College Hill exploded in celebration on a memorable Monday more than a century ago when Lafayette marked one of its most storied triumphs on the gridiron.
The "Maroons" had beaten a powerhouse University of Pennsylvania 11 on its own turf by 6-4 on Saturday, October 24, 1896. By all accounts the College's greatest win since football's advent in 1882, the victory earned Lafayette the "distinction of being the first small college to beat a member of the so-called Big Four [Penn, Harvard, Yale and Princeton]," as George Trevor remembers in The New York Sun on March 10, 1931.
So on Monday, the students festooned the campus with decorations, then marched through Easton behind a raucous band, "amidst a blaze of red light, and the whiz and flash of fireworks," records the noted professor of English and chronicler of Lafayette athletics, Francis A. March, Jr., Class of 1881.
"How could the team have done it?" the revelers marveled. Why, Penn hadn't been beaten in two seasons! And to whip 'em with the captain, star halfback George B. Walbridge '98, in the hospital with appenditicitis! "What's the score? Six to four! Pennsylvania on the floor!" they chanted, just as Lafayette partisans had done after the game on a happy parade down Philadelphia's Chestnut Street.
After sharing their joy liberally with the townsfolk, the students danced around a giant bonfire on the hill. It was "a demonstration unequaled perhaps in the history of our college," according to the The Lafayette, but it wasn't the end of the celebrating.
After the season a song was written honoring the '96 team, which finished undefeated, with just a scoreless tie against mighty Princeton between them and perfection. A cigar, the "Lafayette Stonewall," was named after the team. And, according to College biographer David Bishop Skillman, no less a personage than Theodore Roosevelt, then the New York City police commissioner, "spoke their praises" at an alumni club dinner.