It is quite satisfying when something you did 35 years ago is remembered. Not that many people associate my name with it any more.... but Playboy magazine called it "the best party in America." You don't know who built the Chrysler Building...but it still stands. I am sure the architect will take that. So will I.
I was 20 years old. And handed a responsibility larger than any kid should ever have. But that is the way the University of Virginia works. Students are given 100% authority to run all aspects of student life, including the Honor System. That forces leadership skills at a critical age....and in spite of the academic reputation that UVa carries....I have always said that I learned more as a student leader than I did in the classroom.
The party pictured above is the "Easters" celebration in Madison Bowl....across the street from the famous Jefferson Rotunda. It appears as an article on the last page of this month's University of Virginia Magazine, entitled "The Rise and Fall of Easters."
THE RISE: UVa used to be a men's school. Since the late 1800s, the week after Easter was set aside for a series of formal dances, hosting the various prestigious womens' colleges in Virginia. In those early days, students pledged that they would not attend that evening's dance if they had had a drink of alcohol after noon that day.
Predictably, by the early 1970s, the parties had degenerated into grain-alcohol driven mayhem. Every one of the dozens of fraternities in the Rugby Road area would hose their yard down into mud pits, and you'd find oil drums full of alcohol concoctions: sometimes smoking from dry ice and with a bra floating on top. People would stagger from frat to frat, swigging juice cans full of it. Great stuff. One of the reasons I went to Virginia....(just kidding...well not really).
ENTER ME: In 1975 I was elected President of the Inter-Fraternity Council, and in the prior year I was Social Chairman, which meant for a 2-year-period I was unofficially in charge of this beast-of-36-heads (the number of fraternities). The Rugby Road neighborhood association (Venerable) decided that year to put an end to the hijacking of their prestigious neighborhood and they approached the school about ending it all. Dean of Students Robert Canevari called me in and shared the news.
Never one to turn down an impossibility, I volunteered to fix the problem. The first thing I did was to declare that we would have one central party that could be controlled. Then I got every fraternity to sign a commitment to that party, in lieu of their own. To sweeten that deal, I signed the Tams, The Platters and Junior Walker & The Allstars for $10,000. I did not have a dime.
I solved that problem in a way that is incomprehensible in 2011. I was friends with a Charlottesville beer distributor. Twice per year he was offered a promotional discount from the brewery, which he passed on to the local A&P store. He sold me 500 cases of beer at that price, and I sold the cans for $1 apiece at the party. The hitch was that I had to take the cases three weeks in advance of the party, which raised the issue of storing them and making them cold.
I went to see the head Nun at St. Anne's Catholic Girls School, one block from the University. I asked if I could store my beer in her walk-in fridge and pick it up on the morning of the party. She said yes. I probably startled her so profoundly with the request that she blanked out momentarily. At any rate, we made $10,000 in the first hour of the show and paid the bands in dollar bills and change.
Then I solicited "t-shirt security volunteers" and created shocking pink tees with "Easters 1975" printed on them. I wanted the security to be obvious. I still have my shirt, which is now worn regularly by my son-in-law, Brad. I don't know how he got it, but it is better to be used than eaten by moths. Brad was born in Australia a year after this party, so its current use is completely out of context.
Using fire hydrants, we hosed water into the Bowl as promised. We allowed people to set up their grain alcohol, and we told the neighbors to close their shutters. 15,000 people came from all over the East Coast. No further descriptions are needed....
Virginius Dabney (is that a stereotypical UVa name?), the university historian wrote, "It was becoming obvious that a halt would have to be called on these stupefying college gambols."
CLICK TO PART 2: THE FALL
color photograph by Ed Roseberry