Iowa Alumni Magazine | December 2008 | Features

Homecoming Timeline

By Carol Harker
Attendees at the Iowa Homecoming parade witnessed a varied assortment of vehicles in the grand parade down Clinton Street in 1930. Everything from baby buggies to the famous Delta Tau Delta wrecking crew exemplified the hilarious spirit of Iowa's annual battle with Minnesota.


historical photo of Englert Theatre

Dubbed a red-letter day for Iowa alumni, November 23 saw the Old Gold defeated by the Cardinal of Wisconsin on Iowa Field. Events included:

  • A mass meeting (pep rally) in the natural science auditorium (Macbride Hall);
  • A smoker at the Union Clubhouse in the St. James Hotel (where men gathered for cider, cigars, and apples, with lots of singing and piano playing);
  • A luncheon hosted by local alumni for out-of-town visitors (the menu included chicken pie, side dishes, ice cream, and cake); and
  • "Football Night" at the Englert Theatre, with the University Glee Club as the opening number.


Cirkut camera

At Iowa's second Homecoming celebration, festivities included a 'moving picture operator and a special photographer with a Cirkut camera who took views of the gridiron and the crowded stands surrounding the field' on November 15. The crowd numbered 8,300.

Although 'Ames outweighed Iowa almost ten pounds to a man,' the alumni magazine proudly noted that 'the Old Gold crushed the Cardinal with a display of the fierce, deadly, shifty attack ... and there is no question of the supremacy of Iowa.' Final score: 45-7.

That night, at the university talent show produced at the Englert Theatre, the crowd enjoyed a Spanish sword dance performed by four coeds, dramatic sketches, a quartet performing a collection of Iowa-Ames songs, and the presentation of fancy ballroom steps—judged the hit of the evening.

At the end of the program, 'pictures showing plays in the afternoon game were thrown on the screen.' Iowa fans were encouraged to revel in their team's victory yet a little longer. The week after the game, the public was invited to see 1,000 feet of 'moving pictures' of the game. It was the first time such technology had recorded an Iowa athletic event.


Armistice Day celebration in 1918

Writing for The Iowa Alumnus, Helen Hays noted that "the only two things that Homecomers would have asked of a fairy god-mother happened to us on November 9 and 11. First we defeated Minnesota [final score: 6-0, marking the first time ever Iowa had been able to defeat the Gophers] and secondly, peace was declared with our enemies. These glad tidings kept many of our alumni with us a day longer, and they were not the least among those who celebrated on Washington street at two in the morning."


photo of "pep artist" cheering at Iowa's homecoming game against Ames in 1919

Although Homecoming came late in the fall (November 21-22), The Iowa Alumnus noted that "the decorations were more elaborate than ever before attempted. The engineers fairly outdid themselves in making a fifteen-foot electric sign which they hoisted to the south-east corner of the physics building. This sign had some 200 incandescent globes in colors, working out the legend Soak Um Iowa. An arch extended over Washington Street at the southern exit to the campus, also studded with electric lights. From its center hung a flash sign 'Ames,' alternating with 'Amen.'

"Up and down Clinton street trees and lamp-posts were girdled with cornstalks like huge sheafs stacked at intervals. At the intersection of Washington and Clinton streets was an attractive corn obelisk. Ears of yellow, white and red corn were used in the design, topped with an electric globe. On each side of the base which rested on a triple platform 'Iowa' was laid out in red corn against the yellow back-ground. An arch of old gold greeted one at the campus entrance and pennants lined the central walk up to Old Capitol. The business section of Iowa City was tastefully decorated, and many of the stores had special window decorations and displays."

The weather turned out to be comfortable, a new university song called "On Iowa" was launched and favorably received, the "pep artists" (three college men with megaphones) led the crowd's cheering, and Iowa beat Ames 10-0.

Regarding the college song, "On Iowa" was written and composed by W.R. Law, 04LLB, and entered in a contest sponsored by the Chicago Alumni Association in 1917. Though it didn't win first prize, the song—perhaps because "it is catchy and has a swing which makes it go"—was ultimately adopted by students and alumni.


portrait of John Philip Sousa

On November 12, John Philip Sousa and his band performed a concert in the University Armory, "making a special stop-over date for the Iowa Homecoming."


