Hobos shake, riot and roll

Brigitte Norby

Brigitte NorbyReporter

Hobo Day took a surprising turn when pent-up hobos decided to burn off some energy by having a bonfire and starting a riot, literally. This Hobo Day marks the 20th anniversary of the Hobo Day riots that took place in October 1990.

Mike Oster, the Students’ Association president at the time, said Hobo Day week had been long, rainy and cold. Students and their out-of-town guests had spent the “week pent up in their dorms and rental houses.”

They were anxious to get outside and partake in the Hobo Day festivities. That Saturday night the rain finally ceased and the young people, finally freed from the constraints of their crowded party houses, poured out onto the streets.

“As I remember it, groups of friends met up with other groups of friends and small mobs formed,” Oster said.

Oster said students on Ninth Avenue decided it would be fun to start a bonfire &- not just any bonfire, but a bonfire in the middle of the street.

“They were throwing pretty much anything they could find: tree branches, a dresser, I think even a couch made it into the fire, as well as a picket fence,” Oster said.

Then KSFY Action News showed up to cover the commotion, but they were not the only ones.

Denise Ross, editor-in-chief of The Collegian at the time, said some of The Collegian staff “recognized how important this story was, and after the riots they gathered enormous amounts of information,” such as photographs of students jumping over the fire and police showing up to disperse the crowd and arrest students for disorderly conduct.

“The station wagon drove right into the middle of the mob of students,” said Frank Klock, assistant professor in the journalism and mass communications department. “The students started playing up to the camera, and started jumping over the bonfire so that they could get on TV.”

However, after a while “the students didn’t appreciate the cameramen (anymore),” Ross said.

Students then proceeded to start rocking the KSFY station wagon, and rock they did until the wagon was pushed up onto its side. Students threw beer cans at the windows until they were shattered, and then started jumping on the wagon.

In an article published Oct. 24, 1990, Brad Frisvold, a reporter for The Collegian at the time, said soon after the Brookings police and fire department arrived on the scene of the 700 block of Ninth Avenue, many students fled on foot. A few remained and decided to be vocal toward the authorities, and one student knocked the hat off an officer.

Just after the riots, R. Duane Coates wrote in The Collegian that a total of $30,000 of damages resulted from the upheaval. As it turns out, damage to 28 light poles, eight traffic signs, a patrol car and parade barricades resulted in a hefty bill.

The next week after the weekend activities there was “a lot of finger pointing going on,” Oster said. The public wanted to know who would be responsible for paying off the damages.

Mike Reger, retired executive vice president for administration, said in The Collegian on Oct. 24, 1990 that the time the future of Hobo Week activities could be in “jeopardy”.

The Board of Regents met to discuss the options for the future of the traditional Hobo Week, according to an article written by Joe Moss on Oct. 24, 1990. They laid out three options: the permanent cancellation of Hobo Day, the suspension of Hobo Day for the upcoming year (1991), or a “close monitoring of events” in the 1991 Hobo Day to determine if the 78-year-old tradition should continue or not.

Ultimately the BOR decided in a 6-3 vote they would leave themselves out of the decision for the fate of Hobo Day and let the university make the decision on its own, according to a Nov. 7, 1990 issue of The Collegian written by Dan Anderson and Joe Moss.

“You aren’t going to escape the reputation and damage (to the university). You try to find positive ways to move forward, working with the students and the community,” Reger said Oct. 24, 1990. “I hope we, as an institution, can learn something out of (the incident). If we don’t learn from it, we have failed.”

The repercussions and apologies were immediate following the mutinous weekend riots.

According to Ross’s Oct. 24 article in The Collegian, nine men were brought into court that following Monday after the riots, five of which were SDSU students. Charges included inciting a riot, aggravated assault, fleeing a police officer, intentional damage to property, assault of a police officer, driving while intoxicated and grand theft (of a city vehicle).

SA, University Program Council and the Hobo Day committee met and wrote a public apology, which was published in The Collegian on Oct. 24, 1990 and released to the state and national media as well. The Brookings City Council also passed a resolution that allowed one beer keg in a house at a time, Oster said.

In order to pay for damages, a combination of BOR dollars a portion of student fees was used to pay the balance due.

“Over half of the people involved weren’t SDSU students,” Oster said. “This wasn’t an SDSU revolt. The story was more elaborate than the event itself. It was all over and done with in a few hours. And was not as glamorous as the news made it out to be.”

#1.1718223:3891897653.jpg:KSFY_Hobo_1990:KSFY Hobo Riots 1990:Collegian File Photo#1.1718231:3591487400.jpg:Police_arrest_riot_1990:Police arrest riot 1990:Collegian File Photo