In 1903 a young instructor in physical education, H.R. Edmunds, suggested to Centre College students that with the aid of girls from Danville they hold an annual spring social event to raise money for the Athletic Association. The Carnival he suggested was held and soon became the social highlight of the spring for both the college and much of central Kentucky. That first Carnival had a midway with booths sponsored by student organizations and a track meet. The next year, 1904, saw the beginning of a feature that defined Carnival into the 1970’s, the coronation of the King and Queen. Carnival grew rapidly and stayed the most important social event in Danville well into the fifties. A unique event, Carnival received wide newspaper coverage, often being featured in the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Initially not a college function per se, one of the qualifications of a Carnival queen in the early years included a large bank account, for it was the queen and her family who shouldered the expense of the parade, parties, and coronation. She personally selected her court, which sometimes numbered as many as three hundred people. This court would participate in the highlight of Carnival, the Pageant, sometimes viewed by as many as five or six thousand people. By the 1930’s Carnival had become a function of the college, and was no longer financed by the queen’s family. Who elected the king and queen, and their qualifications, varied throughout Carnival’s history. In the early years, the queen was selected by Centre’s “C” Club, and had to be a girl from Danville, although in some years the queen was elected by the men’s student body. By the late 1940’s the requirement that she be from Danville was dropped. The king was variously determined by an inter-class track meet, elected by members of the “C” club, or elected by the student body. In some years the nomination was limited to members of the &C& Club, in other years it was open to the entire student body. From 1929 into the 1960’s mammoth sets were built on the football field for the increasingly long and complex coronation ceremony. For the 1934 ceremony, Old Centre was reconstructed, and loudspeakers used for the first time to pipe the ceremony to spectators. By the late 1960’s the sets had been abandoned, and the coronation moved to in front of Old Centre and later the Sutcliffe ballroom.
Carnival was originally held the Monday after Commencement, but because of convenience the date was soon changed so that the festival became a part of Commencement. By the 1960’s Carnival was no longer associated with Commencement and was held in April or May. Over the years various activities along with the coronation were a part of the celebration. In the early years a parade with elaborately decorated floats was part of Carnival. In 1905 a dance was held, and became a regular feature. The queen was responsible for issuing invitations to the dance, but others could pay to get in. The dance was rarely a closed affair, and by the early 1930’s the issuing of invitations had been dropped. In the early years athletic events were often a part of Carnival, and from 1906 through 1937 a play was affiliated with the dance.
Carnival was not held in 1917 and 1918 because of World War I, nor in 1974 and 1975 due to lack of student interest. The celebration was revived in the late 1970's on a much smaller scale. Although it has varied in size and interest over the past few decades, the activity continues. Kings and queens are no longer elected, there are no grand dances or ceremonies, and the festivity is held on campus, an informal, low-key couple of hours of fun on a spring afternoon for students, faculty, and their children.