It happened in the Dimple

Dimple processionHoop rolling. Dimple diving. Political speak-outs. For most of Wheaton’s history, the college green known as the Dimple has been the hub of campus life. And if the trees could talk, oh, the stories they would tell.

Like the one about the runaway cow.

“It was a Saturday, and we were eating lunch in Emerson, overlooking the Dimple,” recalls Ginny Brennan Enright ’55 of her student days. “Presently, we saw a ragtag bunch of young men walking toward the Dimple with a poor cow in tow. When they got to their destination, they proceeded to try to milk her. She got so scared that she bolted. She ran out to Howard Street, turned left and ran out into the middle of [Taunton Avenue], with half the campus after her.”

Fortunately, the cow escaped serious harm.

“The boys were able to catch her, and returned her to the local farmer from whom they had ‘borrowed’ her,” Enright continues. “Turns out the men were from a fraternity at Dartmouth, and this was part of their initiation.”

Wheaton has no fraternities (or sororities), but getting to know the Dimple is an essential part of every student’s initiation. The Dimple is a favorite place for students to play and relax. It is where the college community celebrates Commencement, and where it gathers in times of crisis. It has been the site of sledding, competitive snow sculpting, outdoor classes, after-dark movie viewing, and above all, hanging out with friends on a warm spring day.

Dimple hoop race“The Dimple was the best place to catch up on reading for class while enjoying the sun,” says Kathryn Hencir ’04. “My friends and I would bring blankets and make a study session feel more like a picnic.”

Strictly speaking, the Dimple is the grassy hollow in front of Emerson Hall, though most people use the term loosely, referring to the entire green that lies between the library and Park Hall. The hollow was originally the cellar hole for a barn, which was sold and moved in 1905. As Paul Helmreich writes in his history of the college, the Dimple “was sloped into its present form at the time the [Emerson] dining hall was constructed” in 1908. While college architects Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson had intended it to become a reflecting pool, “later plans called for its use as a formal garden and/or site for a Greek amphitheater.”

Instead, Helmreich writes, the Dimple has served for decades as “an excellent natural amphitheater.”

It’s also been a playing field. Patrick Gillespie ’02, former president of the Men’s Rugby Club, remembers when the then-new club held its practices in the Dimple “because we didn’t have any other space to use! It was quite a sight-twelve to fifteen guys running handling-and-tackling practice in the middle of the school’s most iconic feature.”

Dimple classIn the 19th century, before the Dimple existed, Wheaton girls played tennis on the green (1893). At the time, the seminary consisted only of Seminary Hall (now Mary Lyon), Old Metcalf, the Cheesebox observatory, a bowling alley and an apple orchard. In the next century, the lawn in front of the new gymnasium (now the Admission building) was the spot for outdoor calisthenics (1920).

Today, the Dimple is still the campus playground. Dimple diving-the nocturnal art of bodysurfing down the muddy slope in the rain-remains popular. So do snow football and Frisbee.

“Frisbee!” says Kristin Sundin Brandt ’94. “There was nothing better, as the weather got warmer, than running around barefoot in the Dimple, playing Frisbee, remembering not to run over the sunbathers and socializers.”

Others preferred pulling pranks. “My favorite was when we moved a friend’s entire bedroom into the Dimple, fuzzy slippers by the bed and all!” says Lori Brooks Nelson ’85. (Carol Crosby ’82 recalls that the young woman “was still fast asleep in bed.”)

DimpleThe Dimple has long been the site of festivities and celebrations. In the early decades of the college, “students created their own entertainment out of nothing,” says College Archivist Zephorene Stickney. At Christmastime, they dramatized the Nativity in full costume. On May Day, they performed elaborate pageants (1921), selected a Queen of the May, and danced around the May pole (1950s).

Group singing was also a favorite pastime. Each class had a song leader and a class song. Students composed songs for contests and often serenaded their sister classes or college administrators (1925). The original college anthem, “Sing, Daughters, Sing,” by Ruth Capers McKay ’23, symbolizes the importance of this social connection in the days long before cell phones and Facebook.

The day before graduation was Class Day, a festive culmination of senior year. Each graduate’s “little sister,” a sophomore, would decorate the senior’s hoop, cap and gown for the race from the library to the Hebe statue. Legend had it that the winner would be the first to get married.

Today, hoop rolling is still part of senior week, though students put little faith in its reliability as a wedding prognosticator.

In the early 20th century, alumnae parades around the Dimple were grand affairs, with horse-drawn carriages, unicyclists and goofy costumes. Today’s annual Thesis Parade, celebrating the delivery of senior honors theses to the Registrar, evokes that revelry (2002).

Dimple gatheringThe Dimple has also seen more serious gatherings and demonstrations. In 1986, students erected “shanties” in front of the library to protest South African apartheid and urge the college to divest. When the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, the faculty declared a one-day moratorium on classes and the community gathered in the Dimple for an open forum. Nineteen months later, students planted 1,059 wooden crosses in the Dimple to represent the number of U.S. war dead.

On 9/11/2001, the day of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center, the whole campus came together to mourn and to support each other.

“I will never forget standing in the Dimple on that beautiful late summer’s day, hand in hand with my friends, classmates and professors as we wept and prayed and tried to make sense of the tragedy that would forever change our lives,” says Amanda Thibodeau ’03. “For me, the Dimple will always represent how Wheaton changed my life and perspectives, and offered comfort and support when I needed it most.”