When the University of Illinois debuted their new “homecoming” idea in 1910, inviting current students, faculty, staff and alumni to join together for a special weekend of celebration, it wasn’t long before other Western Conference (Big Ten) schools decided to do the same. And from the very beginning in 1912, Homecoming in Iowa City included, of course, a football game.
While the Hawkeyes had been involved in “conference” football since 1899 (picture above left), it was on November 23, 1912, when the Wisconsin Badgers came to play at Iowa Field, when SUI hosted its first Homecoming football game. Sadly, the Hawks lost that day (28-10), but that didn’t stop Iowa Citians from celebrating that first Homecoming gathering. Prior to Iowa Homecoming Badges (1924), the football team produced their own ‘team picture’ badges (the two shown above are from 1912 and 1914).
As I write this article in 2021, it’s Homecoming Week here in Iowa City, and after a unique school year where COVID cancelled most Homecoming 2020 celebrations, the campus is a-buzz, especially with the Hawkeyes playing great football right now, being ranked #2 in the nation!
While certainly, those Saturday afternoon football games in Iowa (Kinnick) Stadium have always been the centerpiece of Iowa Homecomings, a variety of other celebratory traditions have stood the test of time as well. Allow me, here, to offer you some special Hawkeye memories from past Homecomings, including a handful of “other” long-standing Homecoming traditions that have helped us celebrate our great university over the years.
The pre-game Homecoming Parade in downtown Iowa City, usually held on Friday afternoon or evenings, has long been an Iowa Homecoming tradition. This annual celebration through the streets of our fair community first began in 1917 with horse-drawn floats, and though horses have since been replaced by horsepower, the entries have only grown more elaborate and colorful over the years.
The Corn Monument has been another long-standing tradition at Iowa Homecoming. Believed to have started in 1919, the corn monument was the brainchild of a group of enterprising students in the University of Iowa College of Engineering. It was intended as a fall season complement to MECCA, the college’s annual spring festival so named for its original departments. The monument was placed, most years, on the Pentacrest – The Five Spot, as it was called in the early 1920’s – or on a nearby downtown street corner. Above are the 1922, 1927, and 1929 monuments.
October 1922 – Homecoming Parade. The earliest Homecoming photos all come from the camera of Fred Kent. Click here to read more about Iowa’s most prolific photographer.
My dad, George Boller, born in 1921, attended his first homecoming at Iowa Field when he was 5-years-old (1926) and was also there when the newly-built Iowa Stadium opened in 1929. In an article written about my dad (Homecoming 1976), he shared some of his memories (above left) from Homecoming games in the 1930’s. Above right-1932 Corn Monument.
(M-0127) This large Homecoming Ribbon (above) from the 1930’s still features Old Gold and Black. Click here to read more the Iowa colors of Old Gold and Black.
1934 Homecoming Ozzie Simmons + Racial Targeting = 1935 Floyd of Rosedale.
Again, my dad was in the stands in 1934 when the Minnesota Gopher team came to Iowa City for Homecoming (see the game program and my dad’s commentary above). Ozzie Simmons, one of the few black All-Americans of the 1930’s, was racially targeted by the Gophers that day, and sadly, the game officials did nothing to stop it. Tensions grew so hot between the two fan bases, the state governors determined to cool things off via a friendly wager on the 1935 game – a prized hog named Floyd of Rosedale. I believe you know the rest of that piggy story, right? Click here to read all the details about this story…
The Homecoming badges of the 1930’s featured team captain Tom Moore (1933), coaches Ossie Solem (1934), Irl Tubbs (1937), and Eddie Anderson (1939), and we can’t forget Rex the ROTC dog on the 1932 pin.
November 18, 1939 – Iowa Homecoming Weekend – #20 Minnesota comes to town.
“That little town means so much to me—the scene of growth and development during vital years—joy and melancholy, struggle and triumph. I love the people, the campus, the trees, everything about it.” Hawkeye Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick in a 1943 letter to Celia Peairs, a friend who had recently visited Iowa City.
(L-0087) Circa 1940’s – An Iowa Homecoming Songsheet featuring Old Gold (John C. Parish 1905), W. R. Law’s On Iowa (with a second verse) from 1919, and Iowa Fights! (a now-forgotten classic from the 1920’s). Click here to read more about these classic Iowa songs…
During the 1940’s, the Corn Monuments continued to grow in size, and if the Hawks won the Homecoming game, the monument provided the fuel for a huge bonfire for students on Saturday night! In the wake of World War II in 1947, the students didn’t use any corn on the monument in order to comply with President Harry Truman’s food conservation program to aid the starving in Europe.
In 1947, the State University of Iowa celebrated its Centennial year. The Homecoming badge reflected that special year. Click here to read more…
Beginning in the 1950’s Herky the Hawk began making ‘in-person’ appearances at Iowa football games. Click here to read more about those early days of Herky.
Throughout the 1950’s, both The Hawkeye Marching Band and The Scottish Highlanders provided half-time entertainment at the games, and, of course, marched in the annual Homecoming Parade. Click here to read more about both musical groups.
(M-0066) Meredith Willson’s Iowa Fight Song debuted on radio on his NBC show, The Big Show, on December 31, 1950 with a 47-piece orchestra and sixteen singers. The song was introduced on campus in 1951, becoming an immediate classic for all Hawkeye fans. Iowa’s own Willson guest-conducted the HMB at both the 1957 and 1959 Rose Bowl games.
With the assassinations of President Kennedy (1963), Robert Kennedy (1968), and Martin Luther King (1968), the 1960’s and 70’s proved to be a turbulent time. In the early 1970’s, with the Vietnam War dividing so many Americans, young people took to the streets to demonstrate against the war. A by-product of this generational tension was the re-imagining of all traditions. In 1972, the Student Homecoming Committee at Iowa rejected the idea of a traditional Homecoming, calling it Old Capitol Week instead.
As we mentioned earlier, my dad, George Boller, was interviewed by Iowa City Press Citizen sports editor Al Grady in 1976. The article appeared in the October 15th edition in celebration of the 1976 Homecoming game against Indiana. Outside of the four years he served during World War II (1942-1945), my dad attended every Iowa Homecoming game from 1926 (when he was five) until his death in April 1994 (at age 72). You can read more here…
When Hayden Fry came to Iowa City in 1979, he brought with him a winning attitude that quickly brought the long-dormant Hawkeye football program back to life. At the time of his arrival, Iowa had not had a winning season in 17 years. But by 1981, Fry surprised us all by taking his Hawkeyes to the 1982 Rose Bowl, and with that resurgence in football, Homecoming in Iowa City bloomed once again as well. In 1999, Fry’s assistant, Kirk Ferentz, took over the reigns and has kept the Iowa football program running on all cylinders now for over 20 years. All the while, Iowa alums continue to return, year after year, to Iowa City to breathe in the beautiful fall weather, re-unite with friends, and enjoy this beautiful place we all call home. Take a beautiful 4-minute video tour below…
Since 1912, indeed, here at The University of Iowa and Iowa City, there’s no place like home. Happy Homecoming!
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.
An Iowa Homecoming must-see is David McCartney’s 2012 presentation “100 Years of Iowa Homecoming” available through the Iowa City Public Library. McCartney, UI archivist, recounts many stories, drawing from holdings in the Department of Special Collections and Archives of the University of Iowa Libraries. McCartney also includes an amazing 11-minute film from 1949 that offers a fascinating overview of Iowa Football from 1899-1949. Click here to watch the entire presentation with the 1949 film shown at the 37:00 minute marker.