[Cross blogged for Leland Quarterly]
Sit tight, ladies and gents, for another heart-pounding installment of The Histrionic Historiographer. Following our foray into the life of Stanford’s first president David Starr Jordan, we’re going to look today at another one: Donald Tresidder.
Tresidder was president of Stanford during World War II, or what’s generally considered in terms of world history a pretty difficult time for everyone. He set up a massive infrastructure for university fundraising, and even managed to get the world’s least-studenty and least-uniony student union named after him.
Tresidder is potentially most infamous for his (rash, in this author’s opinion) decision to abolish sororities on campus, leaving dozens—if not hundreds—of beautiful young women to the mercy of harsh, mid-twentieth century Palo Alto.
In spite of this grievous blow to campus life and the general happiness of the university’s male population, Tresidder was largely well liked, and would have served as Stanford’s president for many years if he had not passed away from a heart attack while on “university business,” whatever that is—and not to besmirch the memory of Tresidder, but sounds to me like it involves hot tubs, hookers, and mountains of cocaine.
Anyway, perhaps Tresidder’s greatest achievement came outside the sphere of “university business.” Tresidder was a big outdoorsman, vacationing regularly in Yosemite Valley. In fact, it was in Yosemite that Tresidder met his future wife, Mary Curry (two diphthongs away from a couple of Nobel prizes). The Curry family owned and operated many of the lodgings in Yosemite Valley, and Tresidder somehow managed to convince them to start hosting an annual, lavish feast called the Bracebridge Dinner every Christmas in the Ahwahnee Hotel.
Here’s the kicker, though: the dinner was (and is, this thing still happens) presented as a Renaissance-era banquet, complete with lords, ladies, mutton, a general haze of filth, and everything else that comes with a fancy dinner party in ye olde sixteenth century. Tresidder wrote himself into the elaborate performance as Squire Bracebridge himself, and played the role—presumably with enormously anachronistic gusto—until his death.
I think this proves that, beyond all else, Donald Tresidder’s crowning idea was the creation of Medieval Times dinner theater. And also that he never managed to persuade any sorority girls to brace his bridge, if you get my drift. Not to say the two are related or anything.