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Chapter Eight

Celebrations and Fun Facts

Anniversary Celebrations

10th Anniversary: 1906

Annie, Frederica and Elizabeth Clarkson were important planners and participants in this anniversary. Decisions about school colors, mottos an honorary scholarships were made at this time.

25th Anniversary: 1921

Although we have no records, in all probability the celebration took over the town. As they had for other celebrations, all the shops in Potsdam would have had window displays. There would have been parades and bonfires.

50th Anniversary: 1946

By this anniversary, Clarkson was well known. Marchers in the parade included Herbert Hoover, former President of the United States, and Bertrand Snell, state representative and former house minority leader.

75th Anniversary: 1971

This anniversary was marked with the first published Clarkson history: Clarkson at 75: A Portrait of the College, by Donald Gale Stillman. A yearlong program of events kicked off on Charter Day, September 25, with the official opening of the Science Center, the first academic building on the Hill Campus. Jerrier Haddad, vice president of IBM and trustee, gave the keynote address, “Technology and Man,” and an ensemble from the Crane School of Music provided music.

100th Anniversary: 1996

The second Clarkson history, A Clarkson Mosaic, by Bradford Broughton, was published. The centennial also saw the inauguration of President Denny Brown and the publication of the University’s “Mission and Vision.” Someone composed a symphony for the celebration, and floats followed the parade route from the Downtown Campus to the Hill Campus. Local businesses also celebrated by taking out congratulatory ads.

Other Celebrations and Ceremonies


Graduation ceremonies occur twice a year: a smaller one in December and a larger one in May, during Mother’s Day weekend. The ceremonies include a procession and speakers, including special guests, those receiving honorary degrees and representatives from the graduating classes. The week before graduation is filled with activities ranging from Senior Days to student meetings with trustees.


Convocation, which initiates the new academic year for first-year students, occurs the Sunday before classes begin. Faculty attend in full regalia, and the address relates to a book, selected by the Clarkson Reads program, that all incoming students must read.

University Recognition Day

Begun as Moving Up Day in 1923, this day became Phalanx Day and eventually broadened into University Recognition Day.

Moving Up Day celebrated the completion of an academic year’s course of study, when students “moved up” one level in class standing. The first celebrations included field days and athletic events.

In 1929, tapping for Clarkson’s highest honor society, Phalanx, began on Moving Up Day. During the early tapping ceremonies, all students stood with their classes in a C formation. Phalanx members moved among the students and tapped initiates on the shoulder. These ceremonies were followed by parades through town. By 1955, faculty attended the ceremonies as well, but there were no athletic events or parades. By the 1980s, the day had been designated Phalanx Day, which became University Recognition Day in 1991.

In today’s University Recognition Day ceremony, more than 100 awards from all schools, programs and departments are given and Phalanx inductees are tapped.

Fun Facts

Are any of the old buildings haunted?

Holcroft House is said to be haunted by Elizabeth, a sad woman in her late 20s wearing a long dark skirt and blouse with leg-of-mutton sleeves and many buttons. She first appeared in the 1970s after Holcroft had become a women’s dormitory, but she has been seen since by administrators after Holcroft became the Admissions Office. Most of the sightings happen on the third floor, which had been added as servants’ quarters to the original house in the 1850s. She used to open and shut curtains and doors, but now turns on and off the electrical equipment.

Is anyone/thing buried on the property?

Annie Clarkson’s favorite horse, Trick, is buried, complete with gravestone, near the IRC.

Legends of buried treasure have been told. In 1934, boys playing in the ruins of the Homestead (near the current Moore Hall) discovered some copper and silver coins dating from the 1750s, the Napoleonic Empire and the French Republic. One of the Clarksons was thought to be a collector, but the coin trove didn’t add up to buried treasure.

The current Science Center stands near the former site of barns, under which were stone cellars and tunnels that some thought might have been used for the Underground Railroad. However, no evidence has been found that the tunnels led anywhere beyond the next barn or were used by the Underground Railroad. Another legend tells of a tunnel running between the old Sisson properties on Leroy St. and on Sissonville Road that are now owned by Clarkson fraternities.

