Photo courtesy of the UT History Center of the crowd watching streakers in Austin, Texas.
Spring, in 1974. The cloying stench of Watergate hung over the nation’s senses. Vietnam remained in the nation’s conscience, even though US troops had pulled out the year before. In early March, an unseasonable warm spell brought the college students outside at the University of Nebraska. And the attention of the country was drawn to – Streaking!
I was a college sophomore at the time, trying to make it through my classes of organic chemistry, engineering calculations, classical physics, and partial differential equations. Meanwhile, my roommate who had a ROTC scholarship, but had decided by that time to deliberately flunk out since he would not have a service obligation if he didn’t finish his sophomore year, was drawn to the ongoing pursuit of women. He and I were polar opposites when it came to our success with women at that time. There was once when I went to bed in the bottom bunk, and awoke the next morning and found that the top bunk held two people, but I digress (I was a sound sleeper).
March 6 dawned chilly, but by the afternoon, had warmed up into the 70’s. The first warm day in spring on a college campus brings out the hedonism of the students. Blankets were stretched out in our quadrangle, and shirts are shed in order to soak up the first of the spring’s sun rays after the horrendous winter weather on the prairie. After supper, as we should have been studying, word started spreading from floor to floor, and from door to door. “Hey, they’re streaking around the fraternity houses”.
Our quadrangle was smack dab in the middle of campus. On the far side of our dorm, along 16th street, stood the large fraternity houses – Sigma Phi Epsilon, Sigma Nu, Kappa Alpha Psi, Phi Kappa Psi, Pi Kappa Phi. And then there were the sorority houses – Alpha Omicron Pi, Alpha Phi, Chi Omega, and others (Google Earth is great for reconstructing these sorts of memories). Beyond 16th street were other high rise dorms, so all in all, a critical mass of horniness and hormones flowed out onto the streets of Lincoln that night.
For those of us in our quadrangle dorm, we wore our non-Greekness as a badge of honor. In fact, I had penned a t-shirt with the symbols of ΣΦØ, or Sigma Phi Nothing. But if the Greeks were putting on a free show, me and a few thousand of my close friends were more than happy to share in the event. A group of us from our floor first fortified ourselves with a toke or two, and then joined the thronging crowd that quickly grew large enough to block the arterial 16th street. Lincoln suffered a traffic infarction that evening, as the campus police did nothing to disburse the crowd, but instead redirected traffic around the blocked artery. There were thousands of men and women out enjoying the warmth and the wild experience.
We were out there, wondering when the show was going to start, when suddenly a group of naked men dashed out of their fraternity and ran around the building, going back in through a side door. The crowd cheered as we inhaled the aroma of released inhibitions. Then at one of the sororities, someone appeared at the window, topless. The crowd surged towards the sorority house just as the fraternity’s show ended. Then another fraternity joined in the display, with a group of men jumping out from the bushes and taking a quick lap around their house. Back and forth went the show, and there was even a sorority house that joined in the naked laps. Eventually, though, the show quieted down, and folks drifted away. Traffic flow was reinstituted, and we went back to our own rooms to reflect upon the night’s events.
Not my roommate, though. He proceeded later in the night to streak the girls portion of the quadrangle, and was rewarded for his deed by having someone join him in a combined streak. He never did come back to our room that night.
Thus ended the great streaking surge at the University of Nebraska. Incidents of streaking broke out sporadically, but never again was there a huge surge in place to watch a few exhibitionists strut their stuff. It turns out that the first week of March 1974 was the peak of the streaking epidemic. Ray Stevens had his novelty hit The Streak that very month:
Though for a few years, some schools kept up the tradition, it now is a rarity for a streak to break out, and it will never be the phenomena it was in ’73-’74. And if a repeat were to happen today, the videos would be all over the internet instantly.
It makes me wonder what the next faddish behavior will be. A generation before I went to college, it was the era of the panty raid. My father had mentioned panty raids at Purdue when he had gone to school, but I never knew if he took part in one of those raids. One of the questions you wish you could ask, but never will be able to now.