Before there was Kesha, David Guetta, Fling tanks and fried Oreos in the quad, there was Skimmer — though its festivities often took a turn for the disruptive.
Skimmer was an annual spring tradition that began in 1949 as Callow Day, named after a beloved Penn crew coach, according to 2006 College graduate and masters recipient Irina Tezaur’s exhibit in the University Archives. Intended as an event for students to gather and cheer on the Penn crew team on the Schuylkill banks, thousands of students ended up joining the festivities.
After Coach “Rusty” Callow left Penn, students made the decision to rename the event “Skimmer Day," a nod to the straw hats worn on Hey Day.
While the festivities attracted thousands of students, including those from other colleges, and other events to accompany it — like the Houston Hall cabaret dance — the weekend was not without controversies.
Skimmer faced its first infractions in 1955 when students began rioting after a Penn crew team victory. About 700 students, 50 policemen, some visitors from Washington and a six-piece Dixieland band "got tangled up in a 'rowbottom' for over three hours early yesterday," wrote 1955 College graduate Martin Griffin for the Pennsylvania Gazette. 44 men and one girl was arrested, and "there were three injured policemen, two damaged fraternity houses, a dented patrol car, a litter of broke glass and paper in the vicinity of 39th and Spruce Streets, and a lot of bruised feelings,” Griffin wrote.
The out-of-control student conduct did not end then. In 1956, when Penn crew won again, students “rowbottomed,” a term coined at the University in 1910, to “serve as the rallying call for mass student disturbances and even full-scale riots,” according to 2008 College graduate Ashish Shrestha’s exhibit for University Archives.
The Fairmount Park Administration, responsible for overseeing the Schuylkill, urged University administration to cancel Skimmer in 1959 as a result of the excessive rowdiness.
Skimmer coincided with Hey Day and the Penn Relays in 1963, resulting in increased festivities for Penn students and more difficult crowd control for police and security. Vice President for Student Affairs at the time Gene D. Gishburn issued a statement on April 23, 1963 chastising the rowdy behavior of Penn students.
"The University regrets exceedingly the series of rowdy, inexcusable and irresponsible acts committed last Friday and Saturday by a number of University students and their guests and will take prompt and severe disciplinary action against those involved... The regrettable incidents are clearly related to the specially scheduled social events which took place last weekend," Gishburn said in the statement. "Under the circumstances, therefore, in the future, permission to conduct activities of this character will be denied [to] University student groups."
After that, Skimmer’s popularity took a downward turn and by 1973 and was replaced by Spring Fling. The inaugural year's Fling activities took place inside the Quad and consisted of performances by the Mask and Wig Band, carnival activities and a headlining performance by Dave Weinburg, a “no-name guitarist,” according to a 1973 Daily Pennsylvanian article.
Today, Skimmer lives on in the form of Skimmerfest, a joint effort started in 2011 by the Class boards and now run by the class boards and the Social Planning and Events Committee following Penn's first home football game — providing sentiments of the old Skimmer without so much of the controversies that accompanied it.Comments powered by Disqus
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