Who was Joe Bushey?

Joe Bushey was the creation of F.E. Burke, the founder of the Integrator. Joe first appeared in the December 1922 Integrator as a Clarkson student whose cousin, Alf, had visited from Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, as a prospective student. Joe gave the Integrator Alf’s letter explaining he wasn’t coming to Clarkson because “that fella who teaches kemistricks tried to tell me that mollycuil is composed of two attums or more. Thet kina stuf dont git you no where.”

Joe was interviewed by the Integrator, which learned that he was writing a book, “Freshman Sfiziks,” from which the Integrator agreed to print periodic excerpts. Joe remained on campus for 11 years and only ever passed physics. The 1930 Clarksonian presented a history of Joe, including all the events, accidents and mishaps for which he was blamed. Joe had an email address as of 1995: Bushey,

Why do the Trustees have their February board meeting in Florida?

When Clarkson College became Clarkson University, a celebration was held in February 1984, coinciding with the winter board meeting. That was the last winter board meeting ever held in Potsdam.

After the celebration, board members needed to return to New York City or elsewhere for business. However, it was snowing — in fact, it was a blizzard. The board members were bussed to Massena through heavy snow for a flight to Montreal. Unfortunately, the airplane in Massena was frozen to the tarmac, and the battery was dead. After a bit of debate, the chief officer of external relations decided to drive the bus to Montreal. Some went with him, while others decided they would try to get the Massena plane back in operation.

The group on the bus had a hair-raising drive over unplowed roads. With only minutes to spare, they made their flights. Meanwhile, the group in Massena got a new battery, unstuck the tires and got the plane started. By that time, however, the door was frozen open and had to be rigged so it would stay closed in flight. Eventually, they took off. They were so late, though, that when Barney Clarkson’s plane landed at the tiny Westchester airfield, it was 4 a.m. and the gates were locked, trapping them on the field. Barney started climbing the fence, which drew the attention of the guard, who opened the gate. Since then, February board meetings have been held in other cities, usually farther south. Often Florida.

Has there always been enough snow and cold for Ice Carnival?

There was not enough snow and ice for the first Ice Carnival. The conveners had hoped to hold the first carnival in 1930, but had to wait until 1931 for better conditions. It was held at the Ives Park ice rink and was only one evening.

When has Clarkson had snow days?

Clarkson has only had snow days three times.

In 1947, registration and the first day of school were delayed for two days. Students coming from New York City for the spring semester attempted to return on Sunday evening but got stuck in Watertown for two days, not arriving in Potsdam till Wednesday morning.

In 1971, a snowstorm on March 4 and 5 closed the school.

In 1998, an ice storm delayed the start of classes until January 21 after the semester break.

When is homecoming?

Homecoming, the traditional return of alumni for the first home football game, takes place at the end of October. In the 1950s, when Clarkson dropped football from the athletics program, homecoming was also dropped. It was resumed in 1978 and included the varsity-alumni hockey game and a homecoming banquet. In 1983, Homecoming Weekend was combined with Parents’ Weekend, and in the 2000s,it became known as Alumni Weekend. In January 2015, COGO (Cold Out, Gold Out) was inaugurated as an alumni weekend similar to the Ice Carnival.

What Elm Street is Nightmare on Elm Street named after?

The Elm Street in Potsdam, of course. Razed in 2011, the Theta Chi fraternity house was a grand old Victorian funeral home that was used as the setting for a 1968 sophomore Humanities IV required art project. Students created a 20-minute film with the help of then-instructor Wes Craven and the Dramatechers Club. Craven later said it was a nightmare of errors since they knew nothing about sound, editing or cinema. The film included a staged bank robbery and various funeral home-inspired scenes of horror. The final project was titled Pandora’s Experimentia, and may or may not have been called A Nightmare on Elm Street in an earlier version. The 1984 Nightmare created by Craven had nothing but the street name in common.

