Streaking and the Nude Olympics

In the 1960s and 1970s, streaking became a common prank for students to play on college campuses across America, reaching its zenith of popularity around the mid-1970s.  Princeton was no exception. In fact, the school held onto naked running in public much longer than others; the last major such event at Princeton occurred in 1999.

The most famous individual streaker at Princeton was probably the “Red Baron.” No student has been definitively identified as the Baron, but during a three-year period in the late 1960s, many exams and athletic events were visited by a nude Caucasian male running down aisles and through stands wearing nothing but red accessories, such as hats, scarves, or a cape. Princeton’s classes and events were interrupted by other naked visitors sporadically in the 1970s. Outdoor running was also popular, especially among certain athletic teams who would jog nude around campus following practices.

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Streakers interrupt an organic chemistry class at Princeton University, 1975. Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

Charles “The Streak” Bell ’76 was widely acknowledged to have kicked off a surge in the streaking fad at Princeton in 1974, startling onlookers in an outdoor run near Henry Hall on February 3. His streak may have inspired three others to try the naked run indoors. Richard Goodman, Brian Mcintosh, and Roy Loya, all of the Class of 1974, interrupted a lecture on Roman history in McCosh 10 on March 5, 1974. If they hoped to unsettle history professor Frank Bourne ’36, however, they failed. He was later quoted in New Brunswick, New Jersey’s Home News as saying he found it “hysterical” and “Nobody should take this seriously.” The 200 students present applauded the streakers alongside Bourne, then class resumed.

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Daily Princetonian cartoon depicting streakers interrupting Frank Bourne ’36’s Roman history lecture, March 1974.

The competitive drive many Princeton students had for a variety of activities was quickly applied to streaking. Approximately 75 Princeton students took a nude run from Cuyler courtyard through Holder courtyard, Nassau Hall, Firestone Library, McCosh 10, the Pub (a campus bar in Chancellor Green Hall) and Whig Hall, finishing off with skinny dipping in Dillon Pool, which was crowded with spectators at a swim meet and was being filmed for New Jersey Public Television. Onlookers applauded. They said they wanted to beat Yale’s record for most “nude-people-yards.”

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A group of Princeton University’s competitive streakers, March 1974. Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

Alongside these flash-in-the-pan streaking incidents, somehow nude running also became an organized event held annually in Holder Hall Courtyard known as the “Nude Olympics.” Thomas F. Schiavoni ’72 wrote that during his sophomore year (1969-1970), the first year of coeducation at Princeton, John P. Leidy, Jr. ’72 was known for streaking through the courtyard of Holder Hall. Other Holder residents frequently joined him in races dubbed the “Nude Relays.” A group of Class of 1972 students including Schiavoni and Leidy were known as the “Bachelors Six” and continued living in Holder Hall after that year alongside two other classes of sophomores in succession. They continued their “Nude Relays” in the courtyard and got younger students to join in, but not as an organized, annual event. Elizabeth Greenberg ’02 examined the Nude Olympics in depth in her senior thesis (see sources below), but was unable to determine its exact origins. She disputes Schiavoni’s claim that his class was the first to have had such events, having found conflicting accounts that date the first time for organized athletic activities in the nude to have been much earlier.

Regardless of its exact origins, the Nude Olympics, wherein the sophomore class would run naked in Holder courtyard on the night of the first snowfall, became one of Princeton’s most distinctive traditions despite never being sanctioned by the administration. The Class of 1986 included footage from the event in its video yearbook, which may be viewed here.

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In the fall of 1986, Princeton University’s Rockefeller College gave its residents an orientation present: a t-shirt with this design depicting stick figures engaged in normal Nude Olympics activities. “Proud Sponsor of the Approximately 50th Annual Winter Nude Olympics” was printed on the back. This image appears in Greenberg’s “Barely Remembered.”

Though the streaking fad arose on campus after coeducation began at Princeton, it did not become popular among female students until the late 1980s. Many feminists strongly discouraged participation, seeing it as a display of masculine aggression that was meant to send a message to women that they were not fully Princetonians. As noted in the Daily Princetonian, however, some feminists of the 1990s took a different approach to things. “If being part of Princeton meant taking off your clothes and running around in the snow, by god, women would do it, too. And they would do it proudly…”

Other things changed about the event as well. Heavy drinking became the norm for students to ward off feeling the icy cold night air and inhibitions about public nudity. Intoxicated students engaged in a variety of problematic activities beyond underage drinking, damaging university and local property and assaulting other students. Townspeople complained that the influx of students needing treatment for injuries or alcohol poisoning in the local emergency room prevented or delayed treatment for others who needed it. The event began to attract national attention and disapproval as the mainstream press began to cover the dangers of the annual romp. Sitting U.S. President George H. W. Bush joked about the tradition when he was on campus in 1991, saying “I’m glad that this is May and not the first snowfall. I don’t think Barbara would let me take [part] in your special brand of Olympics.” (Video here.)

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Daily Princetonian cartoon depicting press attention at the Nude Olympics, 1991.

Longstanding criticism intensified in the late 1990s. The Nude Olympics were held for the last time in 1999, when the administration formally chose to ban the event after a particularly raucous year. The penalty for engagement in the Nude Olympics or similar activities is a one year suspension from Princeton. Though students expressed intense disappointment over the loss of the annual ritual, there have been no efforts to revive it.

Sources:

Daily Princetonian

Greenberg, Elizabeth. “Barely Remembered: A History of Princeton University Prank Traditions.” (2002)

Historical Subject Files (AC109)

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