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From the Archives: AnTostal — fun festivities and springtime scandals

, and | Monday, April 26, 2021

Diane Park | The Observer

AnTostal is an annual festival sponsored by Notre Dame to celebrate spring — rightfully so. As temperatures rise on campus and the South Bend permacloud subsides, making room for blue skies and bearable temperatures, the energy shift on campus is palpable. Students flock to the quads, music blasts from unknown dorm windows and everything just feels good.

However, amid this glorious time, students are also beholden to the final grind before the semester ends. Students also must begin to think about saying goodbye — a complicated notion, leaving the place and people that have become home in order to return to one’s actual home. This bittersweet season of beginnings and endings is worth celebrating in its entirety, and that is what AnTostal aims to do.

The celebration includes a slew of events and contests, and over time it has become a time-honored Notre Dame tradition. The evolution of AnTostal is significant — what began as a wild, rambunctious event in the late twentieth century is now more of a mental health check-in with students. This week, the From the Archives team examined the storied history of the festival  — from chariot races and blazing bonfires to springtime scandals. 

Observer archives, April 22, 1974

AnTostal’s unpredictable origins

Feb. 25, 1969 | April 22, 1971 | Jim Brogan | Researched by Spencer Kelly

This year’s AnTostal featured wholesome activities like “Wellness Wednesday Morning Yoga,” karaoke and a movie screening at Notre Dame Stadium. However, the event has not always looked like this — Observer articles from February 1969 and April 1971 note the wild activities of earlier AnTostal celebrations.

The second annual AnTostal took place May 8, 1969, and commenced with pie-throwing and dunking contests. Right from the start, the activities appear decidedly raucous by today’s standards, yet harmless overall.

That same year, the main event was Friday’s beach party at St. Joseph’s Lake, complete with strobe lights and a live band. Things then escalated quickly. Students planned to ignite “the world’s biggest bonfire” at the end of the night, targeting a height of 150 feet. In terms of fuel for the fire, Pangborn hall president Marty Bree said “all the guys in Pangborn are willing to contribute their desks.”

The shenanigans continued on Saturday with activities including a tug-of-war, a bed race, a “no hands” pie-eating contest, flour blowing, a water brigade, a pig chase and cow milking. To cap off the night and the AnTostal weekend, students attended a barn dance with “probably 25 half-kegs” of beer.

Not to be outdone by their predecessors, organizers of the fourth annual AnTostal in 1971 planned some equally absurd events. New additions to the activities lineup included the Jello Toss, the “Old Tire Race” and the “Jocks vs. SMC basketball game,” in which Notre Dame men had to wear boxing gloves while playing hoops against Saint Mary’s students.

Back from previous years was the flour blowing, dunking booth, pie-eating contest, tug-of-war, cow milking and pig chasing. The second annual “Kissing Marathon” was a highly anticipated returning event — students were eager to see if anyone could beat last year’s winner, J.T. Lyons, who locked lips with his partner for six hours and 35 minutes.

“[Lyons] will be back to defend his title,” news writer Jim Brogan wrote, “except this year with a different girl.”

It is hard to imagine Notre Dame approving most of these activities today — and perhaps that’s for the best.

Preparations for the 1976 festival begin months in advance

Jan. 29, 1976 | Joe Straub | Researched by Maggie Clark

AnTostal at Notre Dame is a big deal — it is now, and it has been for many years. Like other major campus events, AnTostal requires intricate planning and preparation in order to ensure ultimate success. But what does a successful AnTostal look like? Joe Straub, a staff writer at the Observer, noted that “AnTostal is a compilation of various events and activities. A concert is usually included and past performers have been Santana and The Beach Boys.” 

It doesn’t get much bigger than the Beach Boys in the 1970s, does it?

Observer archives, Jan. 29, 1976

In addition to the musical entertainment, the signature event also features fun games and competitions for the students such as impersonation contests, singing contests and even a chariot race on the track in which students-turned-gladiators competed for fame. 

