Forty years ago this spring, mischievous creativity was in abundance among Chattanooga area college students and others – even if the clothes always weren’t.
The memorable streaking craze that swept the country arrived in the Scenic City just as the spring flowers were. But due primarily to crackdowns and warnings by local authorities, the fad disappeared in literally a flash.
Streaking – the practice of running through a public place without wearing clothes as a prank – had been around in some form for decades.
But for some reason, it really started becoming popular in towns and college communities across the country in late 1973 and early 1974.
Chattanooga evidently picked up on the craziness after following the goings-on in Knoxville, where streaking reached a high level on the University of Tennessee campus and the adjoining Strip area of businesses on Cumberland Avenue.
From Feb. 28-March 4, 1974, a number of streaking sightings took place around UT. It had started as harmless fun, but eventually got almost out of control after a big crowd – including a few without clothes – gathered on the Strip on March 4.
Several Chattanoogans were in school there at the time, including retiring Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Ron Harr. From Bristol, he was a photographer for the UT student newspaper, the Daily Beacon, and he remembers thinking he better get over to the Strip area that night and take some pictures.
“When I got over there, it was bedlam,” he said. “Evidently, word had gotten out all over East Tennessee. There was a solid sea of humanity from the top of the hill down to the last street.”
The crowd was so great – with people even on rooftops and the tops of signs -- that some of the streakers were slowed down and had to stand in the crowd naked with no place to go.
“It was bizarre,” he remembered. “I took a few pictures and we printed them in the Daily Beacon and we put black squares over the private body parts.”
Mr. Harr said he still has the negatives of those pictures.
Lee Murray, who was a Sigma Chi at UT from Chattanooga at the time, was not quite the eyewitness that Mr. Harr was, but still vividly remembers the crazy atmosphere of that week.
“At first there were large crowds cheering and chanting until finally someone got brave enough to streak,” said Mr. Murray a Baylor School graduate who now operates Competition Athletic Surfaces. “I actually don’t recall ever actually seeing it because it happened so quickly. I suspect very few people actually did it.”
After the chaos on the Strip of March 4, a Monday, UT chancellor Jack Reese and Knoxville police announced plans to crack down heavily, and the fad quickly died there. But not before CBS television newscaster Walter Cronkite called Knoxville the streaking capital of the world in one of his reports.
In Chattanooga, meanwhile, the craziness was all just getting started on March 4. Apparently following the goings-on in Knoxville through the news reports, UTC students decided to have a little fun as well.
Shortly after midnight on Tuesday, March 5, as many as 50 students went streaking across the UTC campus, according to dean of students Charles Renneisen.
One girl reported to police that about 20 male students had apparently left from the area of Chamberlain Field and ran past the two women’s dorms, Pfeiffer and Stagmaier halls.
“The student said the males yelled for some girls to come out and streak, and four or five did briefly, running around the dorms,” wrote reporter Ronnie Moore in the March 6Chattanooga News-Free Press.
Dean Renneisen said the streakers reportedly wore underwear or modified shorts, and a few wore nothing at all.
Two students were apprehended and turned over to the student conduct board for a hearing.
But it apparently wasn’t just a case of “boys being boys,” as about five girl students at UTC also took part, including one who was totally in her birthday suit, according to the article.
Later that afternoon, UTC Chancellor James Drinnon held a press conference on campus, where he announced that appropriate action would be taken against future streakers.
Unfortunately, as he made the comment, two streakers dashed near him down Oak Street. It is not known if anyone yelled, “Don’t look, James,” to paraphrase the popular Ray Stevens song, “The Streak,” which came out not long after the Knoxville and Chattanooga streaking incidents.
Dr. Drinnon told the media that while many considered it a funny fad, it was not keeping with conduct expected of the students. “And (it) certainly is not conducive to an educational environment,” he added.
A mass streak was rumored to be getting ready to take place on Wednesday, March 6, but it never materialized.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, the streaking craze spread beyond the UTC campus, but in a hilariously disastrous manner. The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department said two North Georgia men were spotted streaking in the Tiftonia area.
As authorities tried to arrest them, the streakers made a tactical mistake – they ran into a blackberry patch full of thorns. Needless to say, they had red marks – and red faces – as they were booked in the Hamilton County Jail totally nude.
That same day in Cleveland, a 19-year-old was arrested for streaking on the Lee College campus, although officials of the Church of God-affiliated school were quick to point out he was not a student.
After that day, the frequent incidences of streaking in Chattanooga and East Tennessee seemed to die down, perhaps due in part to the upcoming UTC spring break.
But what are still around 40 years later are the humorous memories of those who experienced the unusual events of the time.
“It was a strange phenomenon,” remembered Mr. Harr. “It went away as soon as it started.”