The “Dead” Red Cedar Traditions

11 06 2012

The Red Cedar River is a beloved aspect of the Michigan State University campus.  The winding river is part of what makes our university so beautiful.  Since the founding of M.A.C. in 1855, hundreds of thousands of students have made their daily jaunts to class along the footpath of the Cedar, and many know its twists and turns by heart.  I don’t think it is unfair to say, however, that the men and women of the past might have had a more creative

The “Sophs” are losing the tug-of-war battle against the freshmen.

outlook on the numerous possibilities the “Dead Cedar” has to offer.

The co-eds begin their annual canoe trip.

Unbeknownst to many MSU students today, the  Red Cedar used to be the backdrop for a number of undergraduate traditions—not all of which were sanctioned by the school.  Some of the most popular of these events was the annual rivalries between classes, and the Freshman vs. Sophomore competition consisted of a good-hearted “tug-o-war” over the river.  Judging from the photograph, it was clearly a much anticipated event.

Nevertheless, The Red Cedar was used for more than just watching your classmates get pulled face-first into its murky depths.  The banks used to be a location for observation and an inspiration in art classes.  The river itself also offered an escape for the early co-eds.  Yearly, multiple-mile-long canoe trips used to be taken by the women down the Cedar to a picnic area, an event which both personal journals and scrapbooks, as well as early M.A.C. newspapers, spoke about with great excitement.

One tradition which I had heard nothing about was the Water Carnival at MSU, which happened sporadically in the mid-1900s.  The carnival was much like a parade down the Cedar: floats were made by different student organizations and drifted down the river in procession.  Students lined the banks to watch as the creations of fraternities, sororities, theater groups, and others floated past.

The Winter Carnival of 1950 proceeds down the Cedar.

The majority of such events have been lost to time, and now the Red Cedar is enjoyed from afar by students on the banks or by those brave enough to risk its sometimes ominous waters in kayaks, canoes, and rafts.  There remains, however, one venerable tradition that students today still observe: the feeding of the ducks.

Two students in the 1950s feed ducks on the bank.


“On the banks of the Red Cedar…”

29 03 2011

“On the banks of the Red Cedar, is a school that’s known to all.

Its specialty is winning, and those Spartans play good ball.

Spartan teams are never beaten, all thru the game they fight.

Fight for the only colors, Green and White!”

March is coming to a close, and April begins National Poetry Month. To kick off the month in a Spartan fashion, I think it would be interesting to highlight the rich history of  Michigan State’s poetic songs, such as our fight song and Alma mater. These songs, a staple of any sporting event on campus, have an interesting history. Over the years they have gone through numerous changes, and our Alma Mater was once another song! Here is some interesting history about MSU’s songs, cheers, and chants!

Francis Irving Lankey, class of 1916, was a student at MAC back in the day. An avid piano player and yellmaster (the word cheerleader had not been originated yet), Lankey noticed that there was no fight song for MAC at the time. He decided to solve this problem himself and invented one. In 1916 Lankey and his roommate Arthur L. Sayles sat together on a piano bench and began to write. Lankey came up with the tune while Sayles was responsible for most of the words. The song was completed and now had to become popular amongst students. The promotion of the song did not take place until two years after it was written.

A former roommate of Lankey’s (possibly Sherman Coryell ’20) described how the Fight Song came to be copyrighted, published, and began its journey to become M.A.C.’s Fight Song. Lankey’s third love (after being a yellmaster and playing piano) was the ladies. Lankey was known to be a ladies’ man at the time, sharing his fraternity pin with many young women. One of these women he came across was the young Claudice Mary Kober. Somehow, during their time together, Kober acquired the original copy of the Fight Song. In between her acquiring the piece and 1919, she would take the song and have it copyrighted and published at a cost of $90. In 1919, a group of football players, referred to as the “Dirty Five” had the idea to print off and sell song sheets for 50 cents at the Homecoming pep assembly to make money for the school. They sold all 770 copies of the song sheets in less than a half hour! Kober would receive $90 (due to the copyright laws) and the rest would go to the Varsity Club treasury whose funds were still running low as a result of the war. Kober was in charge of the money and she accidentally forgot the original agreement and kept all $385 for herself. Lankey’s roommate then  met J.S. Taylor, the new director of the Military Band. Taylor loved the song and believed that it should be orchestrated for the band. The next fall, 1920, the M.A.C. fight song was played at all football games, and well, the rest is history!  Unfortunately, Lankey did not live to hear his song played at the games. While stationed at Carlstrom Field in Florida, he died in an airplane accident on May 1, 1919.

The original lyrics were different from what we know today. Over the year changes have occurred; most notably in 1925 and 1956 when the school changed its name.

On the banks of the Red Cedar, there’s a college known to all

Their specialty is farming, but those farmers play football

Aggie teams are never beaten, all thru the game they fight

Fighting for the only colors, Green and White

Smash right thru that line of blue, watch that score keep growing

Aggie teams are sure to win, they’re fighting with a vim

Rah! Rah! Rah!

Michigan is weakening, we’re going to win this game

Fight, Fight, Rah Team Fight!

Victory for MAC!

Up, up with colors, unfurl them on high

Fight, rah, team fight!

Our beloved MSU has always had an Alma Mater, however, it is not the one that our students today are familiar with. Our first Alma Mater was a song titled “Close Beside the Winding Cedar” which was adopted in 1907 as the college’s first school song. The lyrics were as follows:

Close beside the winding Cedar, sloping banks of green,

Spread the campus, alma mater, fairest ever seen

Swell the chorus! Let it echo, over hill and vale

Hail to thee, our loving mother, MAC all hail

First of all they race, fond mother, thus we greet thee now,

While with loving hands the laurel, twine we over thy brow

Backward through the hazy distance, troop the days of yore

Scenes and faces float before us, cherished more and more

College Hall and Wells and Williams, Abbot and the rest,

Halcyon days were those spent with you, days of all the best

Fold us fondly to your bosom, Alma Mater, dear

Sing we now their endless praises, Sounding cheer on cheer

For over ten years, students were pushing for an original song to MSC. “Close Beside the Winding Cedar” held the same melody of a song that was the college song for over a dozen colleges all over the nation. “Shadows” was introduced in 1927 and students fell in love with it. Written by Barney Traynot, the line coach at MSC from 1925-1927, the students pushed for this song to become the official alma mater. The faculty, State Board of Agriculture and Student Council all gave approval after a student vote in March of 1949 indicated that “Shadows” was the three-to-one favorite over four songs, including the old school song. Out of 11,383 votes, Shadows ranked in 6,087 votes, Close Beside the Winding Cedar was in second with 2,070, and the other tunes took the others. Shadows continues to be our alma mater today, however the lyrics have been changed over the years. Here are the original lyrics to MSC Shadows:

MSC we love they shadows, when twilight silence falls

Flushing deep and softly paling, our ivy covered halls

Beneath the pines we’ll gather, to give our hearts to thee

Sing our love for Alma mater and they praises MSC

When from the scenes we wander, and twilight shadows fades

Our memory still will linger, where light and shadows played

In the evening oft we’ll gather, and turn our thoughts to thee

Sing our love for Alma mater and they praises MSC

H. Owen Reed, music professor, created the arrangement for our beloved Alma Mater.

Michigan State has also had a history of other chants and cheers.  Here are a few earlier ones circa 1920 for you to enjoy!

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