Bates College freshmen Emma Katz and Sophie Wright stood next to Lake Andrews, affectionately known to students and faculty as “The Puddle,” on Friday afternoon as the sun set.

Shivvering and dressed in shorts and T-shirts, they were first in line to take part in the annual Puddle Jump. 

“We are nervous and cold, but it is tradition, sort of an initiation that will make us true Bates students,” Katz said.  

The event has evolved over the past 35 years, becoming more organized and safer, and certainly the highlight of a week’s worth of activities during the annual Winter Carnival. Many said it was their favorite of any activity at the Lewiston college.

Walking up behind them, other students started to gather, but one man didn’t seem to fit the mold. Bill Miller, who graduated from Bates in 1978, was with his daughter Jilli, a senior at the college. He had jumped into the pond when he was a student, and when his daughter decided to go to Bates, Miller told her he would join her for one of the jumps.

“She is a senior now, so, it’s put up or shut up I guess,” he said.

“It used to be on St. Patrick’s day when it started in ’75, and it was at night, not sanctioned by the college, and a little scary,” Miller said. “Not many participated the first few years, but by my senior year there must have been about a hundred who did it.”  

At one point Friday afternoon, there were more than 100 students gathered on the shore, waiting for their turn to make the plunge. Some wore Bates College shorts and T-shirts, but many more wore prom dresses, leopard-skin suits, and a variety of costumes. Some chose to wear just a sports coat with nothing underneath, or perhaps a sock covering their private parts.  

One thing the jumpers had in common once they jumped, cannonballed, flipped or belly-flopped in, they couldn’t get out quick enough. Nobody lingered.

On the other side of the hole were other members of the Outing Club, sponsors of the event, waiting to help pull them out.  

A giant bonfire at the edge of the pond was a welcome sight to those shivering their way off the frozen pond, which became more and more slippery with each jumper.

Many students would be sporting bruised appendages the next day, but most were feeling no pain at the time. They had memories and stories to last forever.


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