Posted October 15, 2009 Atlanta
Alumni Association--Georgia Tech Living History Program
Contact Marilyn Somers
Marilyn Somers, the director of the Living History Program with the Alumni Association, explains the origins of many Tech Homecoming traditions.
Can you tell us about the start of Georgia Tech's Homecoming?
The Alumni Association became organized in 1908. The next year they decided they would have an annual dinner. They did that consistently, and they always held it in a big downtown hotel--it was covered in the newspaper. At the dinner the group elected officers and took care of the association's business affairs.
In June 1920 the Alumni Association decided that they would make the annual get together a homecoming event because the school finally had a critical mass of people that they could invite. They had a banquet, and people came from all over. Newspapers reported that one visitor came from Canada, which was a really big deal at that time in history. They played baseball [with] students against the alumni. Over time, more and more things got added to the event.
What are some of the well-known traditions that were added?
We already had the Freshman Cake Race, [which] was later added to homecoming. The race began in 1911 as the freshman race. The alumni would challenge the freshmen to run--and it was a very extensive run. The route went off campus: Students ran to Howell Mill Road, around the waterworks and back. It was grueling!
After a few years it became a regular event and faculty wives began to bake cakes, officially becoming the Freshman Cake Race. This really is one of the oldest homecoming traditions that we still have today.
Shortly after George Griffin graduated in 1918, he returned to Tech from Savannah and became the track coach. Savvy guy that he was, he would watch the finish line to see which freshmen were still running well and pick those students to be on the track team. It was his best recruiting tool.
What makes Georgia Tech's homecoming unique?
The Wreck Parade! I have had alumni tell me that they read stories about the Wreck Parade as children--in other states--that made them want to come to Georgia Tech.
What is the story behind the Wreck Parade?
The first official parade, which is one of our most unique traditions, was in 1932. It was organized here on campus. Prior to that, there were races between Atlanta and Athens. Cars were decorated with slogans. Safety was a concern when one of the cars was clocked at the then-horrendous speed of 51 miles per hour. The local police used to trail the race. When the cars arrived in Athens, they were well-received with a lot of hoopla.
The parade was later organized on campus to make a fixed route that was more safe. Gradually, rules were adapted about the body of the wrecks. At first, the cars had to be of a certain vintage, but now they can be made of almost anything. The route used to be very grand, much longer than it is today.
In 1954, women had their first wreck in the parade through the Alpha Zi Delta sorority. We also used to invite alumni with their old wrecks to participate in the parade, but now we have the campus auto show in the spring.
What is your favorite Wreck Parade story?
There are so many! The parade used to draw famous people each year. But, I just interviewed an alumnus who was celebrating his 50th class reunion. He told me a fun story about how his fraternity designed a wreck that could be steered from both ends.
They spent so much time thinking about how to balance the weight on both ends of the car, how to open the doors, etc., that they didn't think about the mechanics of the engine.
Once they started driving the car, they realized that the radiator had sprung a leak. As a solution, freshmen chewed gum while walking next to the car so when the radiator started to leak, they could quickly patch it with the gum.
Is there a year when homecoming did not occur?
A celebration occurred every year, but the Wreck Parade was discontinued between 1942 and 1946 due to wartime rationing of fuel and rubber. But there was almost always some degree of celebration.
Are there any traditions that we don't practice any longer?
I don't know of any we don't do--we are pretty good about sticking to tradition. In 1969 the Wreck Club started the Mini 500 from another tradition.
Freshmen caught in violation of a RAT rule were made to ride a tricycle around campus all day. The Wreck Club organized this into an event, making it more like the Indianapolis 500. They added rules and pit stops. Women also were allowed to participate in the event.
We've also consolidated the number of individual reunion parties. We used to host 11 reunion parties. Today we have the 25th, 40th and 50th reunion parties and the Old Gold Party. To attend the Old Gold Party, you must have graduated from Tech 50 years ago or more. The reunion parties are grand events!
What is your favorite student homecoming event?
There are so many--I just love to see students getting involved. These are the moments when you make the memories and meet the people who, years from now, you are going to return to.
The football game is the focus, which I find funny because the first reunions were about baseball. We began playing football in 1892, but it didn't really become popular until [Coach John] Heisman. In fact, football used to be a sport where you kicked a ball with your foot.
Students ask me, "what do you think our traditions will be?" I always say that you make your mark when you get involved. I think homecoming should be a celebration of how involved students became and of knitting people together.
Any final thoughts?
As we get larger, homecoming gets more crowded! But I hope we keep on keepin' on. We will never be done making the history of Georgia Tech.
And I wish everyone a really happy homecoming.
The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the world's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities and the eighth best engineering and information technology university in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, Georgia Tech’s more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.