Birth and death of a tradition

Hobo Day was the “bummest” event on campus for more than 40 years.
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With less than two years of existence under its belt, the University of Kansas City (UKC) was eager to establish student traditions. The Panhellenic Council proposed a variety of events before the Student Council for vote. Among them was a Hobo Day, an event in which students would attend classes dressed in old clothes and dine at a picnic in the afternoon.

The first festivities were held May 8, 1935. There was an assembly with the “bummest hobo,” “bummest hoboess” and “bummest faculty member” contests. The glee club performed, there was an afternoon dance, and at 5 p.m., the faculty and students played a game of baseball. A bonfire closed out the evening.

Freshmen were responsible for gathering up debris for the conflagration. On several occasions, someone—probably students from nearby Rockhurst College—lit the bonfire early. To prevent this, students volunteered to guard the brush pile in the nights leading up to Hobo Day.

In later decades, Hobo Day changed. The “bummest hoboes” contest became the crowning of the Hobo King and Hobo Queen. Events were moved outdoors with a tug-of-war over a mud pit or the campus pond, which was near the Administration Building, now Scofield Hall. This led to the beginning of a new tradition: throwing people into the pond.

World War II left a mark on Hobo Day. In 1942, the event was referred to as Schicklegruber Day, and students were encouraged to make fun of Adolf Hitler—he was burned in effigy at the bonfire opening the celebration. There was a protest by students against the Schicklegruber theme, but the event went on. With so few men on campus in 1943, the festivities were temporarily renamed Hoboette Day.

In 1950, the Student Council and the administration felt that the festivities had gotten out of control, so they organized Clean Fun Day. Students spent the morning cleaning and beautifying campus. Clean Fun Day made its first and last appearance in 1950. In 1951, the spring celebration gained a new name: Bum Friday. It was reminiscent of Hobo Day—the bonfire, athletic events, competitions and the Bum King and Bum Queen.

The festivities remained unchanged until the late 1960s. By the early 1980s waning student interest caused the Student Life office to put Bum Friday to rest. Roo Fest took its place in the schedule of events, and many of its traditions, such as the faculty-student baseball game and the tug-of-war, ended. Just the same, Hobo Day and Bum Friday live on though in the memories of the participants and in the joyful faces in photos.

Tonya Crawford is the senior manuscript specialist at UMKC University Archives.

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