Guide to the Records of Trig Cremation

Collection Title: Records of Trig Cremation
Dates: 1877-1936
Identification: 31/6/102
Creator: Trig Committee
Extent: 1 Boxes
Language of Materials: English
Abstract: The collection documents Northwestern's annual Trig Cremation ceremonies, which began in the 1870s as students conducted a spring-time ritual centered around the burning of their hated trigonometry textbooks. Over the years the ceremony turned into a student-produced musical. The records contain clippings and written histories of Trig Cremation (1880-1936), as well as programs, handbills, and songbooks from ceremonies (1877-1912).
Acquisition Information: Removed from the University Archives General Files in 2010.
Conditions Governing Access: None.
Repository: Northwestern University Archives
Deering Library, Room 110
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston, IL, 60208-2300
Phone: 847-491-3354

Biographical/Historical Information

Trig Cremation began as an affair enacted by the freshman class and designed to express the pent-up frustrations of freshmen trying to master the finer points of arithmetical arcana.  The festivities included at one time or another comedic rites and a mock autopsy, satirical poetry, musical sound effects, pyrotechnical displays, and theatrical productions or, as they were then called, “burlesques.”  Trig Cremation unfolded at one time or another around the city of Evanston, before the Woman’s College, at the Davis Street pier, at Sheppard Field, in Fisk Hall, and even Ravinia Park in Highland Park. 

The first Trig Cremation took place on May 9, 1877.  On that date, a group of freshmen undertook to march around Evanston with drums, fifes, and torches, ending up under a stand of oaks, possibly at the old Sheppard Field on north campus.  Brandishing the offending text book, the students eulogized the memory of dear “Trig,” then proceeded to “cremate” it in a serious bonfire, to the accompaniment of a dirge. 

This was followed only intermittently by similar events, with variations on the original theme (such as burying a trig text as well as burning one), until 1893, when Trig Cremation became an annual affair.  In 1895, during the ceremony now regularly at Sheppard Field, for the first time a dramatic production was staged by the freshman class as part of the festivities, called “Trigby,” inspired by the then current blockbuster novel, Trilby.

From this point on, plays or musical comedies became a regular feature of Trig Cremation, complete with student actors, scripts, costumes, and accompanying musical score. In the years that followed, “The Trig Plague,” “The Heart of Northwestern,” “Trig,” “Trigobolus,” and “Trigby’s Aunt,” among others, were all staged, sometimes for an admission fee.  These productions were material either written by the freshmen themselves or pirated by them from other sources. 

After the 1900 presentation, when the custom of freshmen throwing their caps into the cremation bonfire got rowdier than usual.  In 1902 the old ceremony was banned by decree of the faculty and the venue moved indoors to Fisk Hall (and three years later, to Ravinia Park); from that time forward, Trig Cremation comprised simply dramatic performances, under the auspices of a Trig Committee, of which “The Devil’s Time-Piece” was the first.  In 1915 or 1916, Trig Cremation was transmuted into an all-male campus organization called Hermit and Crow, which from then on staged an annual Trig comic opera.

Scope and Content

The records contain clippings and written histories on the Trig Cremation ceremonies, as well as programs, handbills, and songbooks from the years 1877 to 1912. Materials are organized chronologically.


Corporate Name

Trig Cremation


College students--Illinois--Evanston--Social life and customs

College students--Illinois--Evanston--Societies and clubs

Container List / Contents

  • Clippings, 1880-1923, n.d.Box 1, Folder 1
  • History, 1936, n.d.Box 1, Folder 2
  • Program, 1877Box 1, Folder 3
  • Handbill, 1885Box 1, Folder 4
  • Program, 1885Box 1, Folder 5
  • Program, 1886Box 1, Folder 6
  • Program, 1887Box 1, Folder 7
  • Handbill, 1890Box 1, Folder 8
  • Handbill, 1892Box 1, Folder 9
  • Program, 1892Box 1, Folder 10
  • Handbill, 1896Box 1, Folder 11
  • Handbill, 1897Box 1, Folder 12
  • Handbill, 1902Box 1, Folder 13
  • Handbill, n.d.Box 1, Folder 14
  • Program, "The Betrayal of Yrtemonogirt", 1906Box 1, Folder 15
  • Songbook, "The Betrayal of Yrtemonogirt", 1906Box 1, Folder 16
  • Program, "The Purple Domino", 1908Box 1, Folder 17
  • Songbook, "The Purple Domino", 1908Box 1, Folder 18
  • Program, "The Pony and the Peruke", 1909Box 1, Folder 19
  • Program, "Under the Trigonometree", 1912Box 1, Folder 20
  • Songbook, "Under the Trigonometree", 1912Box 1, Folder 21