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This Week in Princeton History for January 18-24

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a sleigh ride results in the arrest of 24 undergraduates, Theodore Roosevelt lectures on police reform, and more.

January 18, 1879—A Columbia student is surprised when an innocent-seeming sleigh ride with Princeton students in Trenton lands him in jail alongside 24 Princetonians. Sleighing having become a public nuisance in Trenton, the local police had decided to make an example of these students. The New York papers will report later that at the time of their arrest, the students had been drinking and were singing “Jingle Bells” and “Sweet By and By” loudly at around 1:00 AM. After being denied bail, all plead guilty to disorderly conduct and pay a fine of $3.85 each to avoid spending the night to stand trial in the morning. The College of New Jersey (Princeton) president, James McCosh, will be quoted in the New York Times: “They are a very honorable set of young gentlemen. I do not believe those who went to Trenton would use indecent language, insult ladies, or get intoxicated.”

As noted by several newspapers in the aftermath of the Trenton arrests, sleighing was a popular form of recreation for College of New Jersey (Princeton) students in the late 19th century. Pictured here are four members of the Class of 1895 outside University Hall. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box SP14, Image No. 4856.

January 19, 1982—John Houseman, best known for his starring role in The Paper Chase, films a commercial for Puritan Oil (Proctor & Gamble’s sunflower oil) in McCosh Hall. Since The Paper Chase is about a Harvard Law School student, the producers of the commercial said they wanted a “Harvard Law School kind of setting.”

John Houseman outside McCosh Hall, January 19, 1982. Photo by Leland Ackerley ’83 for the Daily Princetonian.

January 21, 1897—Theodore Roosevelt, then the New York City Police Superintendent, lectures on police reform in Alexander Hall. The Princetonian reports: “Mr. Roosevelt found the New York force thoroughly demoralized, with the idea prevailing that honesty was not to be expected in a policeman. His first work was to eradicate these opinions.”

January 22, 1938—“Our Town” opens at McCarter Theater. Desiderio X. Parreno ’38 reviews the play: “I do not think it probable that ‘Our Town,’ unless it becomes a success de snobbisme, will have a long Broadway run.”

For last week’s installment in this series, click here.

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