Students Writing 1881-1905

Students Writing 1881-1905

The Cremation of Calculus was a 19th-century event in which Lafayette sophomores “would celebrate their departure from Calculus in a spectacular way,” as Megan Cassidy ’12 wrote in her 2009 blog post on the lost tradition. Students gathered on the quad to burn their calculus textbooks in a bonfire and then parade through Easton; later, the tradition included trials, and then plays at the Abel Opera House in Easton in which the Lafayette sophomores foiled the plots of the evil Calculus.

“Judicium Calculi a Classe Sophomorum,” on the centre of a black coffin, was the notice that met the eyes of the gentle people of Easton as they wended their way to church of that quiet Sabbath morning preceding Commencement. But the trail in this case meant condemnation; for, by the universal verdict of the Sophomore class, Calculus was already determined guilty of the basest crimes and judged worthy to be consumed by the avenging flames.

Class of 1885
Great Wizard, thy fame has spread abroad thru all the earth, and reports of thy great power and knowledge have reached our ears. We are from Lafayette, a rising college not far distant, situated in the City of Easton, nearby Jersey, that land of lightning, mosquitoes, tin-type takers and beauteous maidens. And yet, surrounded as we are by these and many other blessings, we are far from being happy. We come, the representatives of the Class of ’90, which, downtrodden and oppressed by a powerful tyrant, seeks relief thru you. Our tyrant’s name is Calculus; his crimes are many and his virtues few. If you love justice get him in your power, and we will bear witness against, and you shall judge, him.

Alden March, Class of 1890

Above is the outside of a card that opened to show
the cast of characters in a Cremation of Calculus play (below).

Only a few traces mark American literary light Stephen Crane’s one semester at Lafayette in the fall of 1890. One is this record of his grades (right), with its particularly ironic “0” in theme-writing. This course was a technical writing class taught by engineering, not English, faculty. Some of Crane’s letters written from Lafayette survive, including one in which he describes his participation in a College tradition known as the “banner scrap,” an epic contest between the freshmen and sophomores for control of a flag suspended from Pardee Hall. Crane’s description below is peppered with his trademark slang.

I send you a piece of the banner we took away from the Sophomores last week. It don’t look like much does it? Only an old rag, ain’t it? But just remember I got a black and blue nose, a barked skin, skin off my hands and a lame shoulder, in the row you can appreciate it. So, keep it, and when you look at it think of me scraping about twice a week over some old rag that says “Fresh ‘94” on it.

Stephen Crane, Class of 1894




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