et in arcadia ego, or it was nice, wasn't it?

by John Bellairs
March 20, 1959, Scholastic #18

Now that all the paper whistles are put away and I am no longer being offered suzerainty over the known universe, I can get back to writing this column and my senior thesis (in that order). Last week I was borne aloft by cheering thousands, and now I hear naught but the hollow laughter of freshmen and the gibes of my former well-wishers. Summer soldiers and sunshine patriots! Remember at least the Middle English lines which caused millions of TV sets to be turned off all across this fair land. Remember us when we represented Notre Dame's intellectual youth to a slack-jawed nation! Remember the Maine! Dieu le veut! Oh, well...


In a few days thousands of rapacious students will descend on Fort Lauderdale, the Riviera of the Americas. This migration is re-enacted each year in commemoration of the Gothic sack of Rome in the fifth century. (All those who would like a Gothic sack may obtain them at any store which sells medieval penitential equipment.) This custom is also a good way of getting even for the Seminole raids of the last century and besides the town needs remodeling. But there may be some students who want a return to the Good Life as advocated by Plato, Zoroaster, and Victor H. Lindlahr. For these students, who abhor the hubbub of celebration and the nerve-shattering clink of glasses, I have compiled a list of Easter vacation trips, any one of which will insure a good time which is devoid of such hazards as sunburn, golfing cramps, and the Demon Rum.


This tour is conducted by Ennui Junkets, Inc., which has purchased some remodeled Conestoga wagons for the trip. The trip starts at Gary, Ind., where the world's largest slag pile may be viewed on clear days. Here lunch will be eaten at the William Blake Memorial Inn, which is within the shadow of the Crassmore Grime Works. The caravan will then proceed to Hummock, Mich., a town noted for its large rutabagas. Hummock is also the birthplace of General Rufus Shafter, the only general to have advocated the unconditional surrender of the United States in the Spanish-American War. A bronze statue of him stands in the main square or Sinkhole (Michigan dialect) of the town, and every Easter Monday children gather there to throw leftover eggs and half-eaten chocolate bunnies at the general. If the tour gets there in time, a custom may be observed which has not been celebrated for fifty years. In this ceremony, Druidic in origin, all the sins of the town are placed in a large burlap bag which is tied around the neck of General Shafter's statue, which is then thrown into a local lake. All those observing this weird and picturesque rite will be fined $50.00 for having profaned a sacred spot, but it all goes to a good cause, anyway. The trip's climax comes when my home town, Marshall, Mich., is reached. Marshall, 7,000 pop., was once a station on the Underground Railroad, which has since fallen into disrepair. Now Marshall is not a stop on any railroad, a fact which causes me discomfort at times. However, in this town of sparkling waters (home of the Gastric Pop Co.) one may find such things as the Bilbo House, a mansion built by Sidrach Bilbo, which is an exact replica of the customs house at Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. Here once may also find the custom of the Polishing of the Cannonballs. The populace gathers on the Courthouse lawn to watch the mayor and the High Sheriff of Calhoun County polish the cannonballs which are piled next to the town cannon (kept for defense). The scene is amusing to those who know that the mayor will eventually drop an eight-pound ball on his foot, due to his having swilled too much elderberry wine. The ceremony ends with a drinking bout which usually results in the destruction of one or more of the picturesque mansions in the town. The quaint county jail awaits the survivors of the affair, and thus the trip ends.


This event involves a 50-mile trip along the occasionally liquid St. Joe River to Clognabog State Park, which is built on the site of one of the largest quagmires in the Northwest Territory. Here the revelers will gather on the clumps of dry ground and roast marshmallows and wieners to their heart's content. This event sponsored by the Youthful Cleanliness Society, has never failed to attract those who prefer comradeship to boisterous rowdiness.


This trip is for those who would like an Eastertide filled with quoits and croquet. It is also suggested as a stopover for the returning from Fort Lauderdale.


St. Patrick's Day has just passed, and the Hiberian Society has once more found a use for green beer. While we were wallowing in shamrocks, shillelaghs, and shure-end-begorrahs I decided that it was a shame that only Ireland, of all nations, has been immortalized in legend and tradition. If we had more countries which could be revered in this way we would open new founts of popular song, story telling, and trinket-peddling. The year could be studded with days commemorating the patron saints of picturesque countries. I have decided, therefore, to remedy this lack in world culture by spreading, minstrel like, a body of legend concerning a sadly neglected and presently nonexistent country, Serbia.


Once upon a time an angel stubbed his toe on a cloud, fell flat on his face on the continent of Europe, then got up (cursing) and went away. The imprint he left on the earth mingled with the airy vapors and general ill feeling prevalent that day, and the result was Serbia. This country is sometimes called the Glittering Topaz of the Balkans, although this title is but a poor translation of the epithet used by millions of admiring Austrians and Russians to describe this country. Serbia lay in ignorance and superstition until Bolesalas the Bilious brought religion to the people, thus precipitating a sixty-year-long Religious War in which nine-tenths of the populace was killed. Boleslas is also remembered for driving the cormorant out of Serbia. To this day no cormorant lives in this country, although gnats, rattlesnakes, and tsetse flies do.

National Dress of Serbia: What-have-you.
National Food: The Zlogy, a pudding made of fingernail parings and succotash.
More on Serbia next time when I have more room.


This was obviously written just after the Notre Dame team's College Bowl appearance. Myers says the post-WW II generation of college students was probably the first to make the spring break to Florida an annual tradition. John's suggestion of an alternate tour does deserve a few minor comments:

"Then, as now, Gary (Bellairs' 'world's largest slag pile') would make anybody's list of one of the worst towns in the U.S.A. to live, but of special significance to N.D. students is that it lay athwart the route to Chicago, no matter whether you travelled by car or South Shore electric train. You could not avoid the diabolical steel mills which darkened the sky and coated the city with a rusty brown soot. I remember once passing through Gary and thinking how unexpectedly pleasant it was, only to remember that the town was in the throes of a steel strike which had closed all the mills.

"Hummock, Michigan and General Rufus Shafter are pure fantasy, of course, but it is worth noting that if you drive north into Michigan on I-75 (which didn't yet exist in our college days) the first town you hit is Monroe, which proudly proclaims itself as the home of General George Custer. I always thought that it was depressing enough to be heading toward Detroit in the first place without being reminded of that dismal fact. This wasn't John's part of the state, but he probably knew about Gen. Custer, and I wonder if that didn't have some subliminal (or not so subliminal) effect on this part of his column.

"Marshall, Michigan is of course John's home town. In the mid-19th century it was once a serious contender to be the capital of Michigan. Although it eventually lost that honor to Lansing, this is the reason that a number of the fancy mansions that give the town its appealing character were built there. Marshall is a pretty town, but there's really not much to do there except eat at Win Schuler's.

"The concluding section of this column on Serbia was sure prescient, wasn't it? Some things never change."