Month: November 2014


Happy Thanksgiving! Hopefully everyone is getting ready to visit family and friends, and looking forward to eating a great meal together! Our students are getting ready for their Thanksgiving break by packing up and heading home for a long weekend. Although it’s become common over the years for students to visit home several times during the school year, in the early 1900s, it was just the opposite!

Centenary College has always endeavored to be a second home for its pupils, and for many who attended in those early decades, it was. The school wanted students to develop long-lasting relationships with their peers and to grow into self-sufficient, thoughtful adults, so to accomplish this task the school set limitations on how often students could travel off campus. College handbooks advised students not to take trips home during the first few months of school, nor should they write home saying they were homesick.

Often students remained on campus all year, only traveling home between semesters. At that time, Centenary’s school year was divided into three terms: fall, winter, and spring. Early calendars show a schedule with three breaks, one in each term. Students could travel home for Thanksgiving in the fall semester, for Christmas in the winter semester, and for Easter in the spring.

Although the students were given a scheduled break for Thanksgiving, many stayed on campus and enjoyed a ‘vacation’ planned by a joint student and staff committee, called the Committee of Arrangements (today, we have a Student Activities Department that organizes events and programs for students. Over one hundred years ago, Centenary Collegiate Institute had a similar department called the Committee of Arrangements). In the December 1903 issue of the Hackettstonian (one of Centenary’s earliest student newspapers), an article devoted to the Thanksgiving festivities stated that thirty students and the entire faculty celebrated from campus.

The Committee of Arrangements planned events for the whole weekend. The night before Thanksgiving, the students held chapel in the girl’s parlor, and then enjoyed a recess with games and dessert. The next day they held a Thanksgiving service at the local Methodist Church, followed by a Thanksgiving dinner. As the article says, “there was a great abundance of everything and nobody lacked (Thanksgiving at C.C.I., 1907).” After dinner they spent some time off campus. One year, the students took a walk to the foot of Schooley’s Mountain, and another year they took a canal boat ride.

Mock Wedding 1901 Thanksgiving

The caption on the back, written by Carl Edward Schlieder ‘02, states: “Mock Wedding 1901 Thanksgiving”. Dr. & Mrs. McCormick at right, Gentleman with mustache – Professor Vernon, Miss Hoag at left, I [Schlieder] am groom at left

On Friday the students focused on recitations. Recitations (or rhetoricals, as it was also called) resembled a talent show; students and staff performed vocal solos, impromptu speeches, recitations, and piano pieces, and sometimes acted out a mock wedding. They followed that with singing, games, and a joint meeting of the four literary societies on Saturday (Rhetoricals). By Sunday, students started traveling back to school, and the holiday weekend was officially over. This makeshift Thanksgiving vacation was enjoyed by all; many students called it one of the happiest experiences they’d ever had.

As the years progressed, student events shifted their focus from fellowship and self-improvement to community service. Centenary still held traditional Thanksgiving dinners and designed Thanksgiving themed events, but now the focus was on what the college could do for the Hackettstown community. The cafeteria still makes traditional Thanksgiving dishes, but instead of holding a special dinner event, the meal is available during normal mealtime hours. Now every student can spend a little of their Thanksgiving with Centenary College!

“Rhetoricals.” The Hackettstonian [Hackettstown] Dec. 1907: n. pag. Print.

“Thanksgiving at C.C.I.” The Hackettstonian [Hackettstown] Dec. 1903: n. pag. Print.

“Thanksgiving at C.C.I.” The Hackettstonian [Hackettstown] Dec. 1907: n. pag. Print.


After the great fire of 1899, the Centenary community worked hard to rebuild the campus and revive its spirit. Benefactors of Centenary provided the means for a new school, one bigger and better than before. Students and staff wanted to remember the devastation of that night and express admiration for those whose hard work and perseverance helped reestablish the school. Within a few years of the fire, Centenary Collegiate Institute had developed a tradition to do just that.

This artwork was included in the 1909 Hack Yearbook.

This artwork was included in the 1909 Hack Yearbook.

The anniversary of the fire was commemorated with a ceremony they called the Salamander Celebration. Salamanders have long been considered mythical creatures, as it was believed that they were created from fire. The belief stated that a salamander would ascend from the flames a more magnificent being and be better equipped for life than it was before it entered the fire. It’s very fitting that C.C.I. would choose to use that name for its new celebration.

The New Main Building as viewed from Jefferson Street

The New Main Building as viewed from Jefferson Street

October 31st was no longer just for Halloween. Students would assemble at the back of the campus, where two students would preside over the ceremony: one male and one female. The male student was designated the ‘Fire Orator’, one of the most remarkable honors a Centenary student could receive. He would spend a great deal of time preparing a speech about bravery, pride, devotion, and how these ideals pertained to the old and new Centenary Collegiate Institute.

This calendar shows the events for the year of 1909. Notice, this shows the calendar year from January to December, instead of the school year, from September to June.

This calendar shows the events for 1909. It’s clear that the Salamander Celebration was one of great importance, as it is one of the only non-academic events to be included. Also, notice that this calendar runs from January to December instead of September to June, and consists of three terms: Winter, Spring, and Fall.


The female student was named the ‘Vestal Virgin’. Vestal Virgins were priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth. She presented a speech about Vesta and fire, and then, using a torch, ignited a small model of the old school building. The burning of the miniature symbolized the rekindling of school spirit and fidelity to the institute. Students sang songs and yelled school cheers until the fire burned out. “As the salamander came forth from the ashes, more brilliant than ever before, so Centenary rose again from the ruins in even greater glory (Spilled Ink, 10/22/1942 1:1, pg 2).”

This article about the Halloween party and Salamander Celebration was included in the 1908 Hack Yearbook.

This article about the Halloween party and Salamander Celebration was included in the 1908 Hack Yearbook.

The Salamander Celebration disappeared around the same time as the boys. The last mention of the event is in the 1910-1911 Hack yearbook, the first year as an all-girl’s school. The October 1942 issue of the student newspaper describes former traditions of Centenary Collegiate Institute, and includes this sentiment about the Salamander Celebration: “This was one of our traditions. Some may wonder why it faded or was forgotten. Perhaps someday it will live again.”