October 24, 2001: On the Campus

Traditions old and new
Two parties symbolize changing perceptions of Princeton

By Zachary Pincus-Roth ’02

Captions: Above, flappers and gangsters bring back the glamour of Fitzgerald’s age on the veranda at Cottage; below, students celebrate the new century and the new presidency. Photo by Denise Applewhite

After its two-week lull following September 11, the university social scene cranked back to life with two straight weekends of vigorous revelry, each with a unique party as the headline event.

The first was Cottage Club’s “Gatsby Night” on September 22. On the Saturday closest to Cottage alum F. Scott Fitzgerald ’17’s September 24 birthday, the club re-creates the lavish gatherings hosted by the title character in the author’s The Great Gatsby, an annual event since what would have been the author’s 100th in 1996. Men dress in three-piece suits of all colors with bow ties and pocket watches, while women come in flapper dresses and boas, or as gangsters in suspenders carrying Tommy guns.

The evening began with cocktails on the patio, as several members played croquet on the club’s meticulously manicured lawn. After a special dinner (punctuated by a toast to Fitzgerald by Gatsby’s counterpart, Cottage President Graves Tompkins ’02), members danced as a DJ played music from the 1920s and then gradually switched to contemporary repertoire.

Though the celebration may strike some as a wealthy club’s materialistic attempt to emulate and romanticize the snobby socialites of Fitzgerald’s era, members say it’s just a fun night of make-believe.

“[The Great Gatsby] exposes the darker side of wealth and prominence, its loneliness and its meaninglessness,” Tompkins said. “I think that wealth and happiness are two separate issues. Cottage has been very fortunate to have this wonderful facility, but I feel pretty strongly that everybody in this club has within them some sense of purpose.”

The following weekend brought on President Tilghman’s installation dinner and dance on Friday, September 28, a one-of-a-kind amalgamation of a post-Cane Spree picnic, USG fall concert, and suburban bat mitzvah. At what other event could we witness Assistant Dean of Student Life Ande Diaz and Outdoor Action head Rick Curtis ’79 on Weaver Track shaking their hips to the likes of ’N Sync and Gloria Gaynor? At what other meal does the entire student body dress up in skirts, blouses, jackets, and ties and weave its way around Jadwin Gym picking up polenta and Christmas-colored tortillas while passing ice sculptures of eagles?

The event’s playfulness tempered its extravagance. Enormous tents were lined with haystacks, cornstalks, and ungainly members of the gourd family. Touches included a wax carving in the shape of the graduate school seal, and Bucks County Coffee served from a 1950 Chevrolet. The entertainment featured a cappella groups, the band, cheerleaders, Grammy-winner Mary Chapin Carpenter h’49, and author A. Scott Berg ’71 as the emcee. The smartest tribute to the new president was the Jadwin scoreboard, which read “19” in every section for the university’s 19th president.

“It feels like family to me,” Tilghman said. “I feel like I’ve been here long enough that I know an enormous number of the people who are here tonight.”

At first glance, these two events could not be more different. If Tilghman’s installation had been planned by an eating club, the faculty would have probably had to carry her naked up the steps of Nassau Hall. And a Gatsby party would never have been endorsed by a new president who wants to rid the university of the preppy, “Gentleman’s C” image left over from Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise.

But both festivities succeeded in bringing old Princeton traditions to the foreground of weekend party nights – one the social and literary, the other academic and administrative. At events like these, Tompkins noted, “people feel like they’re a part of something much bigger than what they can see, something historic and special. That really engenders something far greater than having a good time.”

Zachary Pincus-Roth ’02 is a philosophy major from Chevy Chase, Maryland.

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