To preserve the anonymity of those quoted and mentioned in this article, any and all names have been changed.
At 4:15 p.m. on Monday, April 20, there was a mad dash of 30 to 40 of Knox College’s resident stoners hurrying down the street toward the south edge of campus. Students had emerged just moments ago from a comrade’s house, where the day’s celebrations were to ensue at exactly 4:20 p.m. in true weed-smoking cultural tradition.
In true Knox College fashion, the fire alarm went off, despite precautions taken to ensure that it would not. Sirens could be heard drawing closer as Campus Safety seemed to speed down Prairie Street in record time. Celebrations had been well underway for at least four minutes (enough to make the room dense with smoke) when the mass of students were forced to emerge from the house and left with a mere five minutes to find a new safe haven in which to smoke their illicit greenery.
Everyone grabbed as many belongings, smoking devices, bags of marijuana, and snacks as they could and were out the door in a little over a minute. Once they were out on the sidewalk, half of the group scattered north up the block and the other half south down the block. “To Bill’s house!” someone hollered. Once the message spread through the mass of reddened eyes and half-panicked faces, the stoner mass confirmed its route and forged the field toward the new smoke station.
As most students and a few townspeople of Galesburg invited themselves into the new house, it was only 4:17 p.m. as most people got settled. At any given time, one could count five blunts (cigars stuffed with marijuana instead of tobacco), seven bowls (usually glass-blown pipes filled with marijuana sometimes referred to as “pieces”), a bubbler (a larger glass piece that holds water to help generate more smoke), and even a unique peace pipe in one room. Even for a full-sized, off-campus house, the space was tight. Elbows rubbed, and no one minded.
As 4:20 p.m. on April 20 arrived, shouts and hollers of happiness rang out amongst the group. The smoking, however, continued long after the stoner-sacred time of day.
“If there was a gold star for stoner fire drills, that thing would have won it,” said one senior.
Some students even woke up at 4 a.m. to begin their festivities in the four twenty of the morning and made it a goal to stay stoned for the entire day. One of these students said, “We aim to smoke an ounce and a half. Whoever wants to smoke with us can smoke with us.”
But why such a mad scene on this day? What is so important about the legendary “four twenty”? There are rumors abound if one begins to search on the internet. Many people, Knox students included, believe the most popular myth that “420” was originally the police code for marijuana violations. The Galesburg Police Department, while they cannot give out what their code is for marijuana violations, did confirm that the code is not 420. There are also rumors that it is because the Columbine shootings are on April 20, but 420 was a day and time in marijuana culture before the Columbine shootings.
The most believable story is that, in 1971, there was a group of teenagers attending San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California who would smoke weed at 4:20 p.m. every day after school near the Louis Pasteur statue near their campus. They used the code of “420” so their parents would not know they were referring to reefer. Slowly, this term spread.
All day, those hip to the semi-underground holiday wished “Happy Holiday!” to all those they passed. Those who did not know the tradition were thoroughly confused, confirming the endless question of stoners, “Does anyone REALLY not know what four twenty is?”
Assistant Professor of English Monica Berlin, who graduated from Knox not so long ago in 1995, when asked if she knew what Monday was said, “Seriously, I really don’t know. Am I totally stupid? I feel totally stupid.” It begs the question of how many Knox students know about 420 and how many have absolutely no idea.
While last year’s Campus Safety Log for April 20 included a cannabis violation in Simonds Hall at 4:20 a.m., no other violations related to marijuana or fire alarms were noted, nor were they noted at 4:20 a.m. or 4:20 p.m. in Campus Safety Log reports from several years prior to last year. However, based on reports from seniors who have been around during those years, there is always a huge celebration.
“It always used to be in the Bowl,” said one senior, “but then they re-did the football field so we can’t go there anymore.” Students have found other places to go easily, but due to the rainout this year, a campus house was the indoor alternative.
It was clear that, by 4:25 p.m., most students were catatonically high. In addition to the marijuana being shared freely at the massive 420 party, there was also a can of nitrous oxide, an inhalant used as laughing gas, being passed around. The proprietor of the nitrous oxide was selling two inhales for a dollar.
Many people partook in the nitrous oxide, but there was also strong opinion that it should not have been involved on a day dedicated to enjoying marijuana. “It’s so stupid,” said one senior. “It’s supposed to be a day about pot, not nitrous.”
While the marijuana scene at Knox seems prominent to those who are part of it, talking to transfer students that just recently came to Knox reveals otherwise. One student who recently transferred said, “There was this thing at [my old school] called Smokeforce. At midnight every Wednesday, sometimes upwards of 60 people would gather at this fountain on campus and just pass bowls around.” While this would occur every Wednesday, the student said the 420 celebration was considerably larger. She also said, “The weed [here] is shockingly less good.”
Knox might have a smaller marijuana scene than some schools, but this is most likely due to the size of the school itself. Nevertheless, 420 did not go unnoticed on the Knox campus by a long shot. As the evening continued and 4:35 p.m. drew nearer, many people started to feel too high. “I’m too stoned, man, too stoned,” said one junior. While this was uttered, a prominent member of the Knox marijuana scene sat at the head of a large oval table packing a few grams of weed into two large joints, soon to be passed around. Excess was never questioned. People continued to inhale whatever vessel of marijuana came their way, no complaints. Some students passed out by 7 p.m., while others were awake until 2 a.m., decompressing and reflecting on the original counterculture holiday.