From trolley rides to ‘bonfires’: Homecoming over the years

October 18, 2017
  • The Homecoming Committee raises a giant gopher in front of Coffman Union in 1947.
  • A "Mangle Michigan" float from 1934
  • The first dance at Coffman Memorial Union in 1940
  • A float by Alpha Gamma Rho in 1929
  • The Delta Tau Delta house decorated as a theater in 1946
  • Band members joke with Goldy in 1956.
  • The U of M Marching Band walks below the old Washington Avenue pedestrian bridge in the parade in 1960.
  • Three buck-toothed gophers outside of a frat house in 1965
  • A float from the Homecoming parade of 1965, with Goldy carrying a Little Brown Jug in advance of a wolverine
  • The Homecoming queen looking over the bonfire in 1965
  • U football star and former Super Bowl-winning player and coach Tony Dungy with Homecoming queen Ann Gallogly
  • Students with cups of coffee and a megaphone tailgate amidst station wagons in 1970

Since its ever-so-humble beginnings five score and three years ago, Homecoming at the University of Minnesota has delighted hundreds of thousands of students and made memories for the ages.

Looking back at the parade of Homecomings past, it’s been quite a ride. (See slide show above.)

Homecoming started here in 1914, due largely to the efforts of a student named Cyrus Kauffman. Unfortunately for he and the attendees, the event was deemed a flop. According to a newspaper account, only one man attended the Friday night alum banquet, and the Homecoming dance opened with a pair of professors and their wives doing the two-step, “along with a couple of interested bystanders.”

The festivities also included an inspection of new buildings at the Main campus and Agricultural College (be still, my beating heart), and a trolley ride between the two “over the new Inter-Campus special line.” Fortunately, the football team took care of Wisconsin, 14-3.

Over the years, the football game, parade, pep fest and coronation have been staples, while other events have come and gone. For many years the Homecoming bonfire was a big tradition, and “bonfire” is probably an understatement. In 1924, the bonfire was a building drenched in 250 gallons of oil, and in 1937 the fire’s fuel included six pianos and a number of coffins. In 1952 seven fire rigs were needed to needed to bring the fire under control.

The bonfire was dropped for a time (due to cooling interest) in 1962, and a touch football tournament added in its place, which lives on in 2017.

In addition, there have been folk fests and lip sync contests, style shows and talent shows, and in 1932—when the theme was “Back to the Farm”—a donation of three bushels of wheat was acceptable in lieu of the $1.25 admission.

So come back to campus, bring a few bushels of wheat, catch the parade, and sing the Rouser a few times. The tradition lives on!