Joanne Prisley shimmied into a snug, sequined mermaid fin and sat atop a nautical-themed Alpha Gamma Delta parade float announcing “the calm before the storm” in Ohio University’s 1952 Homecoming procession.
“The storm” referred to OU’s Homecoming football game against Bowling Green State University, but the phrase also alluded to a whirlwind ending for the sorority’s otherwise seamless parade run. In the past, parade floats and people in costumes were a more common sight at the annual Homecoming parade.
The crew charged with collecting Prisley and her three sorority sisters, all of whom were restricted by fins atop the float, was nowhere to be found when the float landed near the stadium at the end of the parade route.
“They said yes, they would keep track, and yes, they would come back and pick us up,” Prisley said. “Well we waited, and we waited, and we waited and waited. This was before the days of cell phones. Maybe we could have done smoke signals but we didn’t have any place to put anything.”
There wasn’t a place to put anything because the fins, borrowed from an Alpha Gamma Delta chapter at Bowling Green, fit too tightly to wear anything underneath, she explained. The zippers even caught on the women’s underwear, prompting their decision to go without.
“When they finally came, they said ‘now why didn’t you just get off and walk?’ ” she said. “And we said we couldn’t do that. We had nothing — well, we did have bras on — but we did not have a stitch, not a stitch, under those fins. I mean, we had nothing, and it was getting cold too.”
The 1961 Athena yearbook described students working “long hours to assure sure winners” in the float competition.
Original float creations included, among others, an argyle sock, a guillotine, a football player sizzling in a frying pan and a shaggy dog poised above the phrase “lick ‘em good.”
By 1971, however, there was no homecoming celebration at all. In its place, the OU Center Program Board sponsored Oktoberfest, a weekend celebration that filled Union Street with booths and beverages instead of the traditional parade, according to the 1972 Athena yearbook.
“Homecoming traditions — parades, a smiling queen and her court, and formal dances — these are all but forgotten at Ohio University,” began the 1974 Athena yearbook coverage of Oktoberfest.
Oktoberfest continued with no parades and no floats until 1975. One senior told the 1976 Spectrum Green Yearbook that Homecoming and the events surrounding it were once again “on the upswing.”
The intricate float designs of the past, though, seemed to be a "lost art” among student organizations, Prisley said.
For example, Student Senate President Hannah Clouser said her group hasn’t had a float in the parade since she has been at OU.
Prisley credits the end of World War II, in part, for the zealous float building of the early ’50s.
“When the fellas came back from the war, they wanted to do all of these things that they had missed,” she said. “Some of them went when they were 17 and were gone for a long time.”
Generational differences may also account for a current lack of parade float passion.
“We had to make due. We had to figure out how to do things,” Prisley said of her generation. “Now I think people look to whatever you look for on computers to tell you how to do things, and (the computers) might tell you and give you ideas, but they don’t do it for you.”