In the history of the New York State College of Ceramics probably nothing has created more long-term interest and engendered more enthusiasm among students than did the annual St. Pat's Celebration. The event, which continued to be observed for over fifty years, had its genesis the year following the arrival in Alfred of Dr. Major Edward Holmes as Dean of the Ceramics College.
Holmes, who had headed the Ceramic Engineering Department at the Missouri School of Mines, brought to Alfred a tradition dating back to 1908 from that institution which involved a major celebration honoring St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of engineers. Designed to foster school spirit and loyalty as well as generate favorable public relations, the Dean promoted a similar event at Alfred.
March 1933 marked the initial multi-day festival locally and generally established the format which became typical through the years. After weeks of preparation (often including the growing of beards), the event opened with a parade featuring bands and floats (no matter how inclement the weather), and the arrival of St. Pat (a Senior engineer) in some unique way. In addition, the celebration included ceramic engineering and glass technology exhibits, a Steuben Glass-blowing demonstration, the sale of favors made by the engineers, entertainment for students and family, and a concluding dance which for many year featured a well-known Big Band. Many faculty, students, and major figures in the ceramic and glass fields, received the honor of being knighted by St. Pat himself, who, with his queen, presided over the dance. Some name-bands which provided music for the ball were those of Earl "Fatha" Hines, Mal Hallett, Red Norvo, Ray McKinley, Jimmy Dorsey, and Woody Herman.
Among other ways, St. Pat arrived on horseback, by mule, on a firetruck, in an antique hearse, in a bathtub, by parachute, and at one time crawled from a drainpipe. After coming to Alfred, he customarily spoke from the balcony on Main Street, often bring joy to the students and dismay to the faculty.
The history of the celebration was not continuous. In 1944, the event was not held because of restrictions imposed by World War II. However, the following year the Sons of the Broken Wing, a local military veterans' organization, held a St. Patrick's Day dance specifically to keep alive the concept of the engineer's festivity. The following year saw the official revival of the celebration.
In 1954, St. Pat's traditional speech was eliminated by the Alfred University administration. The oration had become offensive to the listeners and, since censorship was impractical, it was deleted in view of the adverse publicity which it brought to the University.
Professor Clarence Merritt, long-time Ceramic Engineering faculty member, was for many years the celebration's advisor. St. Pat's ornate costume was rented until about 1952 when Mrs. Merritt and a Hornell seamstress made the robe and headpiece used thereafter. At the same time, the queen's cape was made by a seamstress who worked for Hornell clothiers Weinburg and Gleason. A new queen's crown, of Sterling silver with green glass stones resembling emeralds (a successor to one made earlier by Steuben Glass-blowers), was crafted by Alfred summer session student and friend of the Merritts, Harold Hunsicker, of Cleveland, Ohio. In 1977, Professor Merritt, who had contributed much to the celebration through the years (including the glaze formula for the favors), had the forty-fourth event named in his honor.
While the festivity was still visible in the early 1980s and featured in the parade Dean Emeritus John McMahon as Grand Marshall and a "kazoo-band" comprised of Ceramic Engineering - Glass Science faculty, the outdoor events became increasingly difficult to maintain in good taste. However, indoor exhibits and demonstrations continued to attract moderate crowds as did the sale of the collectible St. Pat's favors. After the fiftieth celebration, however, changed student priorities, the raising of the State-mandated drinking age for alcohol to twenty-one, and other factors, contributed to the mid-eighties demise of this Alfred tradition.
Written by Barrett G. Potter