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On Campus Yesterday, 1956

Fire destroys four floats

Photo/courtesy of UC Archives and Rare Books Department

'Fire destroys four floats'

... So read the Oct. 18, 1956, headline under this photo in the student newspaper. "Three winning floats, drawn up outside the stadium for a triumphant tour of the field during the halftime festivities, shot into flame shortly before their scheduled appearance," the News Record stated.

The danger of stuffing tissue paper into chicken wire was never more apparent. The cause? "A careless flick of a cigarette."

Flames first engulfed Sigma Alpha Epsilon's "dove of peace," then shot across the bird's 16-foot wingspan to ignite two more floats. A fourth entry narrowly escaped when the driver quickly pulled away.

Later, the dove's charred remains sat in SAE's front yard with a sign reading, "Who cooked our goose?"

"The situation is extremely grave," fire marshall Joseph Devine told the paper. "Anyone in those floats would never have been able to get out. They would have roasted like a peanut."

His words may have been a little graphic, but their urgency was particularly clear when a small boy "deliberately" set a fourth float on fire later that day.

Unfortunately, homecoming tragedies continued as UC lost the football game to arch rival Xavier University, 34-14, and Xavier's overly exuberant fans "uprooted" and carried off the goal posts. A week later, Xavier student council offered UC $500 to cover expenses, and its student newspaper suggested a traveling trophy be awarded future winners to handle "victory enthusiasm in a more constructive manner."

When float decorating began the next year, the Homecoming Committee suggested a fire-proofing formula to spray on floats. Even though Zeta Tau Alpha members followed directions, their float caught fire less than five hours before the parade. Word instantly spread, however, and representatives from other Greek organizations rebuilt the entry before the 9 a.m. lineup.

The float, "though falling short of its original beauty, stood as an example of Greek cooperation and spirit," the News Record proudly stated.
-- D. Rieselman

On Campus Yesterday archive