What other city has Clarkson and Leroy streets in proximity?

In Manhattan, Clarkson and Leroy streets are even closer to each other than ours in Potsdam. Hermon LeRoy was an in-law of the Manhattan Clarkson family and belonged to the consortium that purchased the Town of Potsdam. He or his son lived in Potsdam briefly in the 1820s at the David Clarkson residence, what is now 30 Leroy Street. In midtown Manhattan, Clarkson and Leroy streets run parallel to each other behind Pier 40 on the Westside.

For which Potsdam luminaries important to Clarkson are streets and local buildings named?

Snell (originally from Colton), Cheel (Snell’s daughter), Sisson (Sisson Rd. and Sissonville), Schulyer (from Star Lake), Newell (originally from Ogdensburg; has a residence hall named after him), Thatcher.

What fraternity and sorority houses are of historical interest?

The Omicron Pi Omicron house, the old Sisson House, purportedly is connected by tunnels to the Fitzgerald Mansion, which was bought by Lamda Phi Epsilon in 1968. The house was built by the Sissons in 1892.

The home known as Reynold’s Hall at 27 Main Street was purchased by Zeta Nu fraternity. The building and its adjacent garage are the oldest standing wooden structures in Potsdam, and once housed a funeral parlor. The fraternity still resides there today.

The house on 29 Elm Street began as a stagecoach station, then was a distillery and, at one time, the home of Alpha Delta, a Potsdam State sorority. Kappa Gamma was chartered into the national Alpha Epsilon Pi, and the fraternity moved into the house.

Why should the Clarkson Union Board (CUB) hold their concerts in Walker?

In 2019, when Cheel Arena was under reconstruction, CUB, which hosts an annual spring concert in the arena, decided to forgo the concert. They must have forgotten our history.

For many years, Walker Arena (built in the 1930s) was the best music venue in town. The acoustics are so wonderful that Crane held their Spring Festival of the Arts concerts there until Hosmer Hall opened in the 1970s. The orchestras in Walker were led by world class conductors: Leopold Stokowski, Nadia Boulanger, LuKas Foss, Robert Wagner and others.

Where did the bell that rings at Clarkson hockey games and ceremonies come from?

The bell was salvaged by fraternity brothers in 1957 from the remains of a burned-out schoolhouse in Colton. It was installed permanently in Cheel in 1991 to be rung at hockey games, convocation and graduation. So noticeable is its peal, in fact, that a Cornell hockey player who went pro cited the bell as one of the few things that can really rattle visiting teams.

How has Clarkson been involved with the Olympics?

With Lake Placid practically in our backyard, Clarkson has long had a connection to Olympians. In 1934, Sonja Henie, Olympic Gold figure skater at the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics, was guest of honor in Syracuse. Clarkson’s hockey team was invited to an exhibition game, where one of the Techers was hit in the mouth with a puck. His consolation prize was a kiss from Henie.

In 1948, Phalanx received a frantic call from figure skater Barbara Ann Scott (the first woman and non-Techer to receive an honorary Phalanx membership for her many annual appearances at the Ice Carnival). She was preparing for competition, but had lost her lucky Phalanx pin. Although there were no extra pins, the then-president sent her his own. She won Olympic gold.

During the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, Dick Cook, Clarkson director of public communications, was on the press office staff; Clark Bailey, assistant to the president, served as director of telecommunications for Nordic sports sites; Steve Yianoukos, former head of athletics, drove the Zamboni; and George Davis, associate dean of science, was the official hockey timekeeper.

In the 1994 Olympics at Lillehammer, Norway, Clarkson junior Todd Marchant was on the Olympic hockey team, and Diann Roffe-Steinrotter, married to the Clarkson soccer coach, took silver in the giant slalom.

In the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, the U.S. luge team took silver, helped, in part, by a sled design improved by Associate Professor of Mechanical & Aero nautical Engineering Douglas Bohl and his team. A former Golden Knight, Renata Fast, was on the Canadian hockey team that took silver.

