Dragon Day

Black and white image of a horse and wagon pulling a dragon, that is draped over students who are walking behind the cart. From the early 1900s. An open-mouth dragon is resting in place while a crowd walks into the beast. Black and white image, taken in 1927. In 1988, a tall dragon made its way down East Avenue. A green paper mache head covers the 1964 dragon, with students draped in fabric making up the body. A. D. White statue adorned with the dragon head in 1965. Ezra Cornell's statue on the Arts Quad is covered in the 1964 dragon following the parade. The 1972 dragon head, waiting on the third floor of Sibley Hall. Students carrying the dragon head out of the studio. Students in 1927, gathered around the drafting table to plan that year's dragon. A dragon clad over a car lies toppled in the road as the body made up of students and fabric, stands to the side. In the 70s a dragon with a small head and long body turns out from behind Sibley Hall to start the parade. The upright dragon in front of Rand Hall, 1988. Crowds surround the dragon in 1987 as it makes it way along the parade route. In 1989, the dragon was set on fire adrift in Beebe Lake. Birds-eye view from 1972. A yellow-bellied dragon passes by Willard Strait Hall in 1987. Students wearing the dragon head and body on the Arts Quad in 1964. A dragon head hanging out of the third-floor window of East Sibley Hall, while students hang out of the other windows. Costumed students join the parade in 1980. A shimmering gold and silver dragon soars over the parade in 2010. The parade in full swing in 1927, in this black and white image taken on the Arts Quad. Last-minute adjustments for the 1981 dragon. The same dragon, up in flames following the parade through campus. The crowd watches as the dragon burns. What's left of the dragon after the ceremonial burning in 1990. Another vantage point to watch the fire, looking up at Sibley Dome.

Every year in March, in a tradition that goes back more than 100 years, an enormous dragon created by first-year architecture students parades across campus. Accompanied by AAP students in outrageous costumes, the dragon lumbers to the Arts Quad where it does battle with a phoenix created by rival engineering students. This rite of spring is one of Cornell’s best-known traditions.

History of Dragon Day:

The idea of Dragon Day is credited to Cornellian Willard Dickerman Straight '01, who believed that there should be a distinctive College of Architecture Day. At the time, he chose St. Patrick's Day and the first College of Architecture Day was celebrated with the hanging of orange and green banners (orange to appease the campus's Protestant population), shamrocks, and other thematic decorations on Lincoln Hall, which at the time housed the College of Architecture. Later, the additional theme of celebrating St. Patrick's success in driving the serpents out of Ireland became attached to the holiday.

How the first parade evolved into a well-known and celebrated rite of spring for the first-year architecture class — ending with the burning of the dragon on the Arts Quad, a tradition that has since been abandoned — has not been revealed. Dragon Day as it is celebrated today (with an actual constructed dragon, and the associated ceremonies) evolved sometime in the 1950s when the serpents previously used "grew up." Though history also isn't clear when the actual phrase "Dragon Day" was introduced, speculation suggests that it might have also been in the 1950s. Prior to this time, the holiday was still celebrated as primarily College of Architecture Day, and the theme was less focused around the dragon.

The rivalry between the architecture and the engineering students before and during Dragon Day celebrations seems to have simply developed through history, and is now embodied through engineering students' construction of a creature to challenge the dragon symbolically — specifically, a phoenix.

For several decades, Dragon Day was celebrated either on St. Patrick's Day, or immediately before Spring Break — whichever date happened first. When a new academic calendar was introduced in 2013, Spring Break moved later into the month of March and Dragon Day is now routinely celebrated the day before students leave campus for a week in late March.

History is excerpted from the University Archives.

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