BYU traditions lost over the decades

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BYU has seen the rise and fall of several sanctioned and unsanctioned traditions over the years, from whitewashing the Y to honoring Homecoming queens to participating in mustache- and beard-growing competitions.

Tim Timmons was a freshman in the fall of 1967, living in the Hinckley Hall at Helaman Halls. With Homecoming approaching, he knew what to expect.

One day at 4 a.m. it finally happened. Senior students woke up his entire freshman hall and herded them to Y Mountain. What seemed like thousands of students lined up on the mountain, according to Timmons.

Once they lined up, the freshmen created a brigade with buckets to whitewash the Y. It took about an hour until the Y was completely whitewashed and deemed ready for Homecoming festivities.

This tradition started in the 1940s and continued for years before it finally fizzled to an end, according to the book “Brigham Young University: A House of Faith,” by Gary James Bergera and Ronald Priddis.

“Now they’d probably call it hazing,” Timmons said. “But it was what was required of a freshman at the time. You took it in the spirit it was intended. I was one at the top that got handed the buckets to throw on the Y. It was a great day.”

Another tradition that gradually disappeared was the tradition of a BYU Homecoming queen. The first Homecoming queen was Bonna Ashby in 1937, according to BYU Magazine.

The tradition carried on until 1988, when a BYUSA president decided the pageant focused too much on outer beauty, according to a Deseret News article. BYUSA cited a comment by Spencer W. Kimball discouraging the use of pageants. This made Crickett Goodsell the last Homecoming Queen in 1987.

Mark Philbrick
Elder Dallin H. Oaks poses as Cosmo the Cougar. Both Elder Oaks and Earnest Wilkinson posed as Cosmo. (Mark Philbrick/BYU)

Rosie Hutchins, an alumna from 1988, remembers watching Homecoming queens being crowned and admiring their photos that were displayed in the Wilkinson Student Center.

“I’m surprised that they no longer do this. It’s a little disappointing. It makes me wonder why it stopped,” Hutchins said. “Those girls were usually outstanding in many areas. The Homecoming queens always drove out in fancy cars during the halftime of the Homecoming game, and it was really elaborate.”

Today, photos of the Homecoming queens can be seen in the Hinckley Alumni & Visitors Center.

Joyce and Jerry Mason graduated from BYU in 1964 and 1965, respectively. They fondly remember the days of the Homecoming queens as well; however, they say the tradition of the Belle of the Y was a bigger deal.

Jerry Mason said when the Homecoming queen, or Belle of the Y, was chosen, university officials would announce the winner by lighting her initials next to Y Mountain.

“My roommate asked a girl out two months in advance and then she was announced Belle of the Y,” Jerry Mason said. “I told him he wouldn’t get to go with her to the dance anymore. He was disappointed. I was joking. He did get to dance with the belle of the ball. He was the big shot at the dance.”

Another lost tradition heralds back to 1925 when students had their own version of “No-shave November.” Each February, the junior class officially had a mustache-growing contest, and the seniors had a three-week beard-growing competition, according to Bergera and Priddis’s book.

One particular lost tradition involving celebrating engagements started in the 1960s. A group of women from a newly engaged girl’s apartment would gather in a circle and tie the girl’s engagement ring to a lit candle. The students would pass the candle around until it reached the bride to be, who would share her news by blowing the candle out and ending the ceremony.

Meanwhile, the fiancé was often taken and thrown into Botany Pond by his friends, according to Joyce Mason.

Other lost traditions include things that may now seem silly. For example, in the 1930s, students would race up the hill on the Third East steps and try to get to the Brimhall Building before the bell stopped ringing, a 60-second deadline.

Another tradition, the “Most Preferred Man on Campus” belonged to the 1940s. The Masons remember this as a time of excitement. “Everybody would go and vote,” Joyce Mason said. “It was a great tradition.”

However, by the 1960s, students had also started jokingly electing “The Least Preferred Man on Campus,” according to “Brigham Young University: A House of Faith.”

Another tradition was the unveiling of Cosmo at the end of basketball games. This tradition ended in the 1990s.

Jerry Mason remembers being at one of these basketball games; but this one was different from the others.

“I remember they unveiled him, and I was shocked,” he said. “They unveiled him, and it was Ernest Wilkinson. Everybody was stunned. He did 100 push-ups one game.”

In another game, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, then president of BYU, was unveiled as Cosmo.

Another tradition started  in 1912 with a BYU physical education class led by Eugene Roberts. Every year class members would wake up and hike Mount Timpanogos to see the sunrise. In 1970, 7,000 students hiked this trail in one day. After that the Forest Service told them they had to stop because they were causing too much damage to the trails, according to campus historian Cory Nimer.

BYU traditions, whether silly, academic or fun, are aspects of the BYU culture that have defined every decade at BYU. While traditions fade in and out of fashion, the act of creating them hasn’t stopped; and by the looks of things, it isn’t likely to stop any time soon.

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