Who were the Clarksons?

The Clarksons were a prominent family in New York City who acquired the Town of Potsdam in 1802. The first Matthew Clarkson immigrated in 1698 and was secretary to the incoming governor. He received a large land grant in Westchester County and developed a trading company with England and Holland. Land, trade and government continued to be the focus of his descendants. The family helped develop much of the town of Potsdam and erected many of the buildings that still stand on campus today.

Learn more about the Clarksons.

Who was Matthew Clarkson?

Matthew Clarkson was one of the first owners of the Potsdam town. He was the genealogical link between current trustee Barney Clarkson and first trustee Annie Clarkson. Matthew was a prominent player in the Revolutionary War and in the new government and economy. Through many of his preserved letters, we know he was good friends with George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and John Vanderbilt. In fact, he appears in Trumbull’s famous portrait of Gen. John Burgoyne surrendering to George Washington in 1777.

Matthew was active in all civic, religious and political affairs of the state and city. He served in the New York State Assembly, where he introduced the first measure in the legislature for freeing slaves. Although the measure lost, he continued to press his legislation. He served as a U.S. marshal and as regent of the University of the State of New York. He was a member of the board of the New York Hospital and participated in commissioning a prison. Additionally, he was an enthusiastic sponsor of rebuilding Trinity Church after the war.

Why is there a portrait of George Washington in the Educational Resources Center?

Gen. Matthew Clarkson’s portrait was painted by Gilbert Stuart, whose portrait of George Washington has become iconic. A copy by Stuart of the George Washington portrait was presented to Clarkson University by trustee Robert Livingston Clarkson.
The portrait of Gen. Matthew Clarkson is a family heirloom kept at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

How did Clarkson acquire such a large art collection?

In 2018, two large art collections were willed to Clarkson by Mike Smith and Egon Matijević.

Matijević very much wanted his art to be enjoyed by the students. In 1981, Clarkson ran a very popular program through which students could borrow a painting to hang in their dorms.

The steel sculpture between the Educational Resources Center and CAMP exemplifies the many methods of framing and their corresponding connection.

The sculpture at the 9/11 Memorial on campus is made of steel recovered from the building wreckage. It was given to Clarkson in 2013 at the request of Michael Bielawa ’85, who assisted with the 9/11 clean up.

Portside, the huge white metal sculpture on the lawn near Cheel, was erected in 1991 by Helen Snell Cheel in honor of her late son, Bertrand Cheel ’62.


  • Charles W. Eaton (1896-97), Director
  • Barton Cruikshank (1897-1901), Director
  • William S. Aldrich (1901-11), Director
  • John P. Brooks (1911-28; 1932-33), Director, President
  • Joseph E. Rowe (1928-32), President
  • James S. Thomas (1934-40), President
  • John A. Ross Jr. (1940-47), President
  • Jess H. Davis (1948-51), President
  • William G. Van Note (1951-62), President
  • William L. Whitson (1963-66), President
  • John W. Graham Jr. (1966-74), President
  • Robert A. Plane (1974-85), President
  • Allan H. Clark (1985-87), President
  • Richard H. Gallagher (1988-95), President
  • Dennis G. Brown (1995-2003 ), President
  • Anthony G. Collins (2003- ), President

Mission and Vision

Clarkson’s mission and vision were summed up by President Brown, who defined “excellence” for Clarkson graduates as: “Academic rigor in the major; exceptional communication ability; experience in solving real-world, multidisciplinary problems in a team environment; strong credentials in computing and other 21st century technologies; unusually strong leadership preparation; and lots of entrepreneurial savvy.”

Read the full mission and vision.

Strategic Planning

Clarkson @125: Strategic Plans 2014-21

In 2021, Clarkson University will celebrate the 125th anniversary of its founding in 1896. Clarkson@125, the Strategic Plan for 2014-21, honors past and present accomplishments by establishing an ambitious vision and deliberate path toward this quasquicentennial milestone.

Read the plan here.