For 1954 Ohio State graduate and former Homecoming queen nominee Ruh Manhart, Homecoming was a bit of a stinker after initially losing the 1953 title to a skunk.
That skunk, named “Miss Enchanted,” beat Manhart when sorority-sponsored candidates entered the skunk into the race after suspecting a chance that they might lose, according to an article Manhart wrote on an OSU website called “Buckeye Voices.”
“The strategy, they thought, would assure a Greek queen instead of one from the dorms,” Manhart wrote in the article.
Miss Enchanted was later disqualified and Manhart, who was also in a sorority at the time, lost some of her votes after the Ohio State Board of Trustees was unhappy that the black and white creature had won.
In the end, neither the skunk nor Manhart received the crown — it instead went to a woman from the dorms.
“As it turned out, the queen was a truly lovely representative of the student body,” Manhart said. “And for years afterward, whenever I started to think I was really important, I would remember that I had once been put in my place by a skunk.”
Stories like Manhart’s are part of more than 100 years of OSU Homecoming history.
“A lot of the traditions that have survived until today are pretty long standing, which I think is really interesting,” said OSU research services archivist Lindy Smith. “It’s nice in that it connects present-day Ohio State with past Ohio State.”
The Homecoming tradition originally began with professor and later, sixth OSU president, George W. Rightmire with the creation of “Ohio State Day,” for which he envisioned OSU graduates returning the evening before a football game each fall for a “spread and some toasts,” according to an OSU libraries archives website.
“This idea of coming back to your alma mater, especially in conjunction with a football game during the fall, dates back a little earlier. So it has earlier roots, but we consider 1912 the first Homecoming,” Smith said.
According to the OSU libraries archives website, Homecoming was initially held around the final football game of the season, but because of weather complications, Homecoming was changed in 1953 to be held earlier in the season.
“The first officially recognized Homecoming was Nov. 29, 1912, which was actually the day after a football game, the last football game in that year,” Smith said. “We lost, which is sort of an auspicious start to Homecoming.”
The idea of Homecoming having a theme specific to a particular year was popular for a long time, Smith said.
“The first theme was, I think, some time in the ‘20s and it was circus,” Smith said.
According to a Lantern article from Oct. 28, 1955, one Homecoming theme included a “Circassian Circus” with “clowns” and “oriental magicians.” In 1927, students celebrated with an Indian theme called “Shawnee Melee” for which they decorated OSU’s campus with “wigwams.”
Decorating fraternity and sorority houses on campus was also popular, Smith said.
“Early Homecoming had a lot to do with Greek life,” she said.
According to the OSU Homecoming website, only women used to compete for Homecoming Court. The first official Homecoming Queen was elected in 1923.
“From 1924 until 1929, it was always a sorority member who was elected. In 1930, the first independent Homecoming Queen was elected and from then on, it was fair game,” Smith said.
In fact, before OSU’s Board of Trustees mandated a rule that only human beings could become Homecoming Queen after the skunk scandal in 1953, a cow named Maudine Ormsby was elected royalty in 1926, according to an OSU libraries archives blog. Queen Maudine was supposedly elected because of election fraud when 12,000 votes were submitted for a student body enrollment size of less than 10,000.
“Those that look at the Homecoming tradition over the years are always surprised that a cow was elected queen,” said OSU spokesman Dave Isaacs.
According to the OSU libraries archives blog, Maudine was considered “too valuable” to attend the Homecoming festivities, however, two boys in a cow costume appeared on her behalf instead.
Many of these traditions that students still celebrate today — including the election of Homecoming Queen, the Homecoming Parade and the Pep Rally — are very old, Smith said.
“A lot of the current Homecoming traditions like the Homecoming Queen and the Homecoming Parade and having it officially associated with a football game, a lot of those started in the 1920s, 1930s, so fairly early in the history of Homecoming,” Smith said.
According to the OSU Homecoming website, the Pep Rally tradition was added to Homecoming Week in 1918. Floats were organized for the Homecoming Parade as early as 1920. However, according to the OSU libraries archives blog, floats became more popular in the 1970s.
“In my opinion, the biggest traditions we celebrate around Homecoming (today) would be the Parade and Pep Rally,” president of the OSU Alumni Association Student-Alumni Council Hannah McNamara said in an email.
Today, anywhere between 2,000 to 3,000 people attend the Homecoming Pep Rally, which costs the OSU Alumni Association less than $3,000 to $4,000 a year, said Josh Harraman, director of alumni and constituent engagement for the Alumni Association and a second-year doctorate student in educational studies.
The Student-Alumni Council was given an additional $2,935 from the OSU Council on Student Affairs to put on the Pep Rally, said McNamara, a fourth-year in human development and family science.
“As a student organization, we look to enhance a connection with students past, present, and future. The events throughout Homecoming Week fully allows us to fulfill our mission and ultimately enhance the Buckeye experience,” McNamara said.
Smith said having so many Homecoming activities geared at current students is significant in continuing the Buckeye Homecoming tradition.
“In theory, you know, the whole idea behind homecoming is getting alumni to come back and visit, but I think that having students involved in these events means that when alumni come back they can sort of feel like they’re a student again. It’s not just a bunch of businesspeople out trying to relive their youths,” Smith said.
Homecoming is special because it gives alumni an opportunity to come back to campus and gives current students the opportunity to connect with those alumni, Isaacs said.
“When you can come back and be a part of the student body again, I think that’s the appeal of Homecoming,” Smith said. “It’s sort of reliving versus reminiscing.”
This year’s Homecoming Parade will be held Friday beginning at 6 p.m. at Ohio Stadium, immediately followed by the Homecoming Pep Rally at the Ohio Union.