UL in History: Water Balloons, Oh My!

Dr Clifton W. Potter Jr ~ UL History Professor

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This week’s pleasant weather filled with the promise of languid spring days yet to come convinced me that winter is finally done, and my thoughts began to wander back over the years to the water balloon mania that “gripped” the campus every year during second semester.  Before I precede, let me admit that I was hit one Sunday afternoon in May by a soccer player whom I dubbed “Wrong Way Walker” because he had accidentally kicked a goal for our opponent in a particularly crucial game. He had waited for months to take his revenge—but I deserved it. Most of the recipients of a water balloon were innocent victims.  Nobody was ever hurt; they just were soaked.

Walking past Carnegie Hall in the late afternoon was particularly dangerous. Without warning seemingly dozens of missiles would appear from as many windows.  Most of them missed their marks—but not always. There was one young woman who tempted fate on a regular basis by walking very close to the building and taunting the projectile crews. As they responded to her challenge, she pushed the button on a large black umbrella. The balloons burst, but their target went her way dry and very self-satisfied.  Then one day her flirting with disaster ended. Two enterprising “gunners” secured several plastic garment bags from a local dry-cleaning establishment, sealed them at one end with a warm iron, and filled the giant “balloon” using a garden hose borrowed from a town student. When their tormentor appeared on schedule, they pushed the “balloon” out of their third story window.  Then up when the umbrella and down fell the missile with a loud smack. The umbrella looked as if it had been struck by lightning. The young woman was soaked—she never tried that trick again.

When I joined the faculty in 1965, I learned that the Dean of Women had a plan to stop water ballooning forever.  All women who came into their dorms with wet hair after a water balloon incident had occurred would be “campused” for a week.  This meant that you would be restricted to your room except for classes and meals. Students with a note from a professor could go to the library.  This administrator was not popular with many faculty members, so some of them helped these young women avoid this form of punishment by providing them with head scarves which were duly washed, ironed and returned to their owners. Most of the young women in question were not participants but innocent bystanders. The Dean Christine K. Wells was not pleased, but there was nothing she could do.

In time water balloon battles went the way of goldfish swallowing and phone booth stuffing. When the 1970s arrived and Americans were dying or being maimed in Vietnam by the thousands such innocent collegiate pleasures seemed juvenile and shallow.  Yet as I grow older and I count my years at Lynchburg College in decades I long that other time when life seemed so simple and the future lay before me—a straight road with no twists and turns. One afternoon in early spring, I saw eighteen people climb into a Volkswagen that was parked in front of Memorial Gym, now Hall Campus Center—but that is another story.