Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
At this point, it’s a well-documented fact that Swarthmore is a shadow of its former self. Pub Nite and senior week are dying, and other traditions like CrunkFest will soon be gone even from institutional memory. What was once a carefree utopia of sex, drugs, and learning is now a grim wasteland that still consists of sex, drugs, and learning, but the disappointing kind of each of these things. As the senior class is dragged inexorably toward graduation, we can only look back and wonder what our legacy will be in the eyes of the underclassmen we failed to save. I understand that Swarthmore will never again be as it was in the days of yore, but there is one tradition I cannot surrender yet. We must unite as a student body to bring back the Sludge Fiend.
Stepping onto campus for the first time in the fall of 2012, I could hardly wait for all the activities of orientation: First Collection, the Welcome Play, and most of all paying tribute to the enormous Sludge Fiend, Lord of Filth. Any member of the class of 2016 can recount the giddy anticipation of leaving banana peels, fruit snack wrappers, empty Joe Tea bottles, and Sharples coffee mugs in the Science Center quad and seeing the modest pile become a veritable mountain of garbage. At the end of the week we summoned the Fiend through a ritual that still exists, though its primary use is gone: watching The Graduate. The incantations of Simon and Garfunkel would awaken the Fiend, and it would announce its arrival with a deep, earth-shaking moan. I remember rushing to the quad, my heart thumping, just in time to see it shoveling the last of our trash mound into its cavernous mouth. Then, it performed the final act of orientation: eating the Chosen First-Year. I had hoped and prayed for the honor, but I watched it ooze toward one of my hall mates instead. “Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme!” he screamed as it consumed him. “Hello darkness, my old friend!” Lucky bastard.
Concluding Freshman Orientation wasn’t the Sludge Fiend’s only role in Swarthmore life. The Ruler of Refuse was known to attend the reading week Primal Scream and the Pterodactyl Hunt, and made irregular appearances around campus. Ask any senior—nothing brightened a Swattie’s day more than smelling sewage on the breeze and turning to catch a glimpse of the Fiend’s hulking, pale-grey mass behind Dana or the Lang Music Building. Additionally, it’s a little-known fact that the name Ride the Tide was inspire by the Sludge Fiend. The original title was Ride the Tide of Garbage, in reference to a tradition where prospective students would lie in the dumpsters behind Sharples and pretend they were about to be eaten.
Removing the Sludge Fiend was one of Rebecca Chopp’s last acts as President of the College. Citing student health and safety risks, she had the Fiend captured by Public Safety and moved deeper into the Crum. The administration couldn’t see the way it brought our campus together in awe of its majesty, what a crucial piece of Swarthmore’s quirky identity it was, or the diversion it offered from the stress of student life. The Sludge Fiend was more than a Fiend—it was a part of us. Now, with fewer than two months left in the year, we must raise our voices to fix this mistake. Together, we can bring back the Sludge Fiend.