Home » Campus » The history behind Mirror Lake

The history behind Mirror Lake

The Mirror Lake jump during Michigan week began as a tradition in the 1990s.
Credit: Lantern file photo

The annual jump into Mirror Lake will not take place. After tragedy struck at the last jump when a student died nearly three years ago, the university drained the lake this year and threatened legal action against anyone who enters the empty basin.

Random student-led campaigns have been popping up across social media — from bringing buckets of water to the lake to “raving” in the mud. But how far back does the idea of students jumping, or being thrown, into Mirror Lake go?

A cursory search on Google shows that the Mirror Lake Jump during Michigan week goes back to the 1990s, but keep looking, and the history of Mirror Lake goes back further and is stranger than you might think.

To gain a better understanding of the history of Mirror Lake, the first stop was a study by John H. Herrick in 1984 that detailed the history of Mirror Lake Hollow, which cited many past issues of The Lantern. From there, the digital Lantern archives were consulted and a timeline was developed.

A historial photo of Mirror Lake in 1879. Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State

The early years

So what was the first reference of someone entering Mirror Lake? Well, it was in 1895, and it was not a person. According to Lantern archives, a “horticulture wagon” was pushed into the lake as a Halloween prank.

“With the exception of running the caissons over the campus and dumping the Horticultural wagon in the lake, the students were as quiet as could be,” The Lantern read on Nov. 6, 1895. “To guard against trouble the street car authorities had heavy guards at the end of the Neil avenue line and on High street near the University. They were entirely unnecessary, no trouble whatever occurring.”

Next stop: 1902, when the first reference of freshmen being thrown into the lake occurred. There was plenty more of that to come, notably a front-page cartoon in 1909 depicting freshmen in the middle of the lake, dubbed the “Freshman bathtub.”

Wrapping up the early years are two references that were common throughout the history of Mirror Lake: a tug-of-war between freshmen and sophomores across the lake and Bucket and Dipper members being initiated by being thrown into the lake.

These traditions would continue for years, but their first mentions came in 1911 and 1915 respectively, with the tug-of-war being an especially colorful experience.

“It took just three minutes, which seemed to the spectators like three hours, for the Freshmen to drag the Sophomores through Mirror Lake in the annual Tug-o’-War last Thursday afternoon,” The Lantern read on May 24, 1911. “At 4:48 President Thompson gave the first signal and both teams grasped the rope and set their feet in the holes that had been made for them, and a moment later the second shot was fired and the struggle began. At 4:53 the contest had been finished and thirty husky Freshmen were beaming with smiles as they pulled the last wet Soph out of the water.”

Freshmen hazing intensifies

From the first reference in 1902 to the year 1920, there were a few mentions here and there of freshmen being thrown into the lake for various reasons. But 1920 is when it seems the tradition became more serious with approval from student council and the university president. The rules: Freshmen must wear a specific cap at all times and not step foot on the Long Walk, the brick path across the Oval leading up to Thompson Library.

Before you think this is a garish representation of the past, don’t worry — only the assigned enforcers, members of the Bucket and Dipper club, were allowed to toss freshmen in the lake. After all, some sense of decorum must be upheld.

“At a meeting of Bucket and Dipper Friday it was decided that freshmen would be given three days of grace in which to comply with regulations,” The Lantern read on Sept. 18, 1920. “Another meeting of the ‘strong-arm’ organization is called for Wednesday, following which every rule will be enforced to the letter.”

Three whole days of respite!

Cartoon from The Lantern front page on Sept. 21, 1909.

And then in 1922, The Lantern reported members of Bucket and Dipper would even defend freshmen from being dunked in the lake by those who were not permitted to do so, i.e. non-Bucket and Dipper members.

“Bucket and Dipper announces that no promiscuous ‘ducking’ or ‘dipping’ is to take place under the auspices of other organizations,” The Lantern read on April 4, 1922. “Any attempt to haze freshmen in this manner by other organizations will result in Bucket and Dipper’s strong-arm squad defending the freshmen.”

You coming around to these guys being the vigilantes needed on campus yet? It is also worth pointing out that in the same year, the student council rejected alternatives to the dunking in Mirror Lake put forth by faculty members.

Also of note in 1922 is that the last tug-of-war across Mirror Lake took place with the university president saying, “The University is trying to make the lake a place of as much beauty as possible.”

Dunking is done

Freshmen being forced to follow a special set of rules under the threat of being thrown into Mirror Lake: What could go wrong?

Well, freshmen could get fed up with it and plan an event to burn the hats they were being forced to wear. The Bucket and Dipper could try to postpone it. And at the end, a huge fight could ensue, ending with police being called to the scene and a sophomore being hospitalized.

That all could happen … and it all did.

“Ellis D. Hoag, Ag-2, was carried to the hospital and several other students were slightly injured shortly after 1 o’clock today in a fight between city police and a crowd of students that had gathered to see Bucket and Dipper toss in freshmen,” The Lantern read May 21, 1926. “Police Captain T. Boggs said the affair will be investigated as soon as possible. Four uniformed officers, two detectives and Officer North were attempting to quiet the disorder, which began when freshman resisted efforts to duck them. Hoag was hit over the head with a blackjack by an officer in the turmoil that followed.”

Needless to say, the tradition of tossing freshmen ended that day.

In a Lantern article the following year about selecting officers for Bucket and Dipper, it was mentioned offhand that the university president had banned the dunking of freshmen.

Then this appeared in a Lantern editorial on May 5, 1929: “For all practical purposes, freshman rules are already a thing of the past. Although several attempts have been made to revive the freshmen taboos, and particularly the cap-wearing tradition, the rules have been virtually non-existent since Bucket and Dipper was shorn of its power to enforce them.”

Pour one out for tossing other students in the lake.

Further noteworthy events

For all intents and purposes, no traditions with widespread participation popped up between 1926 and the Mirror Lake jump becoming a Michigan week tradition in the ’90s, but there are some events worth noting.

In 1942, tug-of-war made another appearance for tradition week and stuck around for May week in following years. The last reference of tug-of-war came in 1955.

In 1955, references to dunking popped back up in a Lantern editorial with the following reasons given for dunking: honorary initiates, fraternity seniors, pinned or engaged couples and any other willing soul. This was the last real reference to dunking and no mass dunking seemed to be taking place.

Finally, the last reference of Bucket and Dipper initiating members by dunking them in Mirror Lake occurred in 1967.

But the nugget of information to leave you with comes from 1964, when an engaged couple “quarreled” at the lake; the man took back the engagement ring and threw it in the lake, and the woman went searching for it in a bikini. She was arrested but the executive dean finally allowed her to resume the search in different attire.

“And then, about ten minutes after the hunt began, she found the diamond ring. ‘I found it, I found it,’ she yelled,” The Lantern read on April 20, 1964. ‘“Everyone wanted to know what I found, what I had been looking for,’ she said, ‘but I went right home.’”

“The end of the story? Not quite. After telling her startled fiancee Cornelius Karalius, A-3, that she had recovered the ring, she met with a reporter who asked if things were all patched up. ‘Yep,’ she smiled.”

One comment

  1. So it seems that Mirror Lake traditions were at their peak way back in the day…Back when classes used to be single sex, as were dorms. Modern-day students wouldn’t be able to handle that. They’re too used to a co-ed everything environment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.