Fifty years ago, Peter Salgo, ‘72, and I were roaming the streets of Manchester, New Hampshire on a mission. We were attending a weeklong, national student editors conference sponsored by the United States Student Press Association at New Hampshire College. I was the incoming Managing Editor of Binghamton University’s student newspaper and Salgo was the incoming Editor-in-Chief. We would be returning to campus in a few weeks and were desperate to find a new name for BU’s nearly quarter-century-old student newspaper formerly known as The Colonial News.
An anti-Vietnam War protest had precipitated our quest. In a televised address on April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon announced that U.S. troops and South Vietnamese troops had entered Cambodia to disrupt North Vietnamese and Viet Cong supply lines. University campuses across the country erupted in anti-war demonstrations. On May 4, Ohio Army National Guard troops fired on unarmed protesters at Kent State University, killing four and wounding nine. On the evening of May 5, 3,000 people filled the West Gym to memorialize the victims and rally against the war.
One of the speakers at the mass meeting, a graduate student instructor named Tommy Tuchman, delivered a fiery speech excoriating U.S. foreign policy and demanding the campus newspaper abandon the name The Colonial News, which he viewed as glorifying American imperialism. Swept up in the moment (and possibly still recovering from the aftereffects of a Grateful Dead concert on campus three nights earlier), the newspaper staff quickly caucused in the rear of the gym and acquiesced to a name change.
For the rest of the semester, beginning with the May 8 issue, the word “Colonial” appeared under a giant letter X as the x-ed out or anti-Colonial News. I don’t recall any discussion at the time of the varsity sports teams known as the Colonials in the pre-Bearcat era. Nor did any of us reference Robert Harpur, the Irish immigrant and proud colonial who served New York state in numerous capacities during the American Revolutionary War against the British Empire.
The May 8 issue also contained a small notice welcoming input on a new name with instructions to leave written suggestions in “the envelope on the newspaper office door by Monday afternoon.” Back then, texts were things you purchased in the University Bookstore. Ultimately, the task fell to Salgo and I and by late August 1970, crunch time had arrived.
In a group chat published in Pipe Dream during Homecoming Weekend in 2010, a current editor shared that “the lore passed down to later generations is that people were smoking pot at a journalism conference and had the revelation over marijuana that ‘Pipe Dream’ would be a cool name.”
Actually, Salgo and I took a midday break from the conference to meander around Manchester and begin seriously brainstorming potential names. At some point Salgo suggested the name “Pipe Dream” and then moved on to other possibilities before I asked to revisit that one. We debated whether it should be one word or two. For some reason, we settled on two, with no hyphen.
The first issue of Pipe Dream hit the stands on September 15, 1970. In an ad titled “Why Pipe Dream?” Salgo offered a strong critique of “the inhuman policy of this country toward other peoples of the world” and “the goals of our present system.” He attributed the origins of the new name to a nihilistic conversation between two characters in Eugene O’Neill’s classic play, “The Iceman Cometh”:
Larry: “ … As the history of the world proves, the truth has no bearing on anything. It’s irrelevant and immaterial … The lie of a pipe dream is what gives life to the whole misbegotten mad lot of us, drunk or sober … ”
Rocky: “ … I s’pose you don’t fall for no pipe dream?”
Larry: “I don’t, no. Mine are all dead and buried behind me. What’s before me is the comforting fact that death is a fine long sleep, and I’m damned tired, and it can’t come too soon for me.”
Salgo majored in English. I just thought the name sounded cool and don’t remember being stoned at the time. Sadly, Salgo passed away in 2003, so you’ll just have to take my word on that.
Pipe Dream caught on and has been the newspaper’s name more than twice as long as The Colonial News was. In the early years, some aspiring journalists feared that the name Pipe Dream might turn off potential employers and simply listed “SUNY Binghamton Student Newspaper” on their résumés.
Five years ago, a proposal to rename the newspaper “The Clocktower Courier” drew vociferous opposition from Pipe Dream alumni and went nowhere.
It’s good to know at least some traditions can stand the test of time.
Jay Rubin, ‘73, was formerly Pipe Dream’s Editor-in-Chief.