An October Tradition

On Wednesday, October 7, students and faculty carried out a longstanding October tradition by participating in the All-School Walk from campus through Steep Rock Preserve. Much of the event this year was exactly the same as alumni remember it, although there were some changes to accommodate the school’s health and safety protocols. All students and faculty were required to wear masks and students departed campus by grade level, in waves, similar to a road race, rather than starting out all at once.

“This is primarily to be a good neighbor to others in the preserve,” Rebecca Leclerc, Director of Outdoor Programming, explained prior to the event. Leclerc noted that the school was missing some members of the community who could not be on campus, but the activity itself was unchanged. “The route is the same,” Leclerc said. “We’ll still go up to the Pinnacle. They’ll still get to take pictures. They’ll still walk with their friends.”

Students in Outdoor Stewardship, including Simon Rhodes ’22, Ahmed Salman ’21, Carter Payne ’22, Maram Sharif ’22, Quentin Sheers ’22, Carmine Andranovich ’21, and Matteo Giampa ’21, marked the route through Steep Rock in advance. 

The staggered start, which began at 10:45 a.m. from the Koven-Jones Glade in front of the dining hall, rather than the Quad, provided time for students to enjoy a pre-walk brunch in the dining hall or outside, and for some, a quick game of frisbee on the Glade. Prior to each class’s departure, Associate Head of School Seth Low shared with students the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher’s remarks from Mr. Gunn’s funeral service in 1881, from “The Master of The Gunnery:”

“I congratulate you; you are a community rich, not in silver nor in gold, but in that which is far more precious, and which silver and gold cannot buy. Henceforth, and for generations, no man of intelligence visiting this beautiful hill-top will fail to ask for the monument which we unveil to-day; for, as on the village green the church spire points heavenward above other roofs, so on that lovely hill-top his monument will be the spire and point upward to God, to Heaven, and to Rest. I could not but had sent his heralds to cleanse the sky, and intended the very air we breathe to stir more purely and sweetly on such a day as this. An October day, — ripe, rich, clear, and beautiful! In such a day he was born. If you think of the year and its changes, June is the month that bursts out from the gates of heaven, with all that is youngest, and clothed with that which is the most tender and beautiful; and October is the month that goes back to heaven and to rest — is nearest to our Creator and to the glories that await us. And just to think that in such a month as this a man should be born whose life was, I had almost said, the union of June and October! It held the tenderness, the freshness, and the valor of youth of the one, and the amplitude and clarity of the other.”

The tradition of the All-School Walk dates to 1861, when Frederick Gunn led his students on a 40-mile walk from Washington to Milford on the Connecticut shoreline. For 10 days they camped in tents, played games, fished, and sang songs in the firelight. His students called it “gipsying,” Clarence Deming of the Class of 1866 noted in “The Master of The Gunnery,” and it was so much fun, they repeated it in 1863 and 1865. “It was an eventful and joyous day when the loaded wagons, the donkeys, and the long troop of boys and girls dressed in all the hues of the rainbow, began their seaward march down the river road, making the old woods echo with laughter and song,” Deming wrote.

It is for this reason that Mr. Gunn has been recognized by the American Camping Association as the founder of recreational camping in the United States. John Brinsmade, the second Head of School (and Mr. Gunn’s son-in-law) commemorated the 1861 walk by instituting an all-school walk, a tradition that continues today. Every October, on a date as close to Mr. Gunn’s birthday as possible, students and faculty hike about eight miles through Steep Rock.