The proof that Mark F. Bernstein ’83 slid yet survived.
Photo: Courtesy of Mark F. Bernstein ’83
Mark F. Bernstein ’83 remembers like it was yesterday — and has the photo to prove it

Like many Princeton alums, I have entertained my children with stories of the antics we got away with back in those sepia-toned days when kids were kids, Public Safety officers were called proctors, and the University’s insurance premiums, like its level of supervision, were low. Forget the Nude Olympics or stealing the clapper from Nassau Hall. I am referring to tent sliding.

Tent sliding, to my knowledge, began and ended during a few glorious evenings in May 1983. Between the end of exams and the start of Reunions and Commencement activities, many graduating seniors stuck around the empty campus with nothing to do. Those huge, striped tents proved too tempting to resist. 

The game was simple: Either shimmy up a pole or have someone hoist you up. At the count of three, race up one side of the tent, hurl yourself across the peak, and slide down the opposite side on your stomach. The fabric sags at the edges, so there was no risk of sliding off. There is even a photograph of me in action, the only one known to exist, demonstrating correct form. 

We did not worry about putting our foot through the fabric, nor did we worry about the structure collapsing under us. For one thing, we were 21 and bulletproof so far as we were concerned, but also because of another other piece of wisdom someone gave me: 

A well-constructed tent should be able to hold as many people on top of it as underneath it.

Eager to exchange details and prepare this story, I reached out to old roommates, classmates, and fellow tent sliders. Their responses stunned me.

Scott Simpson ’83: “I actually don’t remember this. It must have just been you.”

Kevin Callaghan ’83: “I do not recall racing on top of tents myself, but I remember hearing about it and wishing I had.”

Seriously? None of you will acknowledge being there?

Page Thompson ’83: “My memories … are a bit hazy. Can’t imagine why.”

Matthew Landolt ’83: “If I ever did that, I was drunk and don’t remember. But I would be proud!”

Glenn Reinhart ’83: “We had no problems finding fun.”

That is true, but I did not tent slide alone. The glory or blame must be shared. Was it possible the guys who once boosted me up onto the tents were now throwing me under the bus?

I held out hope that Glenn could corroborate that a well-constructed tent could hold as many people on top of it as underneath. After all, he spent his summers working for a tent company. 

Despite having no personal recollections, he deferred to my memory and reassured me that, “it must be true (at least I will back it up if anyone asks).” 

I turned to Glenn’s summer job partner, Bob Garthwaite ’83. 

 “A guy we worked for did tell us that,” he texted. “By the way, he is a Princeton grad.”

Happy to discover another alumni connection, I reached out to the grad in question, Barry Richardson ’73, longtime president and CEO of L&A Tent Rentals in Hamilton, New Jersey. For four decades, Richardson had the contract to erect tents at Reunions. If anyone would know, he would. 

Unfortunately, Richardson didn’t know either, though he referred me to one final, unimpeachable source: Fred Tracy, owner of Fred’s Tents & Canopies Inc. in Waterford, New York, reputed to be the largest supplier of tents and accessories on the East Coast.

“Nothing is recommended on top of a tent,” he declared, noting the maximum recommended weight on the suspended fabric is only 6 pounds per square foot. I may have gained a few pounds since graduation, but I was never that light. “Many tents on the ground have been used as slip-and-slides, though,” he offered. 

What, then, can I tell you? Perhaps that memories fade and glory is fleeting. Perhaps that some stories from our youth are too good to check. Still, tent sliding happened. You’re going to have to take my word for it, but it happened. 

To any current seniors or children of returning alumni who may be tempted to emulate us, I suppose I should close with a standard disclaimer: Don’t try this at home, kids. 

But who am I kidding? It was awesome.  

Mark F. Bernstein ’83 is PAW’s senior writer.