NMU Campus Folklore

All college campuses have created a body of folklore and Northern Michigan University is no exception. Since 1907 the "Heart of Northern" has been a high and low profile item on campus. The portion that remains in front of the Cohodas building is the original elevation of the campus some three feet above the surrounding ground. It was grass covered and three pine trees graced the top of it. In terms of collegiate folklore it was one of the few places where groups of people congregated for public activities like band concerts, social events and even weddings and study sessions. However it was also the place where a fellow brought his girl and by kissing her inaugurated her as a Northern coed. As the campus moved westward the Heart was forgotten and in 1963 two-thirds of it was removed for the parking lot. Today it is being replicated to the east of Jamrich Hall.

From 1909 until 1946 Rush Day was a part of campus life. It consisted of a trip to Presque Isle and lunch followed by a variety of contests such as balancing on a board over water, tug-of-war, and similar contests. In the 1920s the afternoon ended with a return to the campus playing field where the freshmen and sophomores pelted each other with great quantities of rotten produce and eggs and motor oil while the female students watched -- shades of a medieval tournament.

In the beginning, smoking was not allowed on campus. If you wanted to smoke you had to physically leave the campus property. Students would stand at the edge of the street and smoke. After World War II with the influx of veterans, President Tape rescinded the regulation and at least allowed smoking outside the buildings. Eventually smoking was allowed in the buildings and there are instances in the 1970s where faculty actually smoked while teaching. Today smoking is banned from all campus buildings.

Faculty and staff have entered Northern's folklore. The most "infamous" was Ethel Carey, dean of women from 1924 to 1956 who was known for enforcing rules like: no red dresses to dances, regulating which male dates women took to a dance and how close they could dance, and sending the school nurse to your boarding house if you missed two days of class. Many thought she truly maintained a reign of terror. The list was endless but few knew that in many cases these rules were mandated by the State Board of Education. Later in the early 1960s Beatrice Boyton, a professor in math took umbrage at women students who took their shoes off at dances. In the 1920s President Munson was known to send congratulatory notes to students when they performed well in specific classes. One time he even helped a student developed her class schedule.

When Edgar Harden (1956-1967) was president everyone thought that he knew everything that went on campus. Cleobelle Harrison, the head of the Art Department beginning in 1946, was known for wanting everything to be "neat and clean" for the janitors when they came into her office. Another faculty became so outraged at a company he was dealing with that he sent them a box of rocks COD. Then there was Gene Lehman in math who ran without shoes even on rocky surfaces.

Alumni remember Dr. Albert Burrows in sociology who taught "Culture of Africa" whom they nicked named "Edgar Rice Burroughs." Then there was Almon Vedder in the Education Department who never wore a wristwatch. In the 1960s there were no clocks in the classrooms and classes ended with a automatic bell. Vedder would lecture and magically end the class exactly 5 seconds before the bell rang. He was so dedicated to teaching off-campus that even after he had a heart attack he used student drivers to get him to place like Iron Mt. or Sault Ste. Marie. "Dutch" Barnard in English took roll twice a year -- on the first day of class and on November 15 (start of hunting season). He then stated, "I assume that if you weren't here on one of the days you missed that half of the semester." Beyond this he took no action, but he did dislike deer hunters. Then there was Maude Van Antwerp of English who was known to be extremely kind and provided struggling single parents in the early 1950s with jars of jam. She eventually had a dorm named after her. Mildred Magers was the first female professor to receive a Ph.D. in March 1944.

Northern's folklore is endless and this a mere sampling of the more publishable stories which have surfaced and been preserved.