For the Homecoming game against Illinois on October 15, alumni returned from near and far, including one man from Panama City and another from Trinidad, British West Indies. Iowa Citians were used to opening their homes to house the old grads, but in 1921 'a dearth of space brought an appeal to the mayor to open the jail!'

More than 15,000 watched Iowa defeat Illinois, 14-2, and fans then encountered a problem that persists today. 'If there was a sea of faces in the bleachers, there was a forest of automobiles around town... Autoists parked their cars anywhere they could find space... Very few of these were city cars, as Iowa City people had agreed to leave their cars at home and walk to the game, to give room to our-of-town cars. Such crowds and conveyances contrast sharply with days of the past."


cars mired on muddy road

Some 26,000 spectators watched Iowa defeat Minnesota 28-14 during the Homecoming celebration. Though the wet field couldn't stop the Iowa attack, muddy roads did stop the fans on their way out of town. Local historian Irving Weber, 22BA, recalled the mess that resulted:

"Ten thousand people reportedly had driven to Iowa City for that game, under threatening clouds, praying it would not rain. Their prayers were not answered, and heavy rains came during the game.

"The dirt roads in all directions from Iowa City became quagmires, and the one to Cedar Rapids was the worst, with all its hills and the Iowa River. Five hundred cars were stuck between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, and 1,500 fans were forced to sleep in their cars or seek shelter on the floors of the omes of friendly farmers.

"Some who were stuck close to the Interurban tracks left their stranded cars in the center of the road, sloshed through mud and water and caught the next Interurban, whether to Iowa City or Cedar Rapids. It didn't matter which by then.

"On Sunday and Monday, farmers with teams pulled the cars out of the mud. Many were taken to North Liberty where they were loaded on flat cars and shipped to Cedar Rapids or Iowa City. About 1,800 pounds of tire chains were shipped to North Liberty, which enabled some people to get out on their own."


Pharmacy professor R.A. Kuever originated the idea of selling badges for Homecoming.


On November 5, Illinois bested Iowa 14-0 on the gridiron, but fans were happy nonetheless. As the University of Iowa News Bulletin noted, "the best news for Homecoming travelers is the official announcement that paving is now fully completed on the Johnson County section of federal highway No. 32, and on all of that section of No. 161 which lies between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids." Furthermore, only 12 miles of dirt road remained between Iowa City and Des Moines; gravel and pavement had been put down on the rest of the highway.


Floyd of Rosedale

To defuse the rabid enthusiasm of fans prior to the November 9 Homecoming game, the governors of Iowa and Minnesota agreed to add some levity to the contest. The victor would take home Floyd of Rosedale, brother of the famous Blue Boy in the movie State Fair. Though Iowa lost the game 13-6 and the prize Iowa hog headed north, a longstanding football rivalry would soon be cast in bronze and an autumn tradition begun—the battle for Floyd.


Although Iowa's 25th Homecoming game on October 17 ended in a 0-0 stalemate against Illinois, alumni must have noticed the band's new uniforms: "scarlet coats, caps with black chin straps, black trousers with trimmings of gold braid—the latest thing in band uniforms this fall..." Fans also saw a 40-piece drum and bugle corps arrayed in Scottish uniforms. Organized by the commandant of the military department, the purpose of the group was "to cooperate with the band in entertaining Homecomers at the game."


photo of Nile Kinnick & Eddie Anderson

Fans "screamed themselves hoarse in the final quarter of a thrill-packed Iowa-Minnesota gridiron battle" on November 18. The celebration was so great it shook the administration. President Gilmore and the Board of Deans suspended all classes on Monday, declaring it an official holiday.

Writers for the alumni bulletin suggested, "You won't soon forget these Hawkeyes, and those bright memories some time may rank with the best in Hawkeye football, as the second half century of that sport begins."

