Poler's Recess

One of the more peculiar Princeton traditions was an exam-time ritual known as the Poler's Recess, which began around 1900 and continued for several decades. A "poler" was a Princeton epithet for someone who was thought to study too diligently, perhaps in reference to the laborious poling of a boat.

Every night during the final examination period, as the 9 p.m. bell began to ring, all dormitory windows on campus were thrown open for a riotous, 10-minute cacophony. Students blew horns, beat drums and tin pans and set off firecrackers — producing a din loud enough to disrupt the studies of even the most zealous poler. An undergraduate writer observed in 1918 that it was "probably the most juvenile of all campus customs, but it brought a welcome break for everyone in a long night's hard work."

A description of the event in 1936 indicates that several students "took it upon themselves" to maintain the tradition, but then the Poler's Recess seems to have taken a long hiatus. In January 1949 the The Daily Princetonian published a letter from F. T. Chalmers, a member of the Class of 1947, who exhorted the undergraduates to renew the custom and even provided instructions "for the sake of those who are too young to remember the benefits of this emotional catharsis."

The 1949 Poler's Recess was a rousing success, but by the following year, opinion was split as to the benefits of the event and the necessity of yet another study break, and a well-enforced ban on firecrackers further dampened enthusiasm. After a few sporadic attempts to resurrect the tradition, it faded from student memory within a few years.