On June 11, the 2010 Ypsilanti Crossroads Summer Festival featured a rousing opening set from roots and blue grass band Dragon Wagon.
Dragon Wagon was joined on...read more
When a group of U-M students whooped it up in Ypsi after torching their beanies—it was they, instead, who were burned.
College upperclassmen at U-M, Normal College (EMU) and other universities used to require freshmen to wear beanies, or skullcaps, as a time-hallowed stigma. Normal College beanies were colored green.
An upperclassman passing a lowly freshman at Starkweather Hall or Pease Auditorium could yell “Pots off!,” at which the freshman was obliged to doff his beanie in respectful submission to his superior.
The 1925 Normal College yearbook’s freshman section features a poem about the reviled cap:
We now our green lids bid adieu
For Cap Night is not far away.
From Frosh to Sophs we’ll soon evolve,
At last to Seniors grey.
“Cap Night” occurred at the end of freshman year, when the soon-to-be-sophs burned their caps in bonfires. At this rite of passage, spirits sometimes soared a bit too high.
“A rowdy element of the U of M student body caused some little annoyance in Ypsilanti last evening after the burning of freshman caps in Ann Arbor,” said the May 21, 1910 Ypsilanti Daily Press. “In accordance with a regular custom the annual burning of freshman caps took place with due ceremonies, but for some there was evidently not sufficient excitement after the cap fires had died down...”
120 U-M students crammed onto the interurban train headed towards Ypsi to celebrate, safely out of sight of their Ann Arbor professors—and well within range of the pretty teachers-to-be at the Normal.
The paper continued, “The discharge of a few guns and a display of rowdyism constituted the pastime, and when the 12:26 interurban came along they decided to return.”
A surprise awaited the revelers.
“Coming over from Ann Arbor only a few more than half the crew paid fares,” said the paper. “Accordingly a cheap trip home was planned but—not so easy. An employee was stationed at each door of the cars and fares collected as the students entered. Some went in, some were broke and some wanted to wait for the paper train [the early morning newspaper delivery train]. Most of them managed to get aboard and the few that were left wended their way to the depot and returned to Ann Arbor on the morning train.”
It turned out that the students had done some damage to a cafe, and to the reputations of some of the Normal girls. The U-M students were called to account.
“Wednesday was reckoning day at the U of M.,” said the June 3, 1910 Ypsilanti Daily Press. “Two law students who were concerned in an escapade that resulted in one Ypsilanti Normal girl being sent home were given a hearing. It was decided that the men were not so much to blame as were the girls and the former were turned over to their dean for whatever discipline she may see fit to impose.”
The paper continued, “The literary department suspended for one semester a student who on cap night last week broke up the dishes in a local restaurant. The man was arrested at the time and paid a fine of $25 and costs.
Another student was not allowed to graduate with his class, “but will probably be given a diploma in October,” said the paper.
Hat-related trouble did not end with graduation. Winter hats made of felt posed particular dangers, said one May 2, 1895 Ypsilantian newspaper advertisement for Michigan Avenue clothiers Alban and Johnson. The ad was titled “About That Straw Hat.”
“Some folks will wear a felt hat all the year round, one of that kind of hats which absorb the sun’s heat, helps the hair off, produces premature baldheadedness, and constitutional headache,” said the ad.
It continued, “The earlier a straw hat is put on the better. Most folks wait too long. Good sense says, ‘Wear a straw hat as long as you can, a felt hat as little as you can.’”
The ad advised readers on selecting a straw hat. “Be sure to buy a straw hat which conforms to your head, which is easy; in which the air can circulate; with the brim wide, to keep the sun’s rays from striking your eyes.
“This is the kind of hat we make our specialty,” the ad revealed, “a truly hygienic hat; a hat to wear all season long, and be good for the next season, and perhaps the season after; looks well on the head; fits well, feels well, and don’t cost much. See our stock before the assortment is broken.”
However, even the most careful selection of the proper summer straw hat could still lead to disaster, if worn too early in the year.
“The first spring hat of the season made its appearance on the streets of Ypsilanti today,” announced the May 5, 1909 Ypsilanti Daily Press. “Crowds of boys gathered around the unfortunate possessor, and, finally driven to cover, a derby was substituted by the wearer.”
The paper continued, “The man who so boldly flaunted the July headgear did not seem to realize that only two days ago, snow covered the city, or that another snowstorm would probably descend on Ypsilanti ere another 24 hours passed.”
“The man who pleads guilty of perpetrating such an offense on the good citizens is C. F. Boorom,” said the Press. “His only excuse is that ‘he didn’t know any better.’”
Boorom worked as a foreman in the office of the Press’s rival paper, the Ypsilantian.
Clearly, the Ypsilantian hired persons of questionable judgment.
The Press concluded, “And the worst part of the entire affair is that it was last season’s hat that he was guilty of wearing.”
This tale of iconoclasm and public humiliation offers a useful lesson to today’s Ypsilanti gentlemen:
Don’t be that guy. Save your straw hat for July.