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State Press Play: Where do ASU's homecoming traditions originate?

University Archivist Robert Spindler recounts the history of ASU's homecoming and its accompanying traditions

state press play

Graphic published on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018.

Fall marks the time of year when Sun Devils unite to celebrate some of the longest standing traditions in the University's history. 

Homecoming is right around the corner, and it brings with it a litany of sacred traditions. ASU Archivist Robert Spindler shares a brief history of homecoming celebrations at the University and details the evolution of the deep-rooted traditions we still perform today. 

This year, the Lantern Walk will be held on Friday, Nov. 2. During this event, the Homecoming Royalty Coronation will take place. The subsequent weekend will host the annual block party and parade along University Drive just four hours before the homecoming football game. 

Spindler encourages anyone interested in more information about the history of homecoming to visit the digital repository, through the ASU online library. 


Alfred Varela: With homecoming soon approaching, it is time we revisit some of the oldest and most sacred traditions in the University's existence. But first, it is imperative that we delve into some of the history of homecoming at ASU, and from there, we may understand why the traditions we still cherish to this day have endured over the years.

Robert Spinder: Well the first homecoming dates from 1926, which was a rainy Friday night in December. And the Tempe State Teachers College invited graduates back to campus for a bonfire and a pep rally before the homecoming football game, which was played that Saturday afternoon. My name is Rob Spindler, and I'm the University Archivist for the ASU library.

Alfred Varela: Years following the establishment of homecoming, you begin to see the formation of some of the traditions we still perform to this day and even some that have since been lost in time.

Robert Spinder: The traditions were established over time. They didn't get together in '26 and say, "Gee, we're going to make a tradition this year." But the following year, things started to get going with traditions. They had the first homecoming parade, and we have a nice photo of that online. They actually awarded a trophy to recognize the best parade float in those days, so that was really the beginning of traditions. 

In the '30s, we began to have two homecoming parades, in the morning down Central Avenue in Phoenix, and in the afternoon, the pre-football game parade was held in Tempe. Another important tradition that was established in the 1930s were beard-growing contests that were known by the name "Whiskerino." The male students were asked to grow beards, and the women voted on who had the best beard. In the '30s the tradition of the homecoming king and queen was established. In those days the homecoming king and queen were crowned at a homecoming ball. 

Football was actually suspended from 1943-45 as a result of the absence of male students who could play the game and their ability to field a team, but one thing that did happen in the 1940s was that in these years, the president of the Arizona State Teachers College was actually personally crowned the Homecoming Royalty.

Another interesting thing that happened in the '40s was: in January 1946, a special midwinter homecoming was held to celebrate the end of World War II and to welcome veterans back to the college. The Teachers College and then Arizona State College as of 1945 had a massive influx of veterans after World War II, and so it was kind of neat that they held a special event in January '46 to welcome the soldiers home and back to the college.

In the 1950s, things really became much more fancy and involved. In the 1950s, homecoming featured a full week of events including requirements for western clothing, western dress and square dances, so if you were a student in the 1950s, and you arrived on campus during what they called Western Week, not wearing western clothing, you were punished. You were humiliated by being forced to take a donkey ride around the quadrangle, or you could be incarcerated in the bull pen or actually forced to pay a small fine if you didn't wear western wear in homecomings of the 1950s.

The parade floats in the 1950s became major productions also, and then you had the continuation of a house and actually window decoration contests. This became such an important tradition for the community that carloads of local residents would actually drive to campus and drive around to see the decorations, kind of like how people drive around and look at Christmas decorations. The '50s were really what we think of as the Golden Age of homecoming, and we have some really neat motion picture films that we've digitized and placed online that document the 1950s homecomings.

Alfred Varela: Now that we've touched on a fair bit of homecoming's evolution throughout the years, allow Robert to further expand upon the traditions we still hold dearly to this day. These being the Lantern Walk, Block Party, the parade, and of course, Royalty.

Robert Spindler: In the '50s, for example, you had to buy a ticket – you had to have the resources to buy a ticket to view the crowning of the homecoming king and queen. Later, the requirement to attend the homecoming all was removed, and they moved the coronation ceremony from the ball to Cady Mall, so anyone could attend and actually witness the crowning of the homecoming king and queen.

The Lantern Walk is a very old tradition, and the performance of that tradition has changed quite a bit. The Lantern Walk began in 1917 – it was a commencement ceremony held in May. In that ceremony, the graduating seniors passed the torch of knowledge and leadership to the junior class who were about to become seniors. It was a very solemn ceremony in which the honor of being seniors and the responsibility for leading the student body was passed from the senior to the junior class. In 1994, President Lattie Coor, football coach Bruce Snyder, and 400 alumni students and faculty and staff revived the Lantern Walk tradition with a candle-lit procession up to the "A" on Tempe Butte during homecoming.

One thing that's important about the parade was that it came back. In fact, in 2003, which was President Crow's first homecoming, he asked the University to dramatically expand the homecoming event into a Homecoming Block Party in which they actually closed off University Drive, had the parades there, had an art walk, and craft fair and all these information display tents around the campus. Ultimately, the parade was returned to Tempe in 2003 and rather than Mill Avenue, they actually marched down University Drive. It was reintroduced, parades were reintroduced and the location of the parades was changed back to University Drive by President Crow in 2003.

Alfred Varela: Now for anyone searching for more information about the history of Homecoming, the ASU archives may have just what you're looking for.

Robert Spindler: We have a pretty neat video online called ASU Generations Homecoming. You can go to the ASU digital repository and then search within the repository for ASU Generations Homecoming, and you'll see a pretty neat little video production we did about 10 years ago that has some really cool footage. There's also some original motion picture footage in the ASU digital repository from the 1950s, and actually from the 1930s, that anyone can see and download and reuse.

Alfred Varela: For The State Press, I'm Alfred Varela.

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