Hobo Day: a tradition of the past

hobo

Decades ago, UMKC students looked forward to a campus-wide event originally known as “Hobo Day.” The first Hobo Day occurred on May 8, 1935, to celebrate the end of the spring semester. A student handbook from the late 1960s described Bum Friday as it was later called as “a spring holiday from classes” and an “annual peaceful walkout.”

Students dressed as hoboes during the day-long event, sporting overalls, pigtails and bindles. A luncheon was served and the university glee club performed. A late 1960s handbook reads: “Skits satirizing campus life, a car rally and a talent show are held. The Bum Friday Dance transforms students from hobo to formal attire for the final all-campus dance of the year.”

Outdoor activities included a tug-of-war match and a student versus faculty baseball game. Students often threw each other into the campus pond, which was located near Scofield Hall.

A Bum Friday Queen and a Most Fascinating Man were crowned, and awards for various daytime activities were presented at the dance. The daytime activities commenced with a “bum’s rush” to the assembly hall for friendly contests. Students awarded faculty members “bummest hobo or hoboess” and “bummest faculty member,” which was a compliment at the time.

“At 3:30 o’clock the first phonograph recording sounded out its dance music and about 350 bums and partners shuffled to the gay tunes until 5 o’clock,” the May 13, 1935, University News issue reported.

According to Perspectives, UMKC’s online magazine, freshmen were in charge of gathering wood for the bonfire that signaled the end of the UMKC holiday. Most times the bonfire was lit early—by students from Rockhurst College, many speculated—so volunteers vowed to guard the pile on the nights leading up to Hobo Day.

World War II greatly affected Hobo Day festivities. In 1942, the holiday was called Shicklegruber Day, in reference to Hitler’s mother. Students were encouraged to poke fun at Hitler, and a crude representation of him was burned at the annual bonfire. Many students protested the controversial theme, but the festivities carried on. By 1943, there were so few men left on campus that Hobo Day was temporarily called Hoboette Day.

The 1944 yearbook said, “Mike Denny got to kiss Miss Uebelmesser because he had the longest beard.”  Sack races were held, and a parade featuring the “best hobo cars” circled around the Quad. The 1945 yearbook referred to the Hobo Day evening dance as the Kangaroo Hop. “Weiners and cokes” were served on the eve of Hobo Day. The 1946 yearbook mentioned a snake dance performed by students, which became a popular tradition in following years.

By 1950, the Student Council felt the spring holiday had gotten out of hand, so “Good Clean Fun Day” was organized. Instead of the traditional festivities, students spent Good Clean Fun Day sprucing up the campus. This tweak to the original Hobo Day made its first and last appearance that year. In 1951, Hobo Day was renamed Bum Friday and it included the traditional games, dances and bonfire.

Bum Friday continued each year for the next 30 years or so, until student interest in the spring holiday began to dwindle. The Student Life Office was forced to put an end to Bum Friday, and Roo Fest took its place on the social calendar. Activities like the faculty-student baseball game and tug-of-war faded after Roo Fest replaced Bum Friday. However, alumni hold on to the memories of UMKC’s oldest tradition.

Kate Baxendale is managing editor at University News. She is also an intern at KCUR-FM. Kate will graduate with a B.A. in Communication Studies - Journalism and Mass Communications and a B.A. in Spanish in May 2014.

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