Hillsdale's Tall Tales

Hillsdale’s Tall Tales

Written by Dietrich Balsbaugh

On my first night at Hillsdale, my fellow starry-eyed freshmen and I sat on our hall in Simpson Residence listening to our resident assistants explain to us the ins and outs of dorm life. One of them mentioned Garrett Holt, and in response, all the upperclassmen in the hall kissed the tips of their fingers and raised them into the air mumbling, “May he rest in peace.” We freshmen looked at each other in surprise. Who is Garrett Holt?

As I would come to learn, Hillsdale students may graduate, but they are never really gone. They leave behind legends, traditions, and tall tales hidden in every corner of campus. Any dorm, greek house, or off-campus residence has some complex history to it that helps shape the very essence of what it means to be a student here. Here are a few legends of my own knowledge.


The Legend of Garrett Holt

If you live in Simpson, you soon learn who Garrett Holt was: the head RA of Simpson maybe five or six years ago. Most RAs credit him as the one who made Simpson into the vibrant, unified dorm that it is today. Back then Simpson was a different place. The dorm culture was fractured, often devolving into petty squabbles between North and South side. Then came Garrett. Garrett realized that with so many able-bodied men in one place, there must be more that they could do together than simply share a space. So Garrett and his team of RAs channeled their energy into homecoming, uniting the dorm around the weeklong frenzy of events. The effect on the life of the dorm was immediate, and soon Simpson became a spirited place for men to jump into the Hillsdale life any way they could. Garrett’s legend lives on in the halls there, may he rest in peace.


The Tradition of Poetry Night

Ah, the Donnybrook, the affectionately named off-campus house. I do not know how many years ago it was christened, but the Donnybrook was home to several men who all loved poetry and, as it goes, singing old Irish songs and sea shanties. Naturally, they put them together and created the long-standing tradition of Poetry Night. The evening is simple, yet in some ways quite the ritual. During the week, a poet is chosen, anywhere from the more popular Robert Frost or T.S. Eliot to the more obscure Donald Justice or Dana Gioia. Then that weekend, students from many corners of campus gather to simply read poetry out loud. Books are passed around from student to student; maybe someone will have a poem memorized and recite it. After an unspecified amount of time, the books are closed and the raucous a capella singing commences. Poetry night has happened as long as I can remember, and there are always new folks dropping by as well as old alumni re-visiting their old traditions. If you come or find yourself in Hillsdale on a Saturday night, stop by The Halfway House where the tradition is alive and well. You may walk in at the start of the evening as we sing, “Kind friends and companions come join me in rhyme…”


The Tall Tales of Mossey Library

Before I even set foot on campus as a freshman, one alumni told me, “The librarians are actually wizards… They can find you whatever you want in the databases.” I can now attest to this facet of the library, but the tales go far beyond the circulation desk. Most students have some kind of story that has happened late in the throes of paper writing in the library. Spontaneous bluegrass music, camping equipment in the study rooms, or even the rumors of what the librarians do after the library is closed for the night. Do they race their book carts? No one will ever know. This may paint a picture of the library as a noisy and unproductive place, but think again. For the most part, the library is quite peaceful and students work diligently, but every now and then, some new late-night study story becomes yet another episode in the mysterious Mossey Library.


During college, student turnover is drastic and jarring. Each fall roughly three hundred seniors are gone and three hundred brand new freshmen are attending orientation. The many quirky traditions and legends that we have at Hillsdale serve to unite students throughout the years. Coming to Hillsdale as a freshman, I didn’t have to start entirely from scratch because so many students had come before to establish the culture of wisdom and learning that has prevailed over the years.

When you come to Hillsdale, you are entering a story—as Dr. Arnn likes to say, “A partnership.” Ray Bradbury expresses the idea well in Fahrenheit 451: “It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching… The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

Dietrich BalsbaughDietrich Balsbaugh, ’20, studies English and mathematics. He loves dancing of any kind and playing in any sort of water, particularly if it involves skipping rocks. If you see him on campus, he’s usually talking about fractals, writing, or tossing a frisbee. He doesn’t mind, so be sure to stop and ask him what he’s thinking about.

Published in November 2018