Homecoming can serve plenty of different functions. It is a weekend for alumni to reunite and reminisce about their college days. It is a chance for students to meet those who came before them and form a connection to the world beyond Knox. It is a time for the school to honor those who have donated money and appreciate the alumni who continually support the college.
This year, Homecoming does all these things by hosting class reunions, the “Taste of Galesburg,” a dance, and a few informative lectures. Not to mention the countless clubs and organizations which are holding receptions for returning former students. A Halloween Carnival and illusionist are also part of this year’s celebration. This is what Homecoming is now, but the celebration has evolved over the years as Knox’s social and political culture has changed.
The first official Homecoming celebration was held in 1920, as World War I had just ended and several alumni were eager to visit their alma mater. During the period between 1920 and 1939, Homecoming was characterized by several different events that revolved around both students and alumni.
Campus organizations would compete in a float-making contest for a first prize cup. The floats were then presented during a parade through Galesburg, which also featured Knox’s own marching band. Fraternity houses and women’s dormitories often decorated the outside of their buildings in order to show school spirit. At one point, TKE decorated the outside of their house as a football field with a donkey on it and hung a sign that read “Let’s make an ass out of Coe.” At that time, Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa was in the same football division as Knox.
In addition to the parade and decorations, there was also a Homecoming Queen who was crowned. Fiji’s and Beta’s held an annual tug-o-war game across Clear Creek (which apparently was not very sanitary even then) and “freshies and sophs fought it out on Willard Field in a battle to reach the opposite goal in potato sacks” during an event known as “Sack Rush” according to the Nov. 9, 1945 issue of TKS.
Of course, there were the Homecoming pep rallies, bonfires, and dances to commemorate the occasion. The Knox football team, then the Knox Siwash, won their first Homecoming football game 15-0.
By 1943, however, as the United States was on the brink of entering World War II, Knox suspended its Homecoming activities, which did not pick up again until 1945. During those years, many Knox alumni and former students found themselves overseas. Even when Knox recommenced the Homecoming celebration in 1945, full celebration was not observed because many former students and alumni were still overseas. However, it was estimated that between 300 and 500 alumni did return for the occasion.
Throughout the 1950s, the general activities continued, though the marching band had died out. In 1965, it was decided to stop making the floats and holding the parade.
“It was generally felt that decorations could be appreciated for a longer time and that they would add to the Homecoming spirit on campus,” reported the Oct. 16, 1965 issue of TKS.
Music was also a big part of the Homecoming celebration. In 1954, musicians Tex Beneke and Charlie Spivak provided their musical band entertainment.
By 1974, the music had changed and a soul band, Black Amnesty, from Indianapolis performed for the crowd. Events that year also included a balloon release in which participants purchased a balloon with a number attached onto it. The balloons were released and whichever balloon floated the furthest by a certain date would be the winner and that person got first prize, which was, as it read in the Oct. 4 issue of TKS, a “black and white television set!”
It also at some point in the 1970s when the campus stopped naming a Homecoming King and Queen. In 1995, then Dean of Students Owen Muelder speculated that the decision had something to do with the changing political views on campus towards women in the 70s. There is no mention of decorating houses at this point.
The highlight of Homecoming again in 1979 was the musical guest, the Ramones, a punk-rock group. That year there was also a snake dance and a bonfire.
The Homecoming parade had a short-lived revival in 1987, which was the first parade in over 20 years. At that time, Co-Director of Lincoln Studies Rodney Davis speculated the parades had originally stopped because of student activism on campus during the 1960s. In 1995, Muelder added that activism against the Vietnam War contributed to the ending of this tradition. The band in 1987 was a cover band called “The Rave.”
At that point, Homecoming began looking like the modern event. There were art showings and lectures, a convocation, and even a discussion on pornography, which we are having again this year.
In 1995, Muelder hoped that students would get more involved in Homecoming, as event planners hope again for this year. The main event at that time was a comedian, Katsy Chappell, who was described as “bodacious, vivacious, and totally outrageous.” Her credentials included stints on MTV’s comedy hour and appearances on Dallas.
Through all these years, there have been some traditions that still remain strong. Of course there is always the football game, but there is also that victory bonfire and theater production which are held every year during the celebration.