Every May Day, after the sun goes down, scores of Washington College students take their clothes off and streak through the campus lanes and main streets of this gentle eastern shore Maryland town on the Chester and Sassafras rivers.
It is a tradition as strong here as bestowing honorary degrees upon U.S. presidents. Students started streaking at Washington College before it became a nationwide fad and they kept streaking after it stopped being fashionable.
On Monday night - May Day, 1978 - the streaking commenced as it always does. A woman student strolled up to the snack bar counter at Hodson Hall, disrobed, and ordered a soft drink. From that immodest beginning developed a series of events the likes of which Chestertown has not seen for many a year.
A streaker was arrested.
About 200 students surrounded the squad car, forcing the arresting officer to radio for help.
The students followed the squad car down to the police station, shouting for the streaker's release.
The local police, bewildered, stood outside the jail with shotguns and called in State Police from several nearby counties.
The dean of students came to the jail, quieted the crowd, and got the streaker released.
"Myself and about 50 others were running around doing the usual crazy stuff all night," said the arrested streaker, Peter Abronski, a sophomore from Miami who goes by the nickname 'Miami.' At the end of the night, me and three other guys were streaking down the main road (Rte 213) and run up a small hill.
"I was the last guy up, and when I turned around, the other guys were gone. All of a sudden a policeman yelled: 'Hold it right there.' It looked like he was holding a gun, so I said: 'Don't worry. I'll hold it.'"
The arresting officer was Kent County Deputy Sheriff Lamonte Cooke. "There were about 200 students egging on the streakers," said Cooke. "As soon as I apprehended Abronski they surrounded the squad car shouting and swearing at me. I had to radio for help. It was about 1:30 p.m."
Mark Devins, the hall proctor in Abronski's dorm, was working on a term paper at 1:30 a.m. "I was sitting at the typewriter, trying to write, when all of a sudden I hear these voices. They're shouting, 'Free Miami, Free Miami.' It was pretty dramatic, reminiscent of the old days. Everyone was out there shouting, 'Free Miami.' By the time I got out there, the police were taking Miami to the jail. We all followed him over there."
By 1:45 a.m. Abronski was sitting on a sofa on the first floor of the jail, wearing only sneakers and a sweater that students had thrown inside the squad car shortly after the arrest.
"I was just sitting on the couch, basically naked," he recalled. "I could see the crowd through the window and they could see me. The police had shotguns out there, and dogs. Some of them seemed nervous, some didn't. They treated me fine, but it was strange sitting on this couch with only a sweater and sneakers on and all these people standing outside screaming, 'Free Miami.'"
Deputy heriff Cooke also was inside the jail. "At this point," he said, "the State Police were called along with student leaders and Edward Maxcy, the assistant dean of students. The crowd outside the jail was chanting, 'Pigs. Set him free.' We moved Abronski to the second floor."
The cells are up on the second floor. "So here I am, wearing sneakers and a sweater, going up there where all the inmates are," said Abronski. "Boy, did they get a kick out of me. They loved it. They could hear all the people out on the street yelling for me."
Bonnie Nelle Duncan, editor of the student newspaper, The Elm, was one of the people on the street. Personally, she considers streaking "immature." But "it's a tradition here,' she added. "And there were so many people involved, it was unfair that only one student should get caught and punished."
Maxcy, the dean of men at the small, nonsecular college, also was out on the street. "I told the crowd that Miami would get out of jail, but not until they left . . . Everybody left peacefully."
Then Maxcy went inside, discovered that Abronski was being charged with indecent exposure and disturbing the peace and got his student out on personal recognizance.
Tuesday morning, as Deputy Sheriff Cooke slept off this overnight ordeal, the morning dispatcher at the sherriff's office offered his own opinion. "I hear there were a lot of women streakers," he said. "If I'd been out there, I'd have been chasing 'em across campus."