UC Berkeley >

UC Berkeley traditions, past and present

A-F | G-M | N-R | S-Z

Big ball at Campanile4.0 Ball: The stone ball in front of the Campanile is more than a century old, but the tradition associated with it is much newer. The (nonworking) fountain at the center of the esplanade was donated by the University Cadets in 1905, and a few years ago — nobody knows exactly when — students began referring to the sphere as the "4.0 ball." Apparently, rubbing it right before taking an exam is good luck, along with wearing your lucky socks and getting a good night's sleep.

Angel of Death: One tradition that is no longer haunting the campus is the Angel of Death. Once upon a time notices of academic deficiency were posted openly — and embarrassingly — on a bulletin board in Old North Hall (where the Bancroft Library is now). The man who pinned up the notices was dubbed the "Angel of Death" by students. Such notices are now distributed privately.

card stuntAndy Smith Eulogy: This speech once closed the Big Game Rally. Andrew L. Smith, coach of the famous Cal Bears football "Wonder Teams" of the early 1920s, espoused clean living and good sportsmanship. His untimely death in January 1924 at the peak of the Bears' power shocked the campus. At the rally of 1948, he was eulogized by radio announcer Mel Venter; later, the eulogy read by Professor Garff Wilson to a Greek Theatre audience illuminated only by the dying embers of the bonfire and candle lights became a tradition.

Axe Rally: Before 1916, the rally was held the night before the Big Game. It was the one time that the Stanford Axe would be removed from its bank vault, as alumni retold the story of its capture. The significance of the rally died when the axe was recaptured by Stanford in 1930. The Axe Rally is now only held when Berkeley, not Stanford, is in possession of the Axe; otherwise it's called the Big Game Rally.

The Big "C"Big "C": The Big "C" visible in the hills above campus was built in 1905 by the men of the classes of 1907 and 1908, who in heavy rain formed a human chain to relay building materials up the slopes. Traditionally, sophomores were responsible for keeping the C clean and painted gold. The C was considered fair prey, however; The athletic opponents of California tried to emblazon their colors on it, and the freshmen painted it green on occasion. On the evening before a Stanford game or a coast championship game, the C was outlined in electric lights and guarded through the night.

Big "C" SirkusBig "C" Sirkus: "Big C Sirkus" began in 1911 as a vaudeville show given by the "Big C" Society to entertain high school athletes who were attending a western interscholastic track meet. The show was repeated at the meet annually until World War I intervened in 1914. In 1920, it was re-established, with the addition of an afternoon parade with floats made by campus organizations and groups. In spite of the Great Depression, the Sirkus was financially successful throughout the 1930s. After a hiatus during World War II, the Sirkus was restaged intermittently until 1965, when the ASUC voted to abandon it.

Big Game Week: Big Game Week precedes the playing of the much-anticipated Stanford-California football game each fall, and continues to be the campus's most popular tradition. Early manifestations included the singing of California songs for five minutes at the start of each class, spontaneous rallies between classes, and a rally on the night before the game. The week used to feature an Axe Review, in which campus groups competed for trophies with skits and plays depicting humorous aspects of the Big Game and campus life; "Blue Monday," a day on which students who were discovered wearing red, Stanford's color, were singled out for public embarrassment; and the Big Game Rally.

Blue and Gold colorsBlue and Gold: The university colors of blue and gold were chosen in 1873 shortly after the first class organizations (then called "unions") were formed. A committee made up of representatives from each class was appointed to make the selection. Blue was heavily favored for a number of reasons: the turquoise California sky and deep-blue Pacific ocean, the navy of the student cadet uniforms, and because of the number of Yale graduates who were instrumental in the founding and administration of the university (Yale's color is bright blue). Gold was considered because of the Gold Rush and California's designation as the Golden State, the view of the "Golden Gate" from the campus, and the color of many of the native wild flowers. The committee was unable to choose between them, and turned over the decision to the women of the classes. Rebekah Bragg (later Cummings) '76 suggested to combine the two, which was accepted by the committee.

