Legendary 75-year-old Rider fraternity gag is in the news again
The 1947 re-enactment of Washington’s crossing of Delaware is on the cover of a new book
It’s one of the most recognizable images in the world – General George Washington standing atop a skiff as he navigates the icy waters of the Delaware River.
Brought to the popular imagination by Emanuel Leutze’s famous painting, the scene has been commemorated countless times, including, memorably, by a group of brothers from the Rider fraternity in 1947. At that time, the brothers by Phi Sigma Nu staged a reconstruction of Washington crossing the Delaware. to initiate new promises. The gag was the subject of a four-page spread in The life magazine. Seventy-five years later, he’s still covered.
A photo of the re-enactment of Phi Sigma Nu graces the cover of a new book. Part of Arcadia Publishing’s Image of America book series, which celebrates local history, Washington Crossing illustrates the many ways people commemorated the 1776 crossing in Washington, particularly at Washington Crossing State Park in New Jersey and Washington Crossing Historic Park in Pennsylvania.
Published in April, the book was written by Robert W. Sands Jr., who wrote three previous books in the Image of America series, and Patricia E. Millen, founding board member of the Washington Crossing Park Association. The authors obtained the cover photo and others from the Rider archives.
“When we both saw the picture, we instinctively knew it had to be the cover of Washington Crossing“, says Millen. “It was so intriguing! The Rider students captured the spirit of the ride with excitement in a photograph most people had never seen before.”
The origin of the re-enactment is attributed to an idea of Frank Ewart ’47 and Don Reynolds ’48, who were looking for an initiation ritual that avoided hazing. A total of about 40 promises crossed the Delaware in three longboats. In one of the boats, students attempted to recreate the inspiring, albeit historically inaccurate, image that Leutze immortalized in “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” Among them were student George Chafey portraying Washington, William Clark ’49 portraying General Nathaniel Greene, and Theodore Genola Sr. ’50 wearing a buckskin uniform.
Washington’s surprise attack on unsuspecting British and Hessian soldiers on Christmas Day marked a turning point in the American Revolution. After suffering a series of defeats against the sturdy British army, Washington chose a bold tactic that would spark a series of key victories.
After crossing Delaware in 1947, the students followed in the footsteps of Washington’s army on a nine-mile hike to Trenton. Some pledges rode horses, but Chafey, who “was afraid of horses and suffered from a bad cold,” according to the new book, rode a bicycle.
A 1987 New York Times A re-enactment article reported that Reynolds portrayed the commander of the Hessian soldiers, who were defeated at Trenton by Washington. The article also noted that, like many of Rider’s students at the time, Reynolds, Genola, and Chafey were all World War II veterans.
Rider’s involvement in the crossing was not limited to just one fraternity. Dean J. Goodner Gill, the namesake of Gill Memorial Chapel, ended classes early that day so students could attend. A rival fraternity, Phi Sigma, apparently couldn’t stand as mere witnesses. Members greeted re-enactors rowing to the New Jersey shore with volleys of tomatoes, oranges and firecrackers.
Unlike the bloody events of 1776, the skirmishes only grew milder as the day progressed. After Phi Sigma Nu reached Trenton, the mock battle ended and went down in the history books, complete with a pillow fight.