Bates in the 1950s was a “well-ordered community,” said the preface of the Blue Book, the student-conduct booklet of the day.
With rules like “no coeducational canoe trips,” the seeming intent was to keep the student pulse shallow.
So it’s not surprising that a pent-up Bates student might find it delightfully sublimating to drive a fast car through hot flames. Luckily, the College provided a few sanctioned events — like Mayoralty — permitting just that.
For Mayoralty, the campus split into two camps. For 48 hours over three days in late May, each side staged skits, stunts, and shenanigans in support of their candidate for mayor of Bates.
In 1953, the sides lined behind “Cap’n” Walt Reuling ’54 and “Jolly Roger” Lev Campbell ’55, the former camp adopting a riverboat theme and the latter, a pirate theme.
The photo above, taken by Bill Laird ’54, shows Reuling supporter Tom Halliday ’54 driving his 1936 Ford sedan through a wall of flames on Bardwell Street, near where Ladd Library now stands. The sign on the side apparently says, “Hell Riders.”
“The name was a take-off on the daredevil driver groups that played the county fair circuits in the pre NASCAR era,” recalled the late Bill Thurston ’53 in 2007.
Though he’s not completely visible, Mayoralty lore says that the late John Dalco ’54 was on the hood of the Ford as it crashed through the flames. (You can see his leg splayed out on the hood, above the sign.) Dalco went on to become a physician and president of the Maine Medical Association.
The stunt was known as a Mayoralty “spectacular,” complementing skits and floats all over campus.
Planning and executing Mayoralty was frenzied and could take students far afield. “One night at our pirates meeting we found out that Tufts had just finished their Mayoralty campaign, and one of the sides had a pirate theme,” recalls Laird.
“Two of us drove to Boston that night, talked to the guys that ran their campaign, got a bunch of leftover gold-wrapped chocolate coins, and used them the next day at Bates.”
The “electorate” comprised women students, wives of Bates students, faculty, and staff. They chose Campbell as mayor.
Apparently, the popular pirate float Jolly Roger — a “work of art [that] drew many admirers from 5-year-olds upward to campus,” according to the Student — won the vote, scuttling the showboaters’ hopes.