Burial of Bourdon and Minto: This freshman ceremony began in 1878 and was modeled after a similar tradition at Yale. Bourdon's "Elements of Algebra" and Minto's "Manual of English Prose Composition" were freshman textbooks. At the end of the academic year, copies were burned and the ashes were buried by the class with ceremony. In later years, a long procession of costumed mourners wound about the campus, ending at a roaring bonfire. Unfortunately, this playful commotion eventually became a riot, spilling off the campus into the town, and the administration banned the ceremony in 1903.

card stuntCard stunts: Card stunts began with the Big Game of 1908, when California and Stanford fans wore white shirts and "rooter" caps with one color on the outside and another on the inside. Simple designs such as block letters could be produced by reversing the caps. At the Big Game of 1914, sets of stiff colored cards were supplied to each California rooter. These, when held up in the rooting section according to direction, made an effective, clear-cut pattern. Through the years, ingenious card stunt committees came up with ever more elaborate, animated stunts, including the traditional "Cal Script," in which a huge "Cal" appeared to be written by a great pen gliding smoothly across the rooting section.

Channing Way Derby: Channing Way Derby, which originated with the Sigma Chi fraternity, introduced freshmen pledges to sorority life for more than 25 years. Beginning in 1916 as a way to tally how many women arrived for pledge breakfasts in the sororities along Channing Way (a large beer mug was awarded to the house with the most pledges), the "derby" expanded through the years into an elaborate-yet-mild form of hazing. As the event became famous, all sororities were invited to take part; Channing Way between College and Piedmont Avenues was temporarily closed, and spectators began arriving before dawn. Discontinued in 1942 because of the war, the "Derby" was not revived.

Daffodil Festival: Each spring, Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity sponsors the weeklong Daffodil Festival, selling the yellow flowers on campus for charity since 1946. In the past a Daffodil Queen was crowned at week's end.

Dead Week: Dead Week, the week immediately before final examinations, was formally requested by the ASUC in 1961 and authorized by the Berkeley chancellor in 1963. Quizzes, special reports, or extracurricular activities were not scheduled during this time so that students could concentrate on studies.

Founders' RockFounders' Rock: On this outcropping located on the north side of the campus near the corner of Hearst Avenue and Gayley Road, 12 trustees of the College of California stood on April 16, 1860, to dedicate just-purchased property as a future campus for their college. In 1866, a group of College of California men stood at Founders' Rock, watching two ships out at sea through the Golden Gate. One of the men, Frederick Billings, was reminded of the lines of Bishop Berkeley, "Westward the course of empire takes its way." He suggested that the town and college site be named for the 18th-century Irish philosopher. On Charter Day, 1896, the senior class commemorated the dedication of the campus by placing a memorial tablet on Founders' Rock.

Freshman Rally: Freshman Rally in September welcomed the new class, who were directed by upperclassmen to build a great bonfire. The demand was continually made for "More wood, freshmen!" Class honor required that the supply of wood never run short.

Freshmen-Sophomore BrawlFreshmen-Sophomore Brawl: The Freshmen-Sophomore Brawl began in 1907 after the banning of the Charter Hill rushes. First- and second-year men dressed in their oldest clothes and met on an athletic field for push-ball contests, jousting and tying matches, and a tug-of-war. To prevent undue roughness, the competition was supervised by members of the Big "C" Society. The brawl continued to be held each year, but by the mid-1960s, women students took part along with the men, and the contests were overseen by the Californians, an honorary spirit society.


Golden BearGolden Bear: UC Berkeley's iconic Golden Bear symbol dates from the spring of 1895, when a 12-man track team sent to the East Coast became the first Cal athletic team to compete outside of the state. The team carried two blue silk banners bearing the word "California" and the state emblem, a grizzly bear, embroidered in gold. The athletes exceeded expectations, winning several meets. The banners were proudly displayed at the jubilant homecoming reception, where they inspired English professor Charles Mills Gayley to compose the song "The Golden Bear." It ended, "Oh, have you seen our banner blue? / The Golden Bear is on it too. / A Californian through and through / Our totem he, the Golden Bear!" From then on, the Golden Bear became the mythical guardian of the university.

CampanileHanging of Danny Deever: The "Hanging of Danny Deever," a grim song written by Rudyard Kipling about a soldier who shot a sleeping comrade, was played by the Campanile chimes for the first time by chance at the end of the spring semester of 1930. Students requested an encore that fall, and the mournful melody came to mark the last day of regular classes in a term. After it was played, the chimes were silent for the entire examination period. The custom continued through the 1960s.

