From the Le Moyne Archives: Dolphy Day: What’s in a Name?

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As the calendar descends into the last two months of the spring semester, the emails from RAs about alcohol safety start to proliferate, and whispers just before class of “When? Are you sure? I heard…” can only mean one thing. As our favorite spring day approaches, let us reflect on its origins.

Dolphy Day began as a remedy to the cabin fever that builds up after long Syracuse winters. Several young men in Nelligan during the winter of 1971 decided on the first true spring day, students would rise up…and do nothing. A day to skip class and celebrate the true end of snow and salt and cold with booze (legal for them at the time) and sunshine. These then-young folks: Bill King, Roger Fox, and Chris Heffernan ’74, the first wizard of this fine celebration, wanted to buck the system for an impromptu day of fun and excess.

But why Eric Dolphy Day? The Nelligan residents were inspired by a song by Frank Zappa, an abstract, psychedelic, ode to the little-known progressive jazz artist, Eric Dolphy. “The Eric Dolphy Memorial Day Barbecue” fit the spontaneous, bizarre nature of the holiday from classes, and kept other participating students intrigued and confused.

As the rebellious, student-controlled day of chaos started to become a tradition, the administration at Le Moyne was put-off. In the words of Dan Avallone ’72, Dolphy Day was meant to “cause a sudden and total disruption of the normal functions of the day-just one day to assert autonomy, while laughingly and snubbing one’s nose at administration.” Well, the administration didn’t appreciate this “snub.” Overtime, the administration began to co-opt the day, to fund it, control activities, movement across campus and use it as a way to promote the school.

In the last effort, past presidents of the College modified the meaning of the holiday’s title; rather than a weird, far-out Zappa song, it was a celebration of the music of Eric Dolphy. This sanitizing is especially evident with the presence of the Dolphy statue between Foery and Nelligan Halls. While Dolphy’s music is wonderful, the founders of the holiday had other motivations in mind: independence, mayhem and rebellion.

So, in the coming days, as you prep your duct tape bottles, get your frisbees and put on your bracelets; consider the cabin-fever stricken Nelligan residents 47 years ago and the precedence they set. Are you living up to their intentions? Or would you rather celebrate spring knowing that the school has your back?

Want to read the documents I used for research? Come to archive to read the stories and see the photos for yourself! Shoot me an email at [email protected] or Father Bosch at [email protected] to come in and see for yourself.