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Cal Traditions 101

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Cal Traditions 101
Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Berkeley Lore

By Tamara Keith, Public Affairs
Posted April 14, 1999

Photo: Oski, the campus' beloved mascot

Oski, the campus' beloved mascot, first made his appearance at a 1941 freshman rally. Before then, live bear cubs had served as mascots at sporting events and rallies.

With Cal Day happening this weekend and the celebration of Charter Day just two weeks away, campus traditions are taking center stage. Some traditions, like Cal Day, are still young; others, including Charter Day, go back more than a century.

A birthday celebration for the University, Charter Day marks the day Governor H. H. Haight signed an act creating the University of California in 1868. Berkeley, the first UC campus, has commemorated Charter Day with celebrations of its history and traditions ever since. This year Berkeley is celebrating the 131st Charter Day on Friday, April 30.

In 1873, not long after the university's birth, a committee of students was given the task of choosing the school's official colors. Intending to pick only one color, the committee couldn't decide between blue and gold. A female student named Rebekah Bragg Cummings made the decision easy, suggesting that the campus just use both. Blue was chosen in honor of the campus' founders, who were mostly Yale graduates (Yale's school color is blue). Gold was chosen to correspond with California's nickname, the Golden State.

Until 1895 the campus and its athletic teams lacked an official symbol. That year the school's 12-man track team traveled to the East Coast to compete in a series of meets, carrying with it two blue silk banners embroidered in gold with "California" and the state grizzly bear. The team was an amazing success and when the runners returned to campus, the banners inspired English Professor Charles Mills Gayley to write a song called "The Golden Bear." Since then, the golden bear has been the campus' symbol and mythical guardian.

On March 18, 1905, another long-lasting campus tradition began when the male students from the classes of 1907 and 1908 (then freshmen and sophomores) built a large "C" in the Berkeley hills. The builders formed a human chain, passing building materials from man to man all the way up the steep hill. The "Big C" remains today and is protected and maintained each year by sophomore students.

In 1930 the campus carillonist accidentally started an end-of-semester tradition. He played "The Hanging of Danny Deever," a strikingly depressing song, the last day before finals week began. This mournful melody caught a few students' ears and was requested the following semester. It has been played every semester since on the last day of classes.

Oski, the campus' beloved and mysterious mascot, made his first appearance in current form at a 1941 freshman rally. The bear caricature was wearing a huge padded yellow sweater, blue pants, oversized shoes and white gloves. The human in a bear suit quickly replaced the live bear cubs, all named "Oski," that previously had served as mascots at sporting events and rallies. Oski's name came from an old campus cheer called "Oski, wow, wow!"

In the early 1960s the campus gained an unofficial mascot Ludwig, a German short-haired pointer who spent his days splashing around in the fountain outside the student union building. Berkeley's students were so fond of Ludwig that in 1961 the regents actually named the fountain after him.

At this year's Charter Day event April 30, these traditions and many more will be the subject of a trivia game hosted by Chancellor Berdahl. All trivia winners are eligible to enter a raffle for a free vacation. The competition begins at noon on Dwinelle Plaza, where everyone is welcome to free cupcakes and Cal buttons.


April 14 - 20 (Volume 27, Number 30)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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