It’s no secret that Princetonians love parades; thousands descend upon our small town for each annual celebration of Reunions, the capstone of which is the “P-Rade.” Each class wears its own specially-designed orange and black jacket for this parade. As the Alumni Association notes, this tradition has roots in other, older traditions. It began officially in 1896, when a parade to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the newly-renamed Princeton University (formerly the College of New Jersey) brought thousands of alumni back for a mile-long walk around town, many in costume. Yet a much less well-known and rather short-lived tradition from the early twentieth century was also called the “P-Rade” and treated locals to many unusual sights and sounds on St. Patrick’s Day each year. The St. Patrick’s Day P-Rade had its origins in the parade of students and alumni in 1896, too. This St. Patrick’s Day marks the 100-year anniversary of the last such P-Rade.
After the 1896 sesquicentennial parade, seniors paraded each year in costume at the Sophomore-Freshman baseball game in October, calling it the “peerade” or “P-Rade.” In 1949, Frank Cist of the Class of 1909 remembered the Senior Parade as “somewhat on the lines of present-day alumni parades at commencement time.” This event quickly became, as the Princeton Alumni Weekly noted in 1903, too distracting for people who wanted to watch the game. Some visitors to campus came just to see the parade, overshadowing the efforts of the athletes. Perhaps emboldened by knowing they were the main attraction, seniors began directly interfering with the game, marching on the baseball diamond itself. As a result, the Senior Council voted that such parading on the day of the game be banned in 1908.
Yet by this time, the October parade was not the only such event taking place. The Class of 1903, described by the Princeton Alumni Weekly as “noted for its horse-play,” brought the costumed revelry of the Senior Parade to a St. Patrick’s Day celebration that they also called the “P-Rade.” That year, the junior class joined in, wearing orange to distinguish themselves from the seniors in green and calling themselves the “Orangemen.” The St. Patrick’s Day P-Rade absorbed the now-banned October Senior Parade and was known as the “Senior P-Rade.” Contemporary accounts give us little insight into the full motivations of this yearly event. In 1914, Varnum Lansing Collins wrote of the St. Patrick’s Day Senior Parade, it “has no reason for existence …” other than that it “has come to be an annual affair…” (Princeton).
Although references to Irish culture were evident in the parade, there was little to nothing about the event that would look familiar to eyes accustomed to modern Irish-American parades. In lieu of “Kiss Me I’m Irish” buttons and the like, students embraced then-common stereotypes of Irish immigrants, for example, wearing police-on-horseback costumes. In 1915’s parade, a float with a sign reading “OUR IRISH DEAN WITH THE GERMANS IN BELGIUM” commemorated Dean of the College Howard McClenahan’s trip to Europe.
World War I largely put an end to these festivities. After the war, Prohibition apparently made it a lot less appealing. Thus, 1915’s parade was the last. Like the Nude Olympics of the late twentieth century, the St. Patrick’s Day P-Rade lasted but a generation in the storied history of Princeton. Nonetheless, while it took place it was one of the school’s most beloved whimsical traditions.
Collins, Varnum Lansing. Princeton. New York: Oxford University Press, 1914.
Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112)
Princeton Alumni Weekly
The Princeton Tiger
Stress and Strain, Princeton University Publications Collection (AC364)