What Dartmouth event inspired a Hollywood movie, triggered an eight-mile traffic jam on the roads leading into Hanover in 1952, and was called “the Mardi Gras of the North” by National Geographic? If you guessed Winter Carnival, you are correct!
Created in 1910 at the suggestion of Dartmouth Outing Club founder Fred Harris, Class of 1911, what began as the “first field day of the Outing Club,” has grown over its 100-plus years into one of Dartmouth’s most cherished traditions. The event has received TV coverage from NBC’s Today Show among others, and attracted such notable visitors as author F. Scott Fitzgerald, who traveled to Hanover in 1939 to write the screenplay for Winter Carnival with Budd Schulberg ’36.
As Schulberg recounted in a 2003 article in The New York Times, his father presented the renowned author and his son with two bottles of Champagne for their flight from California to New York, unaware of Fitzgerald’s alcoholism. This led to a drinking binge that continued on the train to Hanover and throughout the weekend, which ultimately lead to Fitzgerald being fired from the production in front of the Hanover Inn.
Winter Carnival has evolved over the years, with events coming and going, such as a formal dance that is no longer held and the addition of a community-wide Occom Pond Party. But one thing remains constant about Winter Carnival: It is still one of the country’s great cold weather celebrations, as National Geographic Traveler noted in 2012.
Here are five things you should know about Winter Carnival’s history:
1. In 1922, a popular 50-meter ski jumping event debuted at Winter Carnival. The Vale of Tempe ski jump’s 85-foot tall steel trestle stood on the Hanover Country Club golf course for more than 70 years, with a landing area adjacent to the 13th green. After the NCAA dropped ski jumping as a collegiate sport in the early 1980s, however, the jump was torn down in 1993. A plaque now marks the site where thousands once gathered to cheer the soaring ski jumpers.
2. A “Queen of the Snows” was crowned at Winter Carnival from 1923 until 1972, the year that Dartmouth went co-ed. In a Winter Carnival program from 1928, the Queen of the Snows criteria was described as, "Not only beauty, but the spirit of New Hampshire snows and Hanover winters will grace her personality and costume." Jere Daniell ’55, Class of 1925 Professor of History Emeritus, told the Boston Globe in 2011 that “the pageant attracted hundreds of contestants, and even the interest of Hollywood starlets, some of whom tried to get an edge on the crown.” Suzanne Horney, pictured here, was crowned queen in 1960.
3. “Outdoor Evening” was a popular Winter Carnival figure skating show that featured members of the Skating Club at Dartmouth, as well as top figure skaters like two-time Olympic gold medalist Dick Button. In 1947, the Hanover Gazette described a crowd of “more than 2,000 spectators who sat in Dartmouth’s Memorial stadium” to watch the figure skating performance. The 1960 Winter Carnival featured the Olympic figure skating team and was televised by CBS. The 1948 Outdoor Evening, pictured here, was held on an artificial pond built by Dartmouth Outing Club members at the south end of the Hanover Country Club golf course. The final Outdoor Evening event was held in 1961.
4. When Dartmouth was an all-male school, hundreds of women from New York and Boston traveled by train to attend Winter Carnival as Dartmouth students’ carnival dates. Female attendees were crucial, The Dartmouth wrote in 1912, because Winter Carnival “will not succeed without girls.” By the 1939 Winter Carnival, The Dartmouth reported that “Hanover is set back on its collective heels as girls, girls, girls pour in.” Students and their dates are shown here in the 1930s at the Norwich/Hanover Railroad station in Norwich, Vt.
5. Since the first Winter Carnival snow sculpture was constructed in 1925 (a medieval castle) there have been many impressive efforts, including a fire-breathing dragon. But the 1987 snow sculpture was especially impressive. The 47.5 foot, saxophone-wielding snowman—homage to the “Blizzard on Bourbon Street” theme—set the Guinness Book of World Record that year for “tallest snowman.”