100 Years of Month Week: A Colorful University of Iowa Tradition
It’s that time of year again, when the Iowa City community gathers to celebrate all things months, and anxiously awaits the crowning of the “Month of the Year.” That’s right folks, it’s Month Week.
On this, the centennial Month Week celebration, we would be remiss not to look back at Month Week’s colorful 100 year history.
Contrary to popular belief, Month Week did not originate as the carefree holiday we all know and love today. The celebration was actually born out of nefarious intent, from the mind of Konrad E.P. Munthwík, a professor of theater at the University of Iowa. In January of 1920, Munthwík fabricated Month Week to distract Iowa City from his evil plot to steal the moon, which historians would later name the Munthwík Moon Heist of 1920. Munthwík’s journals indicate that he thought a pile of calendars and a ferris wheel in the ped mall would capture people’s attention long enough for him to launch himself 239,000 miles into space.
His scheme proved ill-fated, as Munthwík died in the upper stratosphere. However, he did such a bang-up job organizing the Month Week diversion that the Iowa City community made plans to repeat the festivities in April next year. What can we say? People love months, so people love Month Week!
By 1926, Month Week had featured several famous guests like author F. Scott Fitzgerald, business tycoon John D. Rockefeller, women’s rights activist Alice Paul, and US President Warren G. Harding. Harding actually had such a wonderful time petting all the cute months at the Month Week petting zoo that he begged the planning committee to allow him to host the following year. They met his request, and he hosted the holiday in 1923.
Harding concluded his speech at the “Month of the Year” ceremony by vowing to host the event “until death relieves me of my duties,” then died of a heart attack in August. However, his speech was considered such a success that his lingering spirit-ghost would later go on to host every Month Week from 1924 onward.
The earliest Month Weeks were built around several traditional events, including a day-long “Month Week Carnival,” culminating in the “Month Week Month of the Year Pageant.” During the pageant, several podiums are wheeled onto a stage, each containing a “delegate object” to represent the twelve months; a jar of snow for January, a W2 form for April, and a slutty priest costume for October. Based on votes cast throughout the carnival, the host places a crown upon the winning Month’s delegate object, marking the conclusion of Month Week festivities. The winning delegate object gets to meet the Iowa City mayor.
As Iowa City grew and changed over the decades, it’s proud Month Week tradition changed along with it. A monthologist panel was introduced in 1930 with the goal of fostering healthy debate about which month is the best month to get a haircut in — scientifically speaking. The year 1945 saw the first “Month Tasting” activity. The 1970 celebration introduced the beloved Calendar Swap, where participants are encouraged to swap calendars, and in 1983 Month Week planners finally decided to eliminate the Month Week Flaming Gopher Toss.
We couldn’t possibly name them all, but here are some of the most memorable moments that pepper the souffle that is Month Week’s storied past.
1926 : The Chicago mafia briefly takes control of Month Week festivities, leading to a huge increase in the amount of bootlegged alcohol and hookers present. Much fun is had by all.
1932: Due to economic circumstances, Month Week is held on a dusty trail heading out of town.
1945: Beloved German author and abstract expressionist painter Adolf Hitler commits suicide shortly before Month Week takes place, marking the first Month Week without a keynote speaker.
1956: A delegate object is changed for the first time in Month Week history. May, previously represented by a hive of angry bees, would now be represented by a jar of angry bees. The decision was marked by some protesting over the change in tradition, but the jar proved to increase work safety for those on stage with the bees.
1968: UI students begin boycotting Month Week for not offering sufficient weed and forcing attendees to sign up for the draft.
1970: Headliner musician Janis Joplin fails to arrive at the celebration.
1970: Backup headliner musician Jimi Hendrix also fails to arrive at the celebration.
1973: A delegate object is completely replaced for the first time in Month Week history. March, previously represented by a bucket of green paint, would now be represented by McDonald’s newly released shamrock shake. It’s worth noting that the bucket of green paint is still used for the Month Tasting event, as attendees overwhelmingly preferred the flavor of paint over that of the shamrock shake.
1986: Month Week is cancelled for the first time since its inception, after the Chernobyl incident really put a damper on things.
1994: Headliner musician Kurt Kobain fails to arrive at the celebration.
1996: Using a surplus budget from the 1995 Month Week, the planning committee replicated Jurassic Park in honor of the movie’s success the previous year. The feature did not return, as the dinosaurs escaped and ate a number of cute children.
2006: The first Month Week on record with no prominent instances of blackface.
So don’t think about it too hard, grab your most swappable calendar, and get ready to celebrate Month Week for the next seven days. Hopefully nothing will get in the way of the carnival this year. I hear they’re supposed to be hosting a Konrad E.P. Munthwík memorial firework show, and it’d be a shame if that got cancelled.