Luckily, our friend and Cornell Historian Corey Earle has agreed to help out.
Earle said that Mud Rush was pretty much a wrestling competition between the freshman class and the sophomore class.
“Class rivalry was a big thing in the early 20th Century,” Earle said.
“So you would have this organized battle somewhere on campus where it was suitably muddy.”
It was serious business.
“They basically pummeled each other in the mud,” Earle said.
People would get injured — broken bones, twisted ankles … pretty much what you’d expect from huge swaths of energetic young men going at each other.
“It was a pretty savage event,” Earle said.
One Cornell Daily Sun article from 1922 outlines the rules: The goal was for the freshmen or the sophomores to forcibly drag their opponents over to their side. Then the fun started.
“The captors will have the privilege of ornamenting their victims in the manner they consider most fitting, using water colors to get the best results,” The Sun article notes.
So the mud was crucial. Another Sun article gave a favorable weather report for the event.
“There should be no lack of mud with which to plaster the captives,” the story said.
The competition ended sometime around 1929, Earle said.
“It was definitely a spectacle,” he said.
But the archives keep the tradition alive, at least in some way.
An article in the blog PaperSleuth, which ties the “mud games” to other Cornell traditions, quotes a student from the time:
“The underclass mud rush lived up to its reputation of former years, a relic of barbarism. …Ralph Munns, the wrestler, was as effective as three aggregate cigarette-smoking sophomores. Bodily he carried about and pummeled two sophomores at a time.”