FOSS HILL TRADITIONS

I came to Wesleyan’s campus as a first-year student in the fall of 1971, when memories of 1970’s big event were still fresh.

Alumni who recall that time will quickly catch the ambiguity in those words. As Wesleyan Archivist Leith Johnson points, the spring of 1970 was rife with big events, notably the student strike protesting the Vietnam War. The big event I have in mind, as I look out my office window toward Foss Hill, was the free concert by the Grateful Dead, referred to by the local press as “a well-known combo liked by the younger set.” See Johnson’s “Historical Row” column on page 12 for an account of how this remarkable concert came to be.

So I arrived too late to see the Dead, and while I remember some great concerts from my student years, I don’t recall any performed at the base of Foss Hill (but perhaps others do and will correct me). Wesleyan’s iconic hill was the site of another concert that figures in this issue of the magazine: P-Funk performed a three-hour concert there for Spring Fling in 1994, much to the delight of Kevin Strait ’97. Now a museum specialist at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., he has recaptured that time (literally) by acquiring P-Funk’s Mothership for the museum’s collection (page 26).

Strait cites the Mothership’s symbolic role in transporting audiences to “a place free of racialized constraints.” The vision of a society less encumbered and diminished by racism has found expression at various times in words that could be heard on Foss Hill, most famously by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he delivered the baccalaureate address at Commencement 50 years ago, and most recently by Ted Shaw ’76, a noted civil rights advocate who delivered this year’s Commencement address (page 6).

I sometimes hear that Wesleyan does not have strong traditions. While it may be true that we do not have many highly ritualized traditions, I believe our history suggests that gathering on or near Foss Hill for great music, for moving speeches, to watch baseball games, for sledding, or just to soak up the sun and chat with friends is a great Wesleyan tradition—one that we can all look back on with fondness—or experience again at reunions. Do you have a memorable Foss Hill moment? Please let us know with a quick note. Thank you.
William Holder ’75, editor,

wholder@wesleyan.edu