Mountain Day is an annual event organized by Berea College during every fall semester. On Mountain Day, all classes are dismissed and the labor is cancelled, except for essential labor such as Food Service, Hospital, Boone Tavern, and Public Safety. Mountain Day celebrates the nature and the environment surrounding us, especially exploring the Appalachian culture and the mountain people of the region. Mountain Day celebration serves as an example of Berea’s mission “to serve the mountains of Appalachia and to preserve the area’s heritage.”
The first Mountain Day was held in 1875; yet, the event was first mentioned in the 1907 edition of the College Catalog as an ‘excursion.’ There are no records of the official ‘statement of purpose’ of the Mountain Day; however, it is believed that the nature of Mountain Day was to:
- provide an opportunity for alumni to visit the campus and their former teachers and friends,
- to provide sanctioned social excursion for students,
- to enjoy the Fall color and other natural wonders in immediate vicinity, and
- to provide a campus holiday free of classes and non-essential labor (in an e-mail to Shannon Wilson from John Cook).
Mountain Day was traditionally celebrated on the third Monday of the fall term. If the weather conditions on the designated date were not satisfactory for the celebration of the event, then the event would be cancelled and postponed to the same day of the next week. If the weather did not improve by the next week, then the event would be omitted for the school year. Every year a booklet was published that announced the date of Mountain Day and which listed all of the activities, rules and the schedule of performances. The booklet encouraged professors to not schedule examinations or tests on the day before or after Mountain Day, in order to provide students equal opportunity to enjoy their day off exploring nature, the Appalachian Mountains and local culture.
Throughout the twentieth century there were various changes and additions to the celebration of Mountain Day. In the early years of celebrating Mountain Day, students would dress up and hike up the mountain. Eventually, the dress code became less formal and more casual. Originally students had to sign up by Tuesday before Mountain Day at the Alumni Building in order to participate in the celebrations. There were wagon trucks that transported the students to the Indian Fort Mountain, and the transportation fee consisted of five cents for women and fifteen cents for men. The students had excursions to the Pinnacles with their departments, and the college’s administration highly discouraged “wandering alone” or in a group of less than twenty people. Additionally, female students and male students were expected to hike in separate groups, and if any male student wished to accompany a young woman of another department, then he had to ask for permission from the Department Deans. It is possible that these restrictions led to the decline in the popularity of Mountain Day; at one point, participation fell to forty to forty-five percent. In response, the College organized a group of leaders, each of whom were willing to lead a minimum of thirty students through the wilds of Indian Fort Mountain, in order to increase the participation level of the students to at least ninety per cent.
For several years, starting a few years before the Second World War, Berea had three Mountain Days on consecutive weekends because of large student enrollment. Approximately 1700 students were divided into groups, called the foundation group, the upper division college group, and the lower division college group. There were contests amongst various groups or organizations of the college. There were teams of eight students, who represented their particular organization, such as the college’s County Dancers as well as all the athletic teams, who competed for a 300 dollar prize. The team that had the fastest time climbing up the mountain received the prize. Students of the “Get Moving Berea College Program” also participated in this contest, but they were simply awarded bonus points.
On Mountain Day, the College chimes played either “She’ll be comin’ round the Mountain” or “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” at six o’clock in the morning to kick off the holiday.
Berea College usually celebrates Mountain Day on a Wednesday in October. The celebration of Mountain Day involves hiking up the Indian Fort Mountain, which is located within the seven thousand acres of College’s forest territory. Students are encouraged to hike up to the East Pinnacle before the sunrise, in order to greet the sunrise atop the mountain. In recent years, it has been a tradition for several college organizations or clubs, such as the Berea College Choir and the Country Dancers to sing or perform dances respectively upon the rise of the Sun. Mountain Day activities and contests are organized and coordinated by the Department of Campus Activities or Campus Life. Most of the Berea College’s dance, music and choir groups perform at the Mountain Day event. Moreover, there are shuttle vans, as well as a hay ride, that transport students to the Indian Fort Mountain, running every half hour beginning eight in the morning until four in the afternoon. Many students choose to go camping the night before Mountain Day and camp out either at the West or at the East Pinnacle.
Dining Services provides lunch at the forest grounds. Throughout the afternoon students and guests get to enjoy various snacks and treats, some of the most popular treats of which are kettle corn, cotton candy and drinks such as Ale-8. Students get to enjoy Bluegrass music, watch dance performances, make bracelets, tie-dye T-shirts, etc. In addition, there are various activities and contests in which students can challenge themselves and participate. For instance, there are contests called “Pioneer games” which include activities such as log chopping, log tossing and crosscut saw competition, all of which uniquely represent the Appalachian culture. Students can also test their skills in archery and participate in charity walkathons or scavenger hunt contests organized by some of the college organizations. Mountain Day participants who hike up to the East Pinnacle and to the Eagles Nest challenge themselves by passing through the narrow passage between two rocks on the trail leading to the top called the “Fat Man’s Misery,” or the Devil’s Slide.
On the eve of the Mountain Day, there is a street dance on Main Street in front of the Boone Tavern Hotel. The street dance is organized and conducted by the Berea College Country Dancers and the Bluegrass Music Ensemble. The celebration has previously been sponsored by the Mountain Day Planning Committee, Sodexho Food Service, Campus Activities Board, Intramurals, the Agricultural Union, the Saddle Club, the Forestry Department, the Music Department and Campus life.
During the 1977 Mountain Day celebration, the sixth President of Berea College – Willis Weatherford Jr. – and the College Dean – William Ramsay – were “kidnapped” by a group of Berea College students. Some students were dressed as Native American Indians, and they asked for a ransom of sixty-three dollars. Then, students donated the ransom money to the United Community Fund of Madison County.
Previously, Mountain Day has been referred to as the “back to the land” movement, or as the “Rocktober Fest.” In 1912, Mountain Day was celebrated separately between two schools: the Foundation School and the College. In the mid-1940s, the College had even celebrated Mountain Day during the spring semester, as a Spring Mountain Day. Though it is hard to believe now, in the 1950s, one of the activity contests was tobacco spitting!
Berea College Alumnus. 57:3 Nov-Dec 1986, p.14
Held for ransom. Eyewitness. Oct. 20, 1977.
“Climbing out of the classroom.” in Lexington Herald, Oct. 21, 2004.
Smith, Louis. Holiday Announcement. Berea College: Berea, Kentucky. October 6, 1964.
“Mountain Day festivities planned for Wednesday.” Berea Citizen, Oct 1, 1981.
“Coming Up The Mountain When They Come.” Lexington Herald, Oct 8, 1981.
“‘Trail of Years’: Berea College celebrates 130th MD” by Bill Robinson, Oct. 25, 2005.
The Wallpaper: weekly publication of the Berea College Student Association, Berea, KY, Sat. Oct 10, 1953.
Chapman, Dan. “Mountain Day 1982: Good, clean, (wet) fun.” The Pinnacle. Berea, Kentucky: Berea College. October 29, 1982.
“Sun Shines on Berea for Mountain Day Fun.” Lexington Herald. October 9, 1980.
“Spring Mountain Day Comes Saturday.” Berea Citizen. April 21, 1949.
“Mountain Day.” Berea Citizen. October 8, 1914.
“Mountain Day: Climbing Indian Fort Mountains has become a tradition—and you can kiss your girl, too.” The Courier Journal. October 9, 1955.