The Archivist's Angle: Halloween Dunks and Doughnuts
The Freshman Ducking at the University Heights Campus
By Julianna Monjeau (CAS '09)
The “Freshman Ducking” was a rite of initiation at NYU’s former University Heights Campus in the Bronx. The first ducking took place in 1900 on Halloween night at a fountain on campus and was later moved to a granite horse watering trough on the east side of Sedgwick Avenue near Gould Memorial Library. The ducking ceremony was the culmination of a two-week hazing period for incoming freshman. On Halloween night, led by the University band and torch bearing members of the senior class, the freshmen were led in their pajamas to the trough, dubbed the “fountain of knowledge”. One at a time they were dunked into the trough. Once “baptized” as sons of New York University, they then had to pass through a gauntlet of swinging paddles. After the ceremony, the freshmen were treated to doughnuts and coffee at the Lawrence House on campus followed by a Ducking Dance.
The freshman ducking became a tradition at the Heights and even led to the establishment of a Ducking Committee, which in the 1930s and ‘40s received a full page in the Violet yearbook. Of course, not all freshmen meekly submitted to this rite of passage. In 1937, a group of freshman staged a coup and successfully dunked a group of seniors, including the senior class president. By 1959, when NYU first admitted women to the previously all-male University Heights Campus, the ritual ducking was on its way out. In lieu of abolishing the ceremony altogether, in part due to the issues raised by dunking female students and a general cultural backlash against hazing rituals, the ceremony became much more tame and lighthearted. This was to the great disappointment of the older male students, who were still getting used to the idea of a coed campus. An editorial in the Heights Daily News in October of 1959 lamented, “consider the plight of male Heights seniors, a vanishing breed. Hazing and hosing a demure coed is not much fun.”
This plaque was donated by the class of 1960 when the trough was moved during campus renovations in 1959.
During the widespread campus renovations that were taking place in 1959, the trough was moved to the plaza in the center of the Heights campus. In honor of the move, the class of 1960 donated a plaque for the trough. The ducking ritual officially ended with the closing of the Heights campus in 1973, and in 1980, the “fountain of knowledge” was moved to Tisch Hall on Gould Plaza, where it currently resides.
Today, students and many alumni often start their Halloween festivities at the annual Village Halloween Parade, which began in 1973, the same year that the University permanently relocated to the Washington Square Park campus. The NYU Parenting Club also hosts a lunch for alumni and their kids who attend the annual Greenwich Village Children's Halloween Parade in Washington Square Park.
For more information about the NYU Parenting Club and this year’s Children’s Halloween Parade, click here.
Dry Paddles on wet backsides, hot coffee in cold insides. Dry clothes and then the dance. What an evening. Gee Herb that hurts. Today I am a man!"
(Anonymous poem, 1938 Violet)