Puff, the smokeless dragon, goes green for Dragon Day

March 13, 2009

The annual Dragon Day parade, a rite of spring at Cornell, returns March 13, but with a major difference. Instead -- free of noxious paint, glue and other materials -- will go up in smoke while the actual, student-built dragon sits on the sidelines.  

The reason: environmental safety. Dan Maas, emergency response and events manager with Cornell Environmental Health and Safety, says that this year only approved materials will be set ablaze. State Department of Environmental Conservation regulations will only allow wood and agricultural products to be burned, he said. Revelers should not add costumes, props or other materials to the fire, Maas said.  

Dragon Day revelry traditionally features a large dragon float, designed and constructed by first-year architecture students and paraded through campus to be burned on the Arts Quad. 

A tradition that will continue will be a phoenix, built by engineering students in The Phoenix Society, meeting the dragon as the parade passes the Engineering Quad.  

There will be some road closings and traffic delays to accommodate the parade route, listed below. Starting at 12:15 p.m., University Avenue will be closed between East Avenue and the service drive next to Rand Hall to provide a safe dragon assembly location for students until the parade begins. 

Once the parade begins, vehicle access along the parade route will be restricted and bus routes may be delayed or rerouted if necessary. 

The Dragon Day parade will: 

  • Leave Rand Hall at 1 p.m.  
  • Travel east on University Avenue. 
  • Turn right (south) on East Avenue. 
  • Turn right (west) on Campus Road.  
  • Turn right (north) on the south central walkway through Ho Plaza.  
  • Enter the Arts Quad between Uris and Olin libraries.  
  • Proceed to the burn site on the south side of Sibley Hall.

Dragon Day was initiated as College of Architecture Day in 1901 by Willard Straight and his classmates. Whether the dragon was actually burned in those early days is uncertain. "The history of the event is a bit murky," said University Archivist Elaine Engst. In fact, she said, the original idea of the parade might have had more to do with St. Patrick's Day and the story of the saint ridding Ireland of snakes and serpents. Indeed, the event has not always featured a dragon: In 1933, the beast was replaced with a giant beer stein to celebrate the end of Prohibition, Engst said. 

"Dragons of Yore," an exhibition of photographs of Dragon Days past, is currently on display through March 20 in East Sibley Hall.

By Daniel Aloi, Cornell Chronicle

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