Labor Day: Labor Day, first held on February 29, 1896, was a Leap Year holiday during which Berkeley men turned out en masse to improve roads or landscaping. (Women students handled lunch.) That year, the area around North and South Halls was in need of improvement, but legislative funds were not forthcoming. Regent Jacob Reinstein '73 called upon the students to dramatize the need for funds by donating a day of labor to the university. The response and results were so satisfactory that the event continued to be held for three decades. The fruit of their labor included the trail up to the "Big C," complete with drains and culverts, which was built in the course of three hours on February 29, 1916. Eventually, the need for such activities diminished and in 1932, Labor Day was replaced by a grander Big C Sirkus and parade.

Ludwig's FountainLudwig's Fountain: The campus has had any number of informal mascots. Shortly after the Student Union complex (now the Martin Luther King, Jr. building) opened in 1960, the nearby fountain in the plaza became the favorite haunt of a German short-haired pointer named Ludwig. Beginning early in the morning and ending about 5:30 p.m., when he headed for home, Ludwig spent every day in the fountain waiting for a friendly student to throw a tennis ball or feed him. In 1961, by Regental decree, the fountain was named in his honor, the first location on campus to be named after an animal. Ludwig's reign of the fountain ended in 1965, when his owners moved across the Oakland estuary to Alameda.

North Hall stepsNorth Hall Steps: In the words of President Wheeler, the steps of North Hall were "The shrine of those who would loaf and invite their souls." The northern steps were used mainly by the women students, while those to the south were exclusive lounging precincts of the men of the three upper classes. Here students surveyed the passing scene, campus politicians built their fences, and classes gathered before a "rush." On Thursday evenings, the steps were reserved for the seniors, who met to sing and settle campus problems. In 1917, North Hall was condemned to be torn down as worn out and unsafe. On Commencement day that year, some 700 alumni came to say farewell to the steps.

Oski, the school mascotOski: Beloved school mascot Oski was named for a popular cheer that began, "Oski wow wow! Whiskey wee wee!" Originally, various real bear cubs served as Berkeley mascots, but their growth posed obvious problems. William Rockwell '43 brought to life Oski as we know him, sporting a size 54 yellow sweater and blue trousers, at a 1941 freshman rally. A few years later, a secretive committee of unidentified, 5'2"-5'4," gymnastically skilled students took over Oski's schedule and took turns assuming the character.

Pajamarino: Pajamarino was a pajama-clad affair held in mid-October, said to have originated in a 1901 nightgown parade done as a costume stunt. Formerly, the men of each class competed in class skits or stunts, but by the mid-'60s, the contest had become about who could come up with the most original night attire.

Partheneia: Partheneia, an open-air pageant presented each spring term, was begun in 1911 by Miss Lucy Sprague, then dean of women. Students submitted scripts to a competition in the previous fall term, the general theme was the transition from girlhood into womanhood; 500 women took part in the performance. The Partheneia was first performed under the oaks bordering the eucalyptus grove before moving to its home in Faculty Glade. It was discontinued in 1931.

Pedro: The tradition of a long, drawn-out "Pedroooooo," sometimes heard in Berkeley at night — particularly before examinations — is very old and its exact origin is unknown. One account has the daughter of Don José Domingo Peralta, who once owned all the land in the Berkeley vicinity, separated from her handsome Pedro and her ghost still searching for him on moonlit nights. A later version claimed that Pedro was the dog of a former president of the University who became lost shortly before examinations one year. The President promised that examinations would be cancelled if the dog was found. Although their calls were fruitless, anxious students still hoped they might be successful in bringing Pedro home.

Bonfire at Axe RallyRallies: Rallies on the eve of athletic events began when intercollegiate competition commenced, particularly with Stanford, in 1891. Originally, bonfire rallies were held in the area later covered by the Life Sciences Building. Men's smoker rallies were held in Harmon Gymnasium; women held rallies in Hearst Hall. In 1903, the Greek Theatre became the site of bonfire rallies, and certain of these, such as the Freshman Rally, the Pajamarino, and the Axe Rally (now Big Game Rally) became annual events. Before World War II, rallies were masculine affairs with the men gathering by class outside the theatre and snaking into place about the fire. Women students mingled with the audience above the diasoma. By the mid-1960s, the space about the fire was unoccupied, while men and women students sat together in the upper section of the theatre.

rushingRushing: Rushing used to be unrelated to the Greek system. It referred to a contest between freshmen and sophomores in which one class attempted to wrestle and tie the other into submission and was a general collegiate tradition when the University was founded. An organized rush was held at the beginning of the academic year to decide class supremacy, but informal ones erupted on occasion.

