The return of Gatsby
Gatsby party 2019. (Image courtesy of Megan Ballard.)

The return of Gatsby

The 2021-2022 academic year at New College has been characterized by the return of a variety of New College traditions and fixtures of student life, including Walls, Center of the Universe Parties (COUPs), Grad Cruise, Ringling Underground and, eventually, hopefully, the Four Winds Cafe. While the Get $leazy Graduation COUP on May 14 will be the last social event of the school year, one more event is emerging from the basement of New College life: Gatsby. The event breathed its last breath in 2019, but will return from hibernation on May 13. 

The importance of revitalizing New College campus life has permeated conversations surrounding the resurrections of New College traditions and gatherings. Excitingly, events have seemed to grow as the year has gone on. The Mulberry Earth Day Festival on Apr. 22 was exceedingly well-attended, with the sign-in sheet having more than 50 signatures—though there were undoubtedly even more attendants, according to fourth-year Council of Green Affairs (CGA) Eco-Rep Nicole Silvera.

Gatsby has historically taken place on the rear patio of the Caples Mansion, or “Old Caples.” The mansion was built in 1921, a year before The Great Gatsby novel takes place. The 1920s building has thus been a perfect setting for the 1920s themed party, characterized by extravagance. 

In an article about the 2018 Gatsby party, Catalyst staff writer Miranda Gale described the event as such: “Few Walls feel nearly as grand as the Gatsby party generally does…the dramatic setting of the Caples mansion, the glittery decorations… It’s rare for a Wall to attract such a large crowd of well-dressed New College students. Strangely enough, many wore shoes.”

“People try to get really dressed up,” thesis student and this year’s Gatsby host Megan Ballard echoed. “Sometimes more 1920s, sometimes more homecoming vibes.” 

With grandiose architecture and profligate glitteriness, the event serves as a unique formation of classic New College free-spiritedness. That is, the wearing of glamorous formal attire in a spirit of 1920s, rather than 2020s, flamboyance. 

Interestingly, this year, 2022, marks the 100th anniversary of the book’s 1922 setting. 

However, the usual setting, the Caples Mansion, is not an option this year due to concurrent construction. But, months ago, Ballard reserved College Hall for the occasion.

Like the Caples Mansion, College Hall was built during the 1920s Florida land boom. It was the residence of Edith and Charles Ringling. In this regard, the setting won’t be horribly unlike the Caples Mansion, though the primary draw of the Caples Mansion is its mystique and separation from the bureaucracy which imbues College Hall.

Another essential component of Gatsby has been the New Cats, a former student band and organization. The band was so essential, in fact, that Ballard has gone through great lengths to find a worthy substitute. 

“I got a band to come from St. Pete, they are a Gatsby-themed band, they’ll be there for an hour,” she shared. Additionally, Bambi Rose Bel-Air will be “performing an old Hollywood 1920s drag piece.”

Ballard said that Gatsby was “always been one of my favorite events,” and that she felt compelled to bring it back before its memory was lost with the departure of current fourth-years, despite the hurdles of thesising. 

In many ways, this year’s Gatsby is marked by compromises. Through all of the adversity, though, the tradition will persist, and that’s what’s most important. 

However, there is plenty to look forward to, and many reasons to go. There will be food, decorations and fake champagne.

“The graduation tent will be up,” Ballard mentioned satisfactorily, with the hope that the tent will provide a unity to the event that might otherwise suffer in the wider open space behind College Hall as compared to Old Caples. 

“It’s just like happening, I don’t have super strict expectations for it, I’m just hoping a lot of people show up and make a good time out of it,” Ballard concluded. “And hopefully, it can all come back and go to Caples next year.”

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