Michigan Week… Under a Cloud

I put extraordinary time and effort into ignoring the existence of Big 10 football season, which is not an easy feat when I live 1½ miles from The Shoe, but this year Michigan Week has resulted in tragedy.

Last night was the annual Mirror Lake Jump.  On the Tuesday before the Ohio State-Michigan game, OSU students jump en masse into Mirror Lake, doing the usual “O-H-I-O!” and “Fuck Michigan!” chants, while splashing around in water that is barely above freezing, and walking back from the experience completely drenched and often intoxicated.  The lake has been filled end to end, with people thrashing around in the water pressed together as if they were on a Tokyo subway.  I blogged about it here in 2011, when I took my camera and shot some of my own video of the experience.

Had I been a student at OSU, I probably would have participated when I was in my 20s.  By the same token, had I been a student at the University of Michigan, I would have enthusiastically participated in the Naked Mile to mark the end of classes.  But I am content to watch other people splash around in the brackish water and make their way back completely wet and bordering on hypothermia.

Last night, a person died in the jump.  Austin Singletary, a 22-year-old junior from Dayton, went into cardiac arrest when he went into the water–water which was not more than a degree or two above freezing.  He died this afternoon at OSU Wexner Medical Center.

OSU has said that the Mirror Lake Jump ends here.  It will be interesting to re-read this blog entry at this time next year and see whether that prohibition comes to pass.  (The University does not officially sanction the event, much like Halloween in Athens.)  I was reading a story on The Dispatch‘s online site, and, despite what happened, most of the students they interviewed worry more about the end of the tradition, although many prefaced their comments with cursory “It’s sad what happened, but…”

There were rumors that Comfest 2009 would be the final one, after an 18-year-old man, very much under the influence of drugs, accidentally stabbed himself to death.  Comfest still continues, because the medical examiner’s report determined that the tragedy could have happened anywhere.  It could have happened in his yard or on The Oval.


A post card of Mirror Lake, circa 1940.  Campbell Hall, the brick building in the background, is on Neil Ave., so this view faces west.  (This is also before the installation of the fountain in the center of the lake.)

There was no way I could take the video that I took in 2011, in the blog entry I linked above.  OSU seemed quite aware of the trouble that might arise from the Mirror Lake jump, and took extraordinary precautions.  I walked home from work yesterday via Neil Avenue, and was shocked to see a metal temporary fence, at least 12 feet high, around the lake and all the away around nearby Browning Amphitheater.  There were police–OSU and Columbus City Police, as well as State Highway Patrol officers–everywhere.  There was only entrance to the lake, and it was a narrow gap in the fence on the east side, at least a two- or three-minute walk from the lake.  Only students who had already obtained wristbands were permitted through the gate.  Once I saw this layout, I gave up on trying to take pictures.  Even from Neil Ave., I would have needed a telephoto lens far beyond the capacity of either my cell phone or my Sony Cybershot.

OSU is rightly scared of the liability that will result if the jump-in continues, and if they allow it, I would be reluctant to insure them.  Posters on news sites have been wringing their hands about the end of this tradition, and throwing out comments about the “nanny state.”  (Usually, the phrase “nanny state” is invoked when executives complain about being forbidden to bury radioactive waste near a school or dump toxins into drinking water.)

The end of this tradition doesn’t bother me one way or the other.  I have no interest in OSU Football, and am especially grateful that the game is in Ann Arbor this year.  Yes, there will be drunken revelry regardless of who wins, but at least it will not be compounded by fans pouring out of The Shoe afterwards.  The jump-in was amusing to watch the few times I saw it, but I will not miss it.


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