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History Lessons: A Snowy Showdown

Once upon a snowfall, two rival residence halls on the Ann Arbor campus started an icy battle that continued for decades.
By Gregory Lucas-Myers, ’10

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Before 1959, heavy snowfall in Ann Arbor undoubtedly led to glimpses of campus fun: snowmen on the Diag, sledding in Nichols Arboretum, and the odd snowball fight between friends. But in March of that year, an article in The Michigan Daily documented a new activity: two rival residence halls pelting each other in the middle of the night with nature’s icy bounty. The warring factions? South Quad, which opened in 1951 across East Madison Street from West Quad, which had opened a dozen years earlier.

Though it became an informal annual tradition, The Daily reported on the big battle at least three times, giving it a firm place in U-M history.

  • March 10, 1959

    • An eyewitness is quoted saying that West Quad residents, following a snowball fight among themselves, headed to South Quad and “questioned these men’s parenthood” to start a larger contest.
  • Nov. 22, 1964

    • A reporter, writing the day after a heavy snowfall coincided with the Wolverine’s football victory over Ohio State University, described “men from South Quad and West Quad frantically throwing snowballs at each other to the spirited music of the William Tell Overture.”
  • Dec. 7, 2000

    • A photographer captured a snowy image of the chaos (pictured), which ran with the caption, “East Madison Street turns into a war zone last night as residents of South Quad and West Quad battle each other in the snow. Warriors from West Quad pushed their way into South Quad by 11:30 p.m.”

Though the current pandemic has certainly put a pause on this year’s competition, once it is safe to gather again — with icy rounds in hand, no less — the students of East Madison Street will be ready for that first big snowfall.


Gregory Lucas-Myers, ’10, is senior assistant editor of Michigan Alumnus.

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