• Hill Winds Society "Sets a Watch": Students and Alumni Walk the Path of Dartmouth Tradition

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006
    News Type

With their exuberant love of tradition, Dartmouth classes have over the centuries built up a mountain of custom and lore at the College on the Hill—there's scarcely a building or patch of turf that isn't memorialized by a legend, piece of history, or current or past tradition. From the Green, the site of the Dartmouth Night bonfire since 1891 and, before then, funeral pyres for sophomores' math books, all paths lead to tradition: to 105 Dartmouth Hall, where the Great Issues lectures enthralled students in the mid-twentieth century; to Sanborn Library and its daily high tea; to Occum Pond, where the “polar bears” swim; to Parkhurst, where today's students shake the hand of President James Wright '64a during the fall matriculation ceremony; and, of course, to Observatory Hill, where the triumvirate of tradition—the Bartlett Tower, the Robert Frost statue, and the Old Pine stump—reigns over the campus.

Charting a walking tour through some of this terrain has been the first project of the Hill Winds Society, an organization of 25 sophomores, juniors, and seniors created last spring to promote student and alumni interaction. The idea for the tour, which debuted this weekend at Homecoming, came from members Tom Healy '08, Mike Amico '07, and Leslie Adkins '09, who this summer attended a conference of such groups and saw nothing quite like it offered at other schools.

In September, at a planning retreat at the Dartmouth Outing Club house on Occum Pond, the society heard from a panel of alumni about their involvement with Dartmouth and the role students can play in it.

“The alumni care about students' experiences,” says Healy, who coordinated the work of about eight Hill Winds students to produce the tour. “They told us they know Dartmouth has changed a lot in the past 30 years, even in the last five, and they want to see how.” At the same time, he notes, many students are probably unaware of much of the College's history and how it affects them. Dartmouth lore—what the old traditions are, what the newer ones are—seems like a natural starting point for the many alumni and students who are interested in connecting with one another.

Hill Winds students shared the tasks of leading and researching the tour, talking with alumni such as Nels Armstrong '71, director of the Office of Alumni Relations who is this year serving as assistant to President Wright; combing the archives at the Rauner Special Collections Library and speaking with College archivist Peter Carini; and visiting the Greek and other campus-related Web sites.

Amico made a surprising discovery while researching the story of the Old Pine, perhaps the oldest in Dartmouth lore. One of the few pines not felled in 1769, when the College founders razed the woods in the area to build Dartmouth Hall, the Old Pine long stood the test of time on the rocky hill now named Observatory Hill. Eventually, after a lightning strike and other storm damage, the tree weakened, and in 1895 it was cut to a stump. In 1967, with the stump decomposed, the Class of 1927 decided to plant a New Pine nearby, in the Bema. Amico discovered that his own class, the Class of 2007, is to inherit the stewardship of the tree. When it planted the New Pine, the Class of 1927 placed its care in the hands of the Class of 1967, who promised to pass it on in another forty years to the Class of 2007.

“I almost got the shivers when I read this,” says Amico. “I've never heard anyone mention it, so I don't think anybody in my class or many other people know about it. I've now made it my personal mission to help the Class of 1967 transfer the guardianship of the New Pine to us at Commencement this year.”

“History is especially strong at Dartmouth,” says Adkins, who led a traditions tour during Homecoming. “It is a different type of person who attends Dartmouth, and each person contributes to a common Dartmouth experience that bonds us together for life. People are proud to say they attended Dartmouth, not just for the academic prestige, but because of the prestigious community. There are good people here.”

The Hill Winds traditions tour begins at Robinson Hall, progresses down North Main Street to Webster Avenue, turns toward Baker Library, heads up Observatory Hill, and winds back down to Dartmouth Hall and the Green. Tour sites and stories will go up on the Alumni Relations Web site, and the Hill Winds Society is hoping to produce the tour in book form.

In the meantime, society members are brainstorming other ways to bring students and alumni together, including swapping places for a day.