The 1939 team became known as the Ironmen and Nile Kinnick was awarded the Heisman Trophy at season's end, while Coach Eddie Anderson received the New York World-Telegram award as coach of the year.


photo of dried corn

When football shared headlines with Hitler, students willingly sacrificed some of the hoopla of Homecoming. After the game on November 7 (when the Hawks pulled off the upset of the year and erased Wisconsin's top national ranking), fans turned in their traditional badges to amass 320 pounds of scrap metal for the war effort.

The fate of the engineers' corn monument was also dictated by the war. "To destroy it would contradict all war efforts of conservation," an article in the Daily Iowan proclaimed. "In keeping with the spirit of the times, the corn will be taken from the structure and will go to feed hogs, helping to maintain the nation's food front, while the electric wiring, so scarce in wartime, will be saved for future uses...." Then the corn monument was burned.


photo of the men's swim club dressed as female Polynesian dancers

Some 10,000 spectators packed the stands over the three-day run of the Dolphin Club's "Fiesta" during Homecoming. The audience enjoyed trapeze acts, racing, diving, comedy, and other routines—including a skit that called for the guys to do some enthusiastic cross-dressing.

At the university's first post-war Homecoming, Iowans were ready to celebrate with a pep rally at the Old Capitol followed by a Homecoming dance.


a fiery arch ignited for the Dolphin Show

A century after the founding of the university, Iowa celebrated its first Homecoming victory in five years when the Hawkeyes beat Indiana 27-14.

In addition to turning out for the game, fans packed the grandstand at the Field House for the Dolphin Club's Water Pageant—a program of high jinks and derring-do put on by Iowa's swimming fraternity. Cobbled ladders and an arch of fire pre-dated safety regulations enacted through OSHA.


Ohio State's bouncing Bucks" were ranked tenth in the nation and expected their contest with the Hawkeyes to be little more than a scrimmage when they came to Iowa City for the October 25 Homecoming contest. "Trusting their over-confidence won't show," wrote Ohio State Journal sports editor Earl Flora, "Coach Woody Hayes' Buckeye gridders will travel... to Iowa City... , intent on making 50,000 Hawkeye Homecoming fans wish they had waited another 25 years before inviting Ohio State back to Iowa Stadium.

"Strangers to this territory since 1927, the talented Scarlet and Gray still is expected to explore the foreign yard stripes four to five times more thoroughly than the downtrodden Hawks."

Despite such prognostications, the Hawkeyes held the highly rated Buckeyes to 42 yards on the ground. In the middle of the second quarter, a passel of Hawkeyes jumped on an Ohio State player who had fumbled an Iowa punt across his own goal line for the safety.

Then, poised on Ohio State's three-yard line in the fourth quarter, the Hawkeyes used three plays to inch within a foot of the goal. They relied on the new split-T formation exclusively, surprising the Buckeyes when George "Binky" Broeder fought his way over the top for another six points.

The jubilant Hawkeyes hoisted their coach high for his first ride to the Iowa showers. What a day! The 8-0 victory was the first win for any Forest Evashevski team against a Big Ten foe and it was Iowa's first victory after a ten-game string of ties and defeats.

"Put your license plate back on the family auto, citizens," the Sunday Des Moines Register advised, "for Iowa won a football game Saturday."

Not only that, but Iowa's victory denied the Buckeyes the conference championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl and marked the end of Woody Hayes' reliance on a passing offense. From then on out, Hayes would depend on his famous "three yards and a cloud of dust"-style play.


photo of early television set

Hawkeye fans not at the October 24 Homecoming game against the Indiana Hoosiers nonetheless enjoyed seeing some of the action, thanks to Iowa's premier televised football appearance. Fans couldn't tune in to all the action, however, as NBC had devised a program format called "Panorama." Switching back and forth among four different regional games, the network only telecast the highlights of each contest.


photo of a two-part "Showboat" float in Iowa's Homecoming parade of 1954

The Dramatic Art Guild won the grand prize for their float "Showboat" in the Homecoming Parade on October 23.

