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.
Found in 1 Collection or Record:
This 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 collection contains clippings, and written histories of the Trig Cremation (1880-1936), as well as programs, handbills, and songbooks from ceremonies (1877-1912).