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Lonna Saunders

Lonna Saunders

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Gatsby, Winter Carnival, and Me

Posted: 03/ 8/11 07:16 PM ET


In F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, narrator Nick Carraway remarks, "You can't repeat the past." To which Jay Gatsby replied, "You can't repeat the past? Why of course, you can."

As a Dartmouth woman and in many ways a pioneer during the college's first year of coeducation in 1972-73, I too wondered as I went back this winter term to take a course and to attend the 100th anniversary of Dartmouth's Winter Carnival, who was right. Jay Gatsby or Nick Carraway? Could I repeat the past? And did I even want to?

As I watched the 1939 film, Winter Carnival at Dartmouth's Collis Commonground, it sure seemed as if one could. It's the story of a former Carnival Queen played by actress Ann Sheridan, who comes back to her old stomping grounds after a messy divorce and reunites with an old beau at Winter Carnival.

Fitzgerald, a Princeton man, was an uncredited screenwriter on the film, having been fired in the midst of it for drunkenness in a famous public spat with the producer, Walter Wanger at the Hanover Inn, while attending Carnival as part of his research for the movie.

I remember my first Winter Carnival in 1973 as one of Dartmouth's first coeds. I learned much later the choosing of a Carnival Queen was stopped that year as a gesture towards coeducation and women's equality. I don't know whose decision it was to end that tradition. I wouldn't have minded if there had been one.

Instead a Jabberwocky on skis from Lewis Carroll's book, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, graced our Carnival poster. Captioned "Through a Frosted Looking Glass", did it mean the men were "frosted" because women were students there? That Jabberwocky wearing a Dartmouth green no. 13 on his chest, was awfully snarly looking.

As a nod to repeating the past on this 100th anniversary, President Jim Yong Kim revived the Carnival Queen tradition, crowning returning alumna, University of Connecticut Professor Gina Barreca '79 with a tiara right before she regaled us with her tales of "Enduring Winter Carnival: Babes in Snowland".

Barreca talking about her career as a humorist (in addition to her professorial duties), quipped to the "1902 Room" crowd at Baker Library, "You don't have to make anything up to be funny. You just have to pay attention." She advised women to ward off muggers by carrying Tampax with them at all times. "Just hold one up," she said, "and men run away screaming. That's why they're called 'feminine protection'!"

Another Winter Carnival tradition repeating in 2011, was the Carnival Ball at the Top of the Hop on hiatus since 1932. But alas, this Cinderella missed the ball with her leg in a cast. I would like to say I injured it skiing or doing something fun and exciting. I slipped and fell on the ice in a Hanover motel parking lot where I had been staying. Not the Winter Carnival I had imagined. My classmates autographed my cast with a Dartmouth green Sharpie. One of the guys told me to make sure to keep it in case a classmate became famous. We're studying screenwriting.

In show business, wishing someone good luck is viewed as giving them bad luck and vice versa. That's how the well-wishing term, "Break a Leg", came into being.

Since I actually broke my leg, does this mean I will have phenomenally good luck in show business now? I belong to the Hollywood Prayer Network too, so I am really hoping with some prayers and a little bit of luck, it will. Tucked away in the north woods trying to write some old fashioned screenplays that aren't smutty or slutty, I want to believe there's a market for them. Am I wrong?

Anyway this was my first (and hopefully last) Winter Carnival in a cast, but I did learn one thing. A cast can be a man magnet. Who knew? But then again when a woman has her own wheels, I mean wheelchair, with her leg propped up in the air at a formerly all-male college with ale flowing, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.

But this Cinderella finally did get to the gingerbread castle making event, prince or not, squired by a red and white wheelchair ambulance since I didn't dare risk breaking something else en route. It wasn't a pumpkin coach (more on that later), but it did make quite the entrance.

Okay, so I never learned how to make gingerbread castles as a child. It's never too late, right? Back in the day, ordinary children did not have access to kits sold at the mall. Instead, gingerbread houses adorned with gum drops were seen only in the wonderful world of Walt Disney or in a fancy non-edible candle sold door-to-door by Avon ladies. They were revered and magical. Not something mere mortal children accustomed to making mud pies in their backyards, were allowed to even touch.

Although no gingerbread houses for me as a child, I can't say I was deprived. My super- talented mother made a Cinderella pumpkin coach as a cake for my seventh birthday. She even borrowed my brothers' multi- colored plastic toy horses to pull it from their cowboys and Indians set. A peeled banana covered in green frosting, was the pumpkin's stem.

As the weekend wound down, it became clear that you can't go back to the real world without taking a piece of Winter Carnival with you. A history of the past, a book of carnival posters, many collectors' items, was being sold at the Dartmouth Bookstore on Main Street. Favorite themes included anything from Dr. Seuss '25, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and takeoffs of other movie titles such as The Greatest Snow on Earth (1978), 20,000 Leagues under the Snow (2008), North Side Story (1962) and Where the Wild Things Are (1986).

Eerily, the 2001 poster presaged the September 11th tragedy. Its theme was a takeoff on 2001: A Space Odyssey. The drawing, to some, looked like one of New York's Twin Towers standing against our Baker Tower. The "February 2001: An Ice Odyssey" poster, made its debut just 7 months before the 9/11 hit. Last but not least for this 100th anniversary, the poster "Carnival of the Century: 1911-2011", featured a solitary male ski jumper. I was able to buy a couple of them.

So, can you really repeat the past? Well, my niece is applying to be a member of the class of 2015. We shall see...