A note from the editors of the 1890 Bowdoin Bugle presents the new edition as if it were a fellow-graduate of the College: “The Bugle, having taken a complete course in the cerebral convolutions of the heads of the several editors, now comes upon the stage to receive his degree from the hand of a criticizing public. We hope it will be at least, cum laude. What is it he says? Vos salutamus.”
The 2012 Bowdoin Bugle is the 154th edition of the yearbook, and it will be the last. When the final copy of the Bugle comes off the printer in November, Bowdoin’s yearbook will have completed its course of study at the College and will join the ranks of retired Bowdoin publications in Special Collections. What is it he says? Morituri vos salutamus.
The Bugle is the only student publication that predates the Orient. The first edition was printed as a tabloid pamphlet in July 1858, just as the academic year was coming to a close.
Then, the yearbook cost four cents, and the front page proudly proclaims it was “published by the students,” as it continued to be for its entire 154-year history. “BLOW, BUGLE, BLOW!”—a line from Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem “The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls”—is printed in miniscule font below the header, emphatically reimagined as a call to editorial arms.
The first Bugle may have been one of the most successful editions ever published. The editors note that by press time, they had already sold “over a thousand copies in less than forty-eight hours—a success probably unparalleled in the history of the press in the Pine Tree State.”
Only 225 copies of the 2012 Bugle have been sold thus far, at a price of 75 dollars each. For each of the past two years, one student has single-handedly produced the Bugle.
The decision to end publication of the yearbook was made last spring after Student Activities determined there was not enough student interest to justify printing another edition.
“We have been rooting for the Bugle the last two years, hoping that some students would come forward and say, ‘this is something we really want to produce,’” said Allen Delong, director of student activities. “That hasn’t happened.”
The death of the Bugle is no surprise. Thousands of high schools and colleges around the country have already done away with yearbooks. The University of Virginia retired its 120-year-old yearbook, “Corks and Curls,” in 2010, and The Washington Post reported that despite its storied history, “no one seemed to notice.” Jostens, the yearbook publishing company which prints the Bugle, told the Post that only about a thousand colleges still print yearbooks nationwide, down from 2,400 in 1995.
“Subscription sales were anemic,” said Richard Lindemann, Bowdoin’s director of special collections. “There was a general lack of interest…if there’s no audience then there’s no product.”
Students have found other ways of connecting with each other after graduation; constant Facebook and Twitter notifications have all but completely eliminated the problem.
“Students are carrying their own archive differently than when I was in college,” said Delong.
In its first few incarnations, the Bugle served primarily as an inventory of campus organizations: the College’s fraternities—or “secret societies,” as they were known—were each represented by an etched crest and list of members, as were Bowdoin’s literary societies, and, of course, the Bowdoin Militia.
Sprinkled amongst these inventories are editorial notes and news snippets, including one poetic entry in the first issue demanding that during commencement, “those students who write poetry will be required to sit at their respective windows, with their fair locks streaming carelessly yet beautifully over their upturned, intellectual brows, while with their dark Byronic eyes they gaze in rapture upon the feathered songsters.”
More colorful editions chronicle reckless escapades at Bowdoin in generations past. The 1898 entry from the junior class salutes one mischief-maker in particular: “Baxter, our bold, bad criminal, whose misdemeanors have been bitterly repented behind prison bars”—a reference to Percival Proctor Baxter ’98, college organist.
The Bugle ceased publication briefly during World War II, releasing two special editions to chronicle wartime at Bowdoin. The 1944 dedication reads: “Here, then, is a chronicle of Bowdoin in what may be its last year as a liberal arts college...Seldom, if ever, has there been more uncertainty about the future.”
From now on, chronicling the life of the College year to year will be harder than ever before—the Orient does its part to record the weekly goings on, but our paper is no replacement for the Bugle’s broad strokes.
As Lindemann put it, the end of the Bugle is a “loss of social inventory.” No longer is it guaranteed that a record of every student, sports team, and club will one day find a place in the College’s archives.
“The loss will be more profound over time as people age,” Lindemann said.
But the Bugle has been conscious of its existential peril ever since the first issue. “The present blast of the Bugle may be rather faint, but long ere its echoes shall cease, it will be followed by a longer and louder blast,” wrote the editors in 1858.
Like the Orient, each edition of the Bugle was an experiment, and it is a small miracle that both publications have managed to remain in print thus far.
Bugle adviser Robert Volz may have put it best in his preface to the 1968 edition: “The Bowdoin Bugle this year has attempted to do two things. The first was to survive.”
It is entirely possible that the end of the Bugle is not final, but the yearbook will probably never again reassume its current form. Yearbooks, like all forms of print media, are moving online. For now, we bid farewell to the Bugle just the way it started, with a line from Tennyson:
“Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.”