In the face of so much newness, university and college culture often develops systems of ritual and ceremony which provide a contrast to this independence as well as comfort and structure to students as they transition into adulthood.
This week is, typically, when many students at The Ohio State University would be participating in one of its best known rituals: jumping into a freezing Mirror Lake prior to a football game with its biggest rival, The University of Michigan.
Why jump in an ice cold lake in support of your school football team? The tradition seems to have its origins in a turn of the century hazing practice where upperclassmen would assert their dominance by tossing freshmen into the lake.
This became a common occurrence during “May Week”, an annual demonstration of school spirit. As the rivalry between Ohio State And Michigan State grew, May Week activities slowly shifted to the increasingly popular “Beat Michigan Week” and the tradition of voluntarily throwing oneself into the lake was born.
The idea of young people being cast into a lake before an important event has been around for centuries. The Aztec, Mayan, Celt and early Nordic cultures all participated in this practice as an offering to their gods during significant times of the year, and although the young people they hurled into the water were victims of human sacrifice, the Mirror Lake Jump certainly invokes thoughts of these ancient rituals.
In fact, it was the tragic death of a 22 year old Dayton man during the 2015 jump that caused the University to put a stop to the practice once and for all. My heartfelt condolences go out to the family of this young man.
According to the campus rumor mill, this wasn’t the only time this type of tragedy has occurred. Stories persist of a member of the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority that broke her neck during a Mirror Lake jump in the 1980s.
The legend states that her fellow sorority sisters carried the body back to the house and hid her to avoid the repercussions of underage drinking gone horribly wrong. Ever since, many have claimed to hear screaming and splashing in the waters of the lake only to see its surface mirror smooth when they turn to find the source of the commotion.
Another tale tells of a jogger that was killed near the lake during a mugging. This young man is said to be seen running by the lake, looking over his shoulder, before vanishing into thin air.
The most commonly spotted and well-established ghost of OSU goes by the name Lady of the Lake. Since the 1920s people have witnessed the apparition of a woman in turn of the century clothing glide across Mirror Lake on cold, wintry nights and mornings.
Some believe her to be a mysterious ice skater, but most know her as the wife of Frederick Converse Clarke.
Clarke was a professor of economics and sociology that lost all his money when he invested in a Georgia Gold Mine project that failed miserably. Aside from the obvious blow to his credentials as a professor of economics, the financial ruin left Clarke despondent and suicidal.
After airing his feelings to Dr. Oxley Thompson and getting no sympathy, the depressed professor took his own life on September 21st, 1903 in a garden overlooking Mirror Lake.
Clarke’s wife blamed the university’s insensitivity to her husband’s plight as the cause of his death and vowed to haunt the grounds after her passing.
In 1922 the university built Pomerene Hall on the site of Clarke’s suicide garden and it appears that the spirit of Mrs.Clarke decided it would be a fine building to inhabit when not gliding across the lake.
It is here that she is thought to be responsible for doors that lock and unlock of their own accord, the sound of footsteps across empty rooms and the manipulation of computer voice software, occasionally causing machines that aren’t even turned on to greet the living with a dull, electronic “hello”.
For reasons unknown she is most fond of room 213, where she is seen in a pink antebellum dress moving across to a window that overlooks the very lake that her husband last gazed upon before taking his life more than 100 years ago.
Today, Mirror Lake sits drained and fenced off awaiting a 6 million dollar renovation that will give it a “more natural appearance”. In an effort to end the tradition of the lake jump, the timing of this renovation was no accident, but some defiant students are vowing to leap into some body of water, even if it is the Olentangy River.