The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

‘Twas the Friday of Winter Carnival…

Students puddle jumping in 1992.
Students puddle jumping in 1992.

No Bates tradition is quite as iconic as Newman Day. It is a day of drinking, puddle jumping, and school spirit, as the student body comes together to celebrate Winter Carnival.

The holiday is named for Paul Newman, the actor. The premise of the day is to drink 24 beers in 24 hours, per a quote falsely attributed to Newman which reads, “24 hours in a day, 24 beers in a case. Coincidence? I think not.” 

There is no evidence that Newman ever said this line, which is believed to be from the 1967 film, Cool Hand Luke. In the movie, Newman’s character, Luke, completed the challenge of consuming fifty hard-boiled eggs in one hour. Somewhere along the way, eggs were switched out for beer and fifty in one hour was changed to 24 in 24 hours. Though the origin of the quote is hazy, Bates students have stayed persistent in their devotion.

Even though the quote is unsubstantiated, I still choose to think it is real and play into the tradition.

Letter of complaint from Paul Newman to the President of the college.

In 1987, Newman wrote a letter to the former president of the college, T. Hedley Reynolds. He was surprised to discover the day “was an excuse for drunkenness, disregard for property, disrespect for people, and deeds of questionable character.” Newman proposed to change the day to focus on athletic excellence. In said letter, Newman’s lawyer, Leo Nevas, reiterated the desire for “an end to this tradition.” A similar letter was also sent to Princeton University, to which the tradition had spread.

Newman’s son, Scott Newman, died in 1978 of a drug overdose. There is a widespread belief that a reason for Newman’s opposition to the day is his connection to substance abuse, and seeing its effects through his son.

The students of Bates seemed to be fine with the letter and the tradition continued. Neither Bates nor Princeton views the day as a school-sanctioned event.

The holiday of Newman Day (also called Newman’s Day) began in 1976, here at Bates College. Other colleges, such as Princeton and Kenyon College (Newman’s alma mater), have adopted the tradition. 

Many of the institutions that engage in the practice do it in April. At Bates, each year, Newman Day is on the Friday of the Winter Carnival, which is normally held the second week of February. 

The rules are simple, students are supposed to attend their regularly scheduled classes and drink one beer every hour. If you throw up or fall asleep, the counter restarts. Sometimes, students show up to class intoxicated; some choose to wait until the end of their academic day to begin drinking while others skip classes (though it contradicts the rules).

The entire student body does not participate in Newman Day. Spring athletic seasons have begun by the week of Winter Carnival and for those with a “dry season,” partaking is a no-go. 

Additionally, others do not drink for a multitude of reasons. Medication, religious beliefs, what have you, it is important to remember that not everyone who can drink does or wants to. The intention of the day is more to blow off steam during the stressful midterm period than to have 24 drinks.

By lunch on Newman Day, “Drommons” or drunk Commons is in full swing. There is shouting, carbo-loading, and loud cheers when plates or cups are dropped. Those partaking in the occasion boast “water” bottles while other people felt bold enough to place their cans in plain sight.

Newman Day aligns with another Bates tradition: Puddle Jump. Students cannonball or star jump into Lake Andrews, more commonly known as “The Puddle” through a hole cut into the ice. Puddle Jump did not always fall on the Friday of Winter Carnival; it was almost a month later, around St. Patrick’s Day when the custom began. 

It is common for students to don costumes for their chilly submergence. The recent fashion for the plunge includes tutus, onesies, and swimsuits for the brave. 

There are specific safety precautions for jumping. In an email to first-year students last year, Catie Luedee, Coordinator of Outdoor Education and Programs, wrote, “Because of the dirtiness of the puddle and the way your body regulates temperature, the best practice is to gradually warm yourself. This could mean starting your shower at a moderate (tepid) temperature and then making it warmer over time.” Furthermore, she emphasized the importance of wearing warm clothes while waiting in line to jump and wearing shoes when you jump. 

The school has medical personnel nearby and Outing Club volunteers help pull students from the Puddle following their jumps.

As the daughter of an alumnus, I got the inside scoop on what Newman Day was like when my dad attended Bates as a member of the Class of 1992. A key contrast between Newman Day now versus in the past is the level of participation. My dad and many classmates never attempted Newman Day or Puddle Jump. Nowadays, it is much more common to take a stab at the holiday and students unabashedly show up to class inebriated. 

A classmate of his, Suzette Ross ‘92 remembers Newman Day quite fondly. Ross recalled that “for women, I believe that there was a half-case modifier.”

This is news to me! Ross also remembers hearing the cracking of cans in the shower and the noise of empty cans rolling down hallways in academic buildings. She mentioned the craze of Newman Day Commons, but she doesn’t recall it having a nickname back then.

Victoria Wyeth ‘01, who co-taught a First-Year Seminar as a visiting lecturer with the history department last fall, partook in Newman Day with champagne, stating, “I can’t stand the taste of beer.” She expressed how enjoyable the day was, but reminded me that, “kids don’t realize what they are doing.” 

There are indeed many dangers to Newman Day. While fun, many exceed their limits and end up sick. Wyeth said she remembered seeing friends who had passed out. 

“Binge drinking for anyone can cause a tremendous amount of harm,” Wyeth stated.

For those participating in the day, I urge you to please drink responsibly. It is important to know how much you can tolerate and there is no need to push yourself. It is a fun day, but there are no consequences if you do not complete the challenge.

One beer an hour may not seem like much but your blood alcohol does not reset each hour. It may be useful to use a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) calculator to see what your BAC could be on Newman Day.

For a 180-pound male, 24 drinks in 24 hours is a BAC of approximately 0.21% which is more than twice the legal limit of 0.08% for operating a vehicle. For a 130-pound female, 24 drinks in 24 hours is a BAC of around 0.52%.

It is important to understand how alcohol affects you based on your gender and weight. It also differs based on what beverage you choose. Two beers are not the same as two glasses of wine or two shots of liquor. 

Drinking large concentrations of alcohol will lead to painful hangovers, motor impairment, memory blackouts, and loss of consciousness. 

There is no need to participate in Newman Day and for those of you who do, there is no need to have all 24 drinks. 

This Newman Day, have fun and please drink responsibly. 

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