homecoming pep rally in 1955
A homecoming pep rally in 1955.

Tales from the Archives: Bygone Homecoming Traditions

Homecoming Week recalls crisp autumn days and traditions like parades, pep rallies and the big football game. But the first St. Thomas homecoming on May 21, 1918, featured a luncheon and a baseball game against Macalester College. What other homecoming traditions have been changed and lost over the years?

One tradition lost to the past is the annual homecoming bonfire. From the 1920s through the early 1960s, first-year students under the supervision of the Tiger Club would spend weeks gathering branches, wooden boxes and other combustible materials to build the pyre.  On the night before the homecoming football game, the fire would be lit. The first-year students would throw their freshmen beanies into the flames as a sign that they had finally become “True Tommies.”  City fire codes, unfortunately, brought an end to this event.

During the 1950s, student groups erected displays on the lower quad to show their school spirit during Homecoming Week. How groups incorporated creative slogans, like “Tilt the Kilts” and “Konk Kordia,” into the displays was one of the criteria the judges used in evaluating the winning entry. The best display won a prize of $15 to be used for future activities of the organizations.

Beginning in 1965, students took part in the annual homecoming raft race. Teams of five would paddle down the Mississippi River on handmade rafts or float on inner tubes from the Franklin Street Bridge to the boathouse dock beneath Lake Street Bridge. After a few years, the college decided that the river was a dangerous place for the race to take place and it was moved to a lake in Minneapolis. But by the early 1980s, this event was taken off the roster of homecoming activities.

The first homecoming queen at St. Thomas was crowned in 1946. The women (nominated by clubs and organizations) were students at other colleges and universities until 1977 when the first St. Thomas women became eligible. A homecoming king was not added to the royal court until 1976. Seen in its later years as just a popularity contest, this tradition faded away in the mid-2000s.