Section: Arts

New Bulmash exhibition highlights Kenyon’s adolescence

New Bulmash exhibition highlights Kenyon’s adolescence

BRITTANY LIN

Tucked away in a corner of Chalmers Library is a treasure trove of photographs, documents, art and miscellaneous memorabilia that offer a glimpse into Kenyon’s institutional past. Lend Us To Our High Endeavor is the second of three Bicentennial exhibits located in Bulmash Exhibition Hall — from now until August 2024 — curated by the Special Collections & Archives staff. The space features five displays that showcase the College’s evolving identity in the midst of major world events, including World War I, as well as local developments in Gambier. Between the years 1875-1924, life on the Hill was just beginning to blossom into the Kenyon we know today.

On the farthest exhibit wall hangs a framed copy of the 1924 Centennial Pageant Program: a stage drama recounting the College’s founding events. Students can read the synopsis of each act from “The Coming of the White Man” to “On Gambier Hill.” The pageant spoke to Kenyon’s emerging affinity for theater, further evidenced by the display entitled Student Life. This standout section details the founding of the Dramatic Club in 1894 alongside the birth of beloved traditions and long-standing College activities. Formal athletics were also established around this time. A fun fact: Kenyon’s football team used to regularly triumph over The Ohio State University. An 1881 program for Kenyon Day marks festivities from heavyweight wrestling to potato races, culminating in a tug-of-war competition. The grand prize, a small, unassuming silver goblet known as the Stadler Cup, still survives. The exhibit also sheds light on traditions the College no longer celebrates. For instance, the Cane Rush was an event where first-years and sophomores clashed in a contest to see which class had the most hands on the cane — at the top of the display — after eight minutes of tussling. Victory often meant relief from hazing rituals, which were all too common during this period. 

Another highlight is the Notable People display, where portraits of Kenyon’s longest serving president, William Foster Peirce, and former U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes (Class of 1846) lay beside an assortment of handwritten notes. The exhibit names Hayes in particular as “a favorite son of the College having reached the highest office in the United States,” despite never having returned to Gambier or Kenyon following his political career. On the bottom-right corner of the display, a lilac ribbon binds a yellowing square booklet: a tribute to the memory of Hayes from the College’s alumni. Likely part of the programming for an event commemorating his death, the pages appear faded; the ribbon, however, gestures to the familiar Kenyon purple that decorates the College to this day. 

Lend Us To Our High Endeavor includes many interactive elements. Students can scan a QR code located beside the framed cover art of Songs of Kenyon, 1908 to sing along to a collection of over 100 Kenyon songs. Nearby, a large map from 1924 highlights the sprawling network of special rail lines spanning the East Coast and Midwest used by alumni and visitors to make their way to Gambier for the Centennial Celebration.

What the exhibition calls “growing pains” are still visible, 100 years later. Money, falling enrollment, scandals — the College weathered every storm and emerged stronger than ever. Admittedly, some questions remain unanswered, especially for objects of a more mysterious nature. However, there is no doubt that this exhibition succeeds in inspiring students to aspire to their highest endeavors, whatever that may look like.

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