Dahlgren Quadrangle is my favorite place on campus for many reasons: the breathtaking space designed to look like a European monastery, the beautiful chapel completed in 1892, the bubbling fountain that gives us a favorite student tradition. But, the spot is my favorite place on tours for a different reason — its incredible history.
The quad is one of the oldest parts of campus, and for this reason we tour guides choose it as the perfect spot to stop for a few minutes and talk about the history of Georgetown and the part our university played in the history of our nation.
Last week was no different. I paused there, finished up my joke about the long waitlist for those who want Dahlgren Chapel as the background for their upcoming nuptials, considering the commonly cited statistic that around 60 percent of Georgetown students marry other Georgetown students, and asked the group one of my favorite questions: “Does anyone know what our colors are, and why they were adopted?”
A man in the back wearing an alumni baseball cap raised his hand. I gave him the go ahead, and he informed the group that Georgetown proudly flew the colors of blue and gray, and that those colors were adopted by the crew team in the late 1800s. Wait. What?
I didn’t know what to do. How do you tell a guest, especially an alumnus, that he is wrong? The expression on my face apparently gave me away. The man looked at me and asked, “Did I make a mistake?” I laughed a little and said, “No sir, I just have never heard that before.”
I‘ve always thought that the Jesuits decided to adopt the colors blue and gray at the end of the Civil War as a symbolic reunion of the North and the South. Confused, I decided to leave out my reminder that many of the Jesuits and students of the time were Southern sympathizers, and moved on to talking about Old North’s time as a Civil War hospital and added that the top step to one of its entrances is a spot from which 13 presidents have spoken.
Continuing the tour that day, I got a few questions about Georgetown during the Civil War and informed my group that Lincoln addressed Union troops here and that our attendance dropped to an all-time low of 17 as most of our young men left to fight in the devastating War Between the States. But as we moved on, the colors issue was dropped, and I was left to ponder. I always leave the end of tours open for questions, but this time, I had one myself.
I stopped Mr. Baseball Cap and asked him if he wouldn’t mind telling me more about what he knew regarding Georgetown’s colors. He had rowed for Georgetown and graduated in the class of 1976; he was happy to share what he knew.
It turns out I was correct in saying that the colors were adopted after the Civil War as a symbol of our reunited nation, but that wasn’t the whole story. He told me that it was the Georgetown College Boat Club, the original crew team, that had selected the colors. He reminded me that distinct colors are important when watching crew, since fans stand on the shore. Harvard had its crimson and University of Pennsylvania had its red and blue, but in 1876 Georgetown didn’t have a set of official colors. So, a student committee declared blue and gray as appropriate colors for the boat club and, additionally, expressive of the unity between North and South. And the rest is history.
So the next time you wear your dear old blue and gray, remember that you’re participating in a tradition of unity, history and a championship crew team.
Sydney Schauer is a junior in the College. She is a board member and the tour coordinator of Blue and Gray. IT’S TRADITION appears every other Tuesday.