Straub noted that in 1976, preparations for the beloved, three-day event began in January. As it turns out, the facilitation of fun is not as easy as one may think. 

The extensive planning did not deter students from getting involved — at the beginning of the winter semester in 1976, “sixty-four students attended the first meeting of the AnTostal committee.”

Not only were students excitedly anticipating the fun that came with AnTostal, but they were also excitedly anticipating the organization as well.

AnTostal organizer charged with theft of $3000 from festival’s account

David Sarphie and Dr. James M. McDonnell | Nov. 1, 1983 | Researched by Evan McKenna

It was April 1983 — the golden age of AnTostal. Although the annual event had been a success at the University since its inception in 1968, the festivals of the early ‘80s saw massive success, drawing in large budget surpluses from 1980 to 1982.

And at first, 1983’s 16th annual AnTostal seemed to be no different. According to the former director of student activities Dr. James M. McDonnell, the year’s standard festivities sported the highest participation rate in the event’s history, and new additions to the itinerary — from noon-time concerts to quad-wide gatherings — were well-attended. 

So why did an internal audit of the AnTostal bank account — requested by McDonnell in October 1983 — reveal a deficit of $5,410.31? 

The answer isn’t so simple. On top of a $2000 loss from one of the weekend’s aforementioned concerts, the account also took hits in the form of $800 worth of damage sustained by rented vehicles and the theft of $600 worth of sound equipment.

But the account’s staggering deficit was brought about by more than just lackluster attendance, property damage and petty theft. A closer look at the audit would reveal the particularly strange financial activity that seemed to drive AnTostal’s record into the red: Between the months of Sept. 1982 and March 1983, the account saw a number of overstated assets, as well as cashed checks made out to a personal account. Embezzlement was afoot.

The owner of the aforementioned personal account — whose identity remained confidential per the disciplinary guidelines of du Lac — called McDonnell to confess to the theft shortly after the audit request, according to a Oct. 31, 1983 statement from the Office of Student Activities. 

And justice came quick — the person appeared at a meeting with University Auditors to review the items of the audit, underwent a hearing conducted by Dean of Students James Roemer, was charged with theft and signed a promissory note pledging to repay student government the stolen $3000.

In a Letter to the Editor appearing just three pages later, McDonnell wrote about the incident and its ramifications, beginning with a very brief recap.

“[The Observer’s] front page will no doubt carry a tragic story regarding the theft of AnTostal funds,” McDonnell wrote (although the story in question appeared on page three). “The person responsible came forward, confessed, and will be punished in accordance with University regulations. To repeat all the details is not necessary.” 

Observer archives, Nov. 1, 1983

Despite the University administration’s disappointment in the theft, McDonnell did not dwell on the wrongdoings of the guilty party — rather, he assumed a constructive tone, recognizing the deficiencies of the former system and looking ahead to a new one.

“What happened is an example of what can happen in a student-run organization when dual or triple signatures are not required for all disbursements,” he wrote. “It is also an example of how funds can be misused when a faculty or administrative person’s signature is not required.” 

Thus, McDonnell and his staff utilized the former system as a shining example of what not to do. The statement from the Office of Student Activities emphasized several changes in the future operation of AnTostal accounts.

“The separate AnTostal account is being officially closed,” the statement read. “The 1984 AnTostal will receive its [funding] in the same manner that all other Student Activity Fee money is expended — either by means of a receipt or invoice processed with the Student Government Treasurer’s Office.” 

And McDonnell ended optimistically, advising against the story’s sensationalization. 

“Fortunately, the person has come forward and confessed and is repaying the money. Most importantly, this person needs to put a life back together,” McDonnell wrote. “I submit that this case should be closed. We do not need to further execute this person on the pages of this newspaper or over WSND-AM.”

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About Evan McKenna

Evan is a senior at Notre Dame from Morristown, Tennessee majoring in psychology and English with a concentration in creative writing. He is currently serving as the Managing Editor of The Observer and believes in the immutable power of a well-placed em dash. Reach him at [email protected] or @evanjmckenna on Twitter.

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