student reading a paper on the Senior's Men BenchSenior's Men Bench: Senior Men's Bench was dedicated April 14, 1908, by the classes of 1908 and 1909. Located in the sunny corner between the south steps and the basement entrance of North Hall, it was an ideal place from which to "pipe the flight" (watch the women go by) and discuss current events. After Wheeler Hall was completed in 1917, campus traffic patterns shifted and the bench lost its attractiveness. A new bench on Campanile Way was too windy and was seldom occupied. In 1924, the bench moved across the road from Wheeler Hall steps, but this location too failed to become popular. In 1937 the bench was placed in front of Moses Hall (then Eshleman Hall), where it became the target for pranksters, who painted and hid it around campus until it was a battered eyesore. In 1951, architecture students designed and placed a new bench through a competition. Although the bench was clearly marked "reserved for senior men," the tradition controlling its use faded.

Senior Week: Senior Week, when the graduating class holds a series of farewell activities, began in 1874 with a "class day" before graduation and a farewell banquet in San Francisco on the evening following the exercises. The extent of the celebration varied from class to class, but certain senior week functions are still generally observed, such as the Baccalaureate Sermon and the Senior Banquet. Others are not, like the Extravaganza, an original farce written and performed by members of the senior class, and the Pilgrimage, when seniors would spend their last morning as students walking around campus and stopping at special landmarks to listen to speeches from class leaders and favorite faculty members. Women would dress in white and carry white parasols, while the men wore white trousers and dark coats.

Sophomore lawnSophomore Lawn: Sophomore Lawn refers to the strip of grass dividing the road between California Hall and what is now the Valley Life Sciences Building. California Hall was then the administration building, and sophomore men would gather on the lawn to haze freshmen. The freshmen retaliated by burning their class numerals in the lawn at night. With the move of administrative offices to Sproul Hall in 1941 and the abolition of hazing, the lawn lost its original significance, although students continue to find it a convenient napping place.

Spring Sing: Spring Sing was normally held near the beginning of April as an open competition for representatives of various vocal groups, who competed for individual and group trophies and awards. The 1965 Spring Sing was held in the Greek Theatre, with proceeds going to Cal Camp.

Stanford AxeStanford Axe: The Stanford Axe first appeared at a Stanford-California baseball game in San Francisco on April 15, 1899. The 15-inch steel blade mounted on a 4-foot handle was brandished in the Stanford rooting section to the accompaniment of the taunting axe yell. At the game's end, irate Californians wrested the axe away and succeeded in outrunning the Stanford pursuit. They sawed off the handle and wrapped the blade in butcher paper, hiding it under an accomplice's overcoat. But Stanford had enlisted the help of the San Francisco police. All entrances to the ferries, at that time the only means of transportation across the Bay, were guarded. However, the axe bearer was able to sneak through the checkpoint by escorting a young woman friend, and a longstanding rivalry was born.

The axe remained in Berkeley for 31 years and was brought out once a year for the annual Axe Rally, when it was transported from the First National Bank by an armored car guarded by the Rally Committee and the freshmen. Stanford's recovery attempts were unsuccessful until 1930, when 21 Stanford students invaded Berkeley and one, posing as a newspaper photographer, ignited flashlight powder and tossed a tear bomb as others of the "21" grabbed the axe. Stanford kept the axe hidden in a bank vault for three years until heads among the alumni of both institutions suggested it be made a football trophy awarded annually to the winner of the Big Game.

Victory Cannon: The Victory Cannon was a 750-pound cannon donated by the class of 1964 in time for the 1963 football season. The gun, in the custody of the Rally Committee, appeared at all home games and was fired at the Big Game whenever the football team scored a touchdown or safety, kicked a field goal, or won a game. Two weeks before the 1964 Big Game, the barrel of the cannon was stolen by Stanford students, recovered, stolen again, and finally returned in exchange for the Stanford banner and card-stunt cards.

Wheeler Oak: Wheeler Oak, a tree that shaded the eastern portion of Wheeler Hall steps, was a favorite meeting place for students between 1917, when Wheeler Hall was occupied, and 1934, when the oak had to be removed because of its age. The tree was so missed that students solicited contributions and a bronze commemorative plaque was placed in the sidewalk where the oak had stood. When the road in front of Wheeler Hall was made a part of Dwinelle Plaza in 1952, the plaque disappeared; in response to alumni interest, it was found and restored to its original location.

Source: This material was adapted from the UC Digital History Archives presentation of May Dornin and Mary Anne Stewart's work (first published in Verne Stadtman's Centennial Record, 1968).