The Magazine of The University of Montana
The Enchanted Forest:Ball Celebrates Ninety-Second Year
By Betsy Holmquist
Attendees at the thirty-sixth annual Foresters' Ball entered and exited through an oversized tree in 1953.
Paul Bunyan footprints appear on campus sidewalks. A kidnapped stuffed moose head named Bertha is held for ransom. A helicopter drops tickets into the Oval. This can only mean it’s time for the annual Foresters’ Ball. For the ninety-second time in UM’s history, the Foresters’ Ball took over campus in February. First held as the Lumberjacks’ Dance in 1916, the Foresters’ Ball continues to be one of UM’s greatest traditions.
Three-hundred couples attended that first dance, and all were admitted free. During the evening, however, six “sheriffs” accosted all the men at gunpoint, demanding a 50 cent fine to cover expenses. This year’s ball sold out with 2,200 tickets snapped up in two days. Couples were charged $25 and singles $15. The chili was still free, and Coca-Cola still went for a kiss.
Now back in Schreiber Gym, the ball has been held in the Field House, now the Adams Center, and downtown at the Union Club. Overriding any changes, however, are its beloved traditions. Every year, forestry students cut and haul in hundreds of fir trees, sometimes thousands. “Goodnight, Irene” always is the last song. Blue paper snow falls from buckets suspended high above the dance floor. The infamous Black Cat painting hangs in the saloon. Bertha, the foresters’ famous moose mascot, reigns over the partygoers. Students and alumni work “decon” late into Sunday, having already put in a huge week of painting tracks, Convocation, Boondockers Day, the ticket drop, alumni mixer, decorating, chainsaw-board-cutting dedication, and the party itself. Within weeks of the last ball, the new chief push and committee begin planning the next year’s event.
Thanks to John Fidler ’76 and Alyssa Stewart ’10 for their Foresters’ Ball stories, facts, and photos. Can you help the College of Forestry and Conservation build its collection of Foresters’
Ball memorabilia? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Throughout The Decades
1916 – Lumberjacks’ Dance—the first Foresters’ Ball.
1919 – A mountain stream and waterfall run through the bar.
1926 – Footprint “tracks” of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox make their first appearance on campus, signaling the arrival of the ball.
1927 – Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, attends the Ball. (He returns in 1929.)
1929 – Bertha graces the ball for the first time.
1934 – Guests enter through a branding chute and receive a P.B. (Paul Bunyan) brand on their tickets.
1938 – Missoula radio broadcasts the ball for its listeners.
1941 – The chief push places an outhouse on the lawn of the law building; Bertha is stolen for the first time. The lawyer/logger feud begins.
1944-1945 – No ball held—the only break in consecutive balls in ninety-two years.
1953 – The tradition of awarding a Schick electric razor to the winner of the Big Beard contest begins.
1954 – Life magazine covers the event. Melting ice from the fir trees warps the gym floor, requiring major repair.
1959 – An aggressive write-in campaign elects Bertha as UM’s Homecoming Queen.
1963 – Ballgoers cross a mock log pond to enter the event.
1967 – Kathy Davis is chosen as the first Foresters’ Ball queen.
1979 – Bertha is stolen twice—first by the lawyers, then by journalism students.
1982 – Missoulian Smoke Elser, the year’s guest of honor, drives a pack train of mules and horses around the Oval.
1983 – Tickets cost $12.50 per couple.
1985 – A truckload of palm trees on its way from California breaks down. The chief push, arriving on a surfboard to the dance, falls and breaks a bone. "Tropical Nights, Loggers Delight" deemed a bad ball year.
1992 – A three-night event complete with a slide celebrates the ball’s seventy-fifth anniversary.
1996 – A 60-foot Paul Bunyan greets guests at the entrance to the gym.
2007 – Inside decorations include the Only Bar in Dixon, the Berkeley Pit, and Custer’s Last Stand by Your Man Chapel in honor of the year’s theme "Meet Me In Montana."
2009 – The ball is dedicated to Sam Sylvester, a cherished forest management student who died in a tragic accident during summer 2008.