Friday, September 23, 2016

Raiding the Nugget

front of a promotional flyer for Lionel Barrymore's "The Copperhead" at the Nugget Theater
As was mentioned in a previous blog post, the Nugget Theater in Hanover turned one hundred on September 13, 2016. We at Rauner feel a special kinship with the institution, given that it also has been a long-time bastion of culture here at Dartmouth, especially early on in its life when opportunities for civilized entertainment were few and far between. However, Dartmouth students didn't always go to the Nugget to see interesting documentaries or watch quality films. Often, the young men in attendance grew quite rowdy during screenings, to the point that snacks as projectiles were commonplace and the theater even began to encourage audience participation as an attempt to mollify the crowds.

Promotional and screening information for Lionel Barrymore's "The Copperhead" at the Nugget TheaterStill, at some point, Dartmouth students' antics grew dangerous despite the theater's attempts to contain the violence. At some point previous to 1937, a tradition had arisen in which the freshmen were goaded by the upperclassmen into conducting an evening raid on the Nugget as a part of bonfire festivities. College administration had previously turned a blind eye to this tradition, partially because Palaeopitus, a secret society, had dedicated itself to protecting the Nugget against the freshman mob that habitually assaulted the theater every year. Still, this dubious administrative approach was soon to change. On the evening of October 21st, 1937,  freshmen in the class of '41 rushed the doors of the Nugget, only to be met by a wall of Palaeopitus members and Nugget employees wielding tear gas guns. In the midst of the chaos that ensued, Bobby Reeve '38, a defender of the theater, was injured when a tear gas canister exploded in his face. The Nugget defenders were able to repel the freshmen, but the student newspaper termed it a "Pyrric victory" because all the patrons were dispersed by the overpowering clouds of tear gas that filled the theater.

Dartmouth Student Newspaper article from October 21, 1937, titled "Rally Develops into Brawl as Raiders Succumb to Fumes."A week later, the administration clamped down, effectively squelching the tradition. Several deans of the college issued official proclamations, stating that "what started as an undergraduate prank has lost its humor and becomes simple destructiveness." Dean Neidlinger asked Palaeopitus to stand down and the Nugget employees to rid themselves of their tear gas and any other "sporting challenges to raiders." In return, he promised swift and severe reprisals for any organizers of or participants in future. Palaeopitus complied, stating that they disapproved of the "mob violence," and the tradition failed to continue.

To learn more about the fascinating and lengthy history of the Nugget Theater, come to Rauner and ask to see its vertical file and photo file. To read the newspaper articles related to the tear gas incident and following disciplinary actions, pull an old copy of the Dartmouth student newspaper off the shelves in the reading room and flip through the October 21st and October 28th issues from 1937.

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