The next day, following Iowa's 19-13 win over Indiana, fans gathered for the ceremonial burning of the corn monument. Students writing for the Hawkeye yearbook noted that "Homecoming at SUI would never be complete without the corn monument, a football victory, and an all-university dance."


photo of the Dolphhin Queen and her court at poolside, 1963, University of Iowa

The Dolphins held their 42nd Dolphin Show, "Nero's Nightmare," during the October 12 Homecoming weekend, with the Dolphin Queen and her court suitably situated in a Roman palace at the edge of the pool.

The Dolphin National Honorary Swimming Fraternity was established at the University of Iowa in 1921 to promote competitive swimming and gymnastics, as well as aquatic interests in general. Proceeds from the group's annual Homecoming Dolphin Show funded a group trip to Fort Lauderdale.


photo of Homecoming mums

The Hawkeye yearbook captured Homecoming as it was celebrated 40 years ago:

"Planning started last spring. Housing units nominated a candidate for Miss University of Iowa, and Pageant Board was busy coordinating new ideas. The 1968 pageant emerged with a new format. Since for the first time Miss U of I would represent the University at the Miss Iowa Pageant, judging was based on each candidate's presentation of talent as well as her beauty, poise and personality. The Homecoming Committee also was looking into the future—arranging entertainment and planning the dance and parade.

When classes started, Homecoming preparation moved into high gear. Those involved forgot about being students until after October 12 when the Homecoming dance would end months of planning. The pageant took precedence for many students since it was the weekend before the parade and game. There were skits to write and costumes to make; candidates practicing walking gracefully and fighting jitters.

The night of the pageant arrived all too soon. Feelings ran high; months of preparation were riding on one night. Each of 22 candidates was determined to do her best. The audience watched a parade of fashion, original skits and beautiful formals and feel in love with each girl. The tough decision—limiting 22 candidates to five finalists—was up to a panel of judges. After a brief celebration, finalists were off to a hectic week.

Other students realized Homecoming's reality when they were besieged by badge sellers and led to believe that without a Homecoming badge one simply could not exist. A 50-cent badge was the only way to show one's loyalty to the University, or so the badge sellers claimed. A favorite joke to pull when asked 'Homecoming badge?' by a zealous salesman was to stop, look at the badge, say 'yes, it is.' and march on smugly.

As Homecoming got closer, Dolphins got into the act. Thursday night before the game, they presented their first performance of 'Dolphin Inferno,' and the swim team announced Vicki Brownlee, Emmetsburg, as their queen.

During these festivities, scores of other students feverishly put the final touches on their floats, adaptations of the theme '2000 A.D.'

About 6:30 p.m., spectators started lining the streets for the parade. For more than an hour, everything from Shriners to clowns on skates to hopeful politicians passed by the reviewing stand on Iowa Avenue. There were bands and floats—some beautiful, some funny. There were queens—some crowned and one yet to be.

As the last float faded away, the crowd did an about face to view Old Capitol and hear the pep talks.

Then everyone scattered—to prepare for Saturday's activities, to join old friends or more than likely to start celebrating early—a toast or two or three to Kay Corbin, the new Miss U of I.

Saturday was sunny and warm—great football weather. Enthusiastic fans filled the stadium early to watch the Hawks go against Indiana. Golden mums adorning most women's shoulders added something special to the day.

The team charged out onto the field to the sound of the Iowa Fight Song and exuberant cheers from the stands. But the game didn't go quite as most Iowans had planned; the Hoosiers won 38-34.

Homecoming spirit, dampened a little but not extinguished, was aroused again at the monument burning. Students and alums watched the victory monument metamorphose into smoldering ashes which would be removed Monday by a university maintenance crew.

Open houses, teas, buffets and dances were still to come. Hundreds of people with a heritage at the university went to the Homecoming Dance at the Union to dance to either The Cryan Shames, a rock group, or Billy May, a 10-piece dance band.

"It seems as if Homecoming should end at about five Sunday morning. But that's not so. The reminiscing and the wilted mums on bulletin boards and the warm feeling remained for many months after."