campus in a Cadillac convertible, led by his hand-picked security
crew of scantily clad women, the Secret Cervix;
- In addition, Streaking
swept the American college campuses during the 1974-75 academic
year, at Princeton and elsewhere;
- Campus lore always
mentioned a notorious but unconfirmed "nude volleyball
game" that allegedly occurred sometime during the Sixties
that was sometimes reported to have migrated from behind one
of the clubs to the median strips of Route One;
- On several occasions
in 1969-70 (and perhaps earlier) members of the Rugby team had
been known to return to their rooms with their clothes torn
from their bodies and each year the team staged a nude run.
Arguably the First
Nude Olympics, December, 1970
well documented reports, one resident of the third entry of Holder
from a group called the Bachelors Six was especially known for
his antics, that sometimes included Reading Period tension reduction
tactics with bottle rockets, unauthorized bonfires, and occasional
sprints around the courtyard in the buff. Most times he soloed,
but on rare occasion that year, he managed to coerce another to
participate, jokingly dubbing the activity "Nude Relays."
of 1970, their junior year, a surprise snowstorm settled across
campus on a Thursday evening, only days before Holiday Recess
was to commence. One of them, John Leidy '72, telephoned Public
Safety to complain that several naked students were cavorting
in Holder Courtyard. At the time of his call, nothing had in
fact happened. Immediately thereafter, he also telephoned
the offices of the Daily Princetonian with a similar report
and asking if they would be covering the "Nude Olympics." When
the Prince confessed ignorance of said event, Leidy then
suggested they get verification by calling the Proctor's Office.
When the inquiring Prince reporter phoned the Proctor's,
his inquiry was met with the response, "We just received a call
about that, and are sending an officer to look into it."
Not long thereafter,
a handful of individuals were indeed cavorting in the snowy courtyard
in various states of undress, at times racing one another across
the courtyard. Whenever a Proctor appeared on the scene, these
"athletes" would disappear into one of Holder's many entryways,
and then run through the underground corridors, to resurface on
the other side of the courtyard, much to the delight of the growing
crowd of onlookers who cheered their many escapes.
Whether or not there
was full fledged nudity on this occasion is subject to some debate,
but this event became known as the "snow riot" or "nude Olympics"
and these antics were spoken of laughingly across campus by the
I will take
credit for being part of a standing midnight group that whipped
Tom M. into a "frenzy" using the stimulant of choice in those
days. That coupled with loud music and an unexpected snowfall
caused Tom to open up the ground floor window and announce in
his booming, melifluous voice, "IT'S SNOWING" (Tom always did
have a keen sense of the obvious)...Lee K. was among the first
to respond to Tom's riotous mating call and within minutes at
least a dozen of us were swirling around in the snow in Holder
courtyard. At this point people like S. and K. were certainly
involved. By the time our numbers reached a hundred or so we
decided to head to Witherspoon Hall, then Brown/Dod, then were
headed for Palmer Square when the authorities intervened adn
persuaded those of us leading this crowd (which had now grown
to over 500) that it was probably best for everyone if we went
to Dillon Gym instead, which we did and had hot chocolate, and
then went back to our rooms peacefully.
..Weather like we are now experiencing always puts me
in a mind of those days."
was that there was a big parade in Holder on the first snowfall.
However, I'm not sure how much clothing was worn because it
was all-male in Holder at the time.
I also recall that Santa Claus made an appearance!
The First Time
is Easy, It's Harder to Establish a LastingTradition
After that first
nude snow frolic became legend, its story was passed to others
on campus who were not there and it quickly began to take on mythic
proportions. As long as the original perpetrators were on campus,
it was not too difficult to convince at least some of them to
repeat their performance the following year-- on the occasion
of the first snowfall-- and a modest number of others brazenly
declared that they too would run. With the graduation of that
first group, the tradition might have died out completely, but
instead, it slowly and inexorably gained momentum and even developing
a set of "rules," especially when it became an established sophomore
class tradition. Initially, this was simply a word-of-mouth preference,
but before too long, it became a class expectation, anticipated
and discussed throughout their first and second years.
What began as
a prank then grew to become jocular legend, and many contend that
its growth and ritualization led to its ultimate undoing. In its
earliest incarnations, the event was still something naughty,
laughable, and ignored as much as possible by institutional authorities.
But as it became more and more expected, by both the undergraduates,
the town, and the media, it began to attract more attention than
many were comfortable with. At the same time, the number of participants
was increased as peer pressure, fortified by several hours of
anticipatory alcohol consumption, fueled the derring-do of many
sophomores whose uncertain attendance gave way to actual participation.
From Deviant Behavior
to Mainstream Practice
figured in the ultimate demise of the Nude Olympics:
The Decline and
Fall of the Nude Olympics
about the Nude Olympics was also a source of embarrassment, as
its occurrence garnered unwanted attention in a wide variety of
media outlets. Once it became well established, at first snowfall
many local spectators would make way to campus, along with photographers
and even television crews seeking to capture the event for wider
distribution. One year, a grossly overweight fifty-year old local
resident decided he would join in all the nudity, much to the
dismay (and concern) of the student participants.
By the 1990's
it was clear that the Nude Olympics had evolved into a tradition
that the administration found difficult to accept, not only because
of its nature, but more importantly because of the inherent risk
of serious incident in an increasingly litigious society. Each
year, several participants had to be taken to McCosh Infirmary
or the Princeton Medical Center in various states of inebriated
unconsciousness, sporting injuries from slipping on the ice and
falling. The crowd inside darkness of Holder courtyard was well
in excess of 600, and there was real danger from having so many
people in a confined space.
some participants got carried away and made forays into the Borough,
variously resulting in confrontations with police for such transgressions
as shattering a stained glass window in Winberie's Restaurant
(its replacement paid for out of the Sophomore Class Treasury!),
arrests for disorderly conduct and lewdness, shoplifting while
running naked through a convenience store, and damage to a chandelier
in Forbes College.
Sadly, the acts
of a few led to the end of something quite laughable for many.
Even those who never attended or participated in the Nude Olympics
often got a chuckle from their existence. For instance, in January
of 1999, near the end of a men's basketball game against Brown,
a low chant could be heard coming from the student section. At
first, only a few students picked up the cheer, but slowly-- as
more realized what was being shouted-- their voices joined in
a unison seldom heard from normally sedate student fans.
"Let's get naked!" chanted the crowd.
"Let's get naked!", followed by two claps, then three quick
As the cheer soared, and could be heard by more and more clearly
by those in attendance, suddenly it dawned on all those from the
Princeton side--there was a heavy snowstorm outside, the first
appreciable snow of the season. Tonight would indeed be the night
of the Nude Olympics!
This final rendition seemed more egregious than any of its
predecessors, so finally members of the administration appealed
to the Trustees for intervention. On April 11, 1999, the Board
of Trustees voted to ban the annual tradition [Full
Report]. The following August, prior to the beginning of the
academic year, each undergraduate received a person letter calling
his/her attention to this ban. In addition, their Parents and
Guardians also received a similar letter, that included the sentence,
"I want to encourage you to be sure that your student also is