As my friend Sarah and I approached the Walker dorm doors nearest the Health Complex on Monday evening, I nearly giggled with excitement. Despite my status as a senior, I had never seen this side of the festivities which are known on campus as Walker Winter Wonderland.
The reason? Simple – for the first three years of my college career, my experience with the event was of quite a different sort. As a three-time Walker resident (yay Sojourn!), previous hall decorating contests found me deeply engulfed in the process for up to a week beforehand.
For several long evenings before the main event, active members of the dorm push aside homework, papers or projects. Instead, they collect, cut, paint, tape, glue, build and/or hang items that transform the hallways from residences into themed adventure zones.
So I knew just how much work went into the process, and I eagerly waited to experience the other side of it. Good thing, because the simple step of climbing three flights of stairs—well, more like climbing a couple of steps and then waiting for the line ahead of us to move along—took 20-30 minutes.
The first section of our Wonderland tour showcased the work of Summit. Signs on the wall at the staircase landing informed us that part of the North Pole melted, forcing Santa underwater. We entered the submarine’s control room as two control technicians kept tabs on the levels of candy canes or happiness.
A bouncing elf guided us through the first stage, pointing out the tube of hot cocoa running across the hallway and his Toy Story bed covers. We next entered the toy shop, where a busy elf hammered away at his bench and an instrument technician shined up the metal parts for a horn. We also witnessed the functional “toypedoes,” which sent toys flying up to the surface.
A dark elevator, complete with sound effects, took us up to the surface of the water where we walked through the mailing room full of labeled packages and passed by Santa sitting by a Christmas tree, handing out presents to the privileged few.
We next crossed to North Face, which the residents had transformed into a trailer park. I could not help but wonder just how many trips the men of the hall had taken to dumpsters to collect the old commodes, the child’s bike, the car hood and other appropriately cast off items.
Following the instructions of our guides, decked out in hick-ish outfits, we traversed over the river (on a bridge apparently made by the fellows) and through the woods (complete with real trees) to go to Grandma’s house for a Christmas party. Upon arrival, the “grandma” offered visitors pork and beans before they headed down the stairs to Sojourn.
The sign above the entrance to the hall greeted the tourists to the North Pole Hotel. Friendly receptionists staffed the brightly lit entry way. One led us into the elevator (impressively paneled by the closet doors from multiple rooms) which took us up to the 13th floor where our rooms would be located.
When the door reopened upon arrival, however, visitors experienced a startling change. Glum elves pointed our direction through the darkened section, winding through rooms peopled by bizarrely attired residents. Whether they were supposed to be zombies or merely dead people remained unclear – but the encounter was certainly frightening. Entering the laundry chute to make our escape was definitely a relief.
Before entering Legacy hall, Fred from Scooby Doo warned us that a Christmas monster—whose name successfully evaded my memory—had destroyed the Christmas decorations of the town. “They need your help!” the pep talk concluded. The first scene showed a villager crying over torn wrapping paper as Velma pointed us toward the next section, the library.
As we entered, the Christmas monster started chasing us. Residents directed us through a dark, maze-like path—looping backwards through a suite and then back forwards through another—in search of the Grinch-ish creature. I heard from plenty of other visitors to the event that this section was terrifying, including people being grabbed by the leg from behind the curtain. But during my tour, all I heard was the girls conferring in hushed tones. They evidently missed the memo that we were coming through. Which was fine by me!
In the end, the monster was caught in a tangle of Christmas lights, yelling, “I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids and that dog, too!” Visitors were congratulated as they exited through a portion decorated in a holiday theme. The early tourists received cookies, but by the time Sarah and I came through, those were gone.
Arriving back at the first floor, our tour next took us to Hogwarts. The Koinania hall incorporated a variety of memorable images from the Harry Potter series. These included love potions, a lecture by one of the magical professors and Dobby.
Visitors were also encouraged to feed bread to a live head stuck in a wreath. A large paper tree hung with snowflakes and a Harry Potter Santa bid farewell to visitors as they proceeded to the last hall.
Before entering Foundation, however, we witnessed an attempted proposal to a young lady who instead dashed away. Once inside the hall, we learned that she was Alice, that we were in Wonderland, and that unless we could keep the guards from finding her the Queen would steal Christmas.
The Mad Hatter warned us not to answer the questioning of the guards, who were dressed in well-made playing card boards. In an ending twist, the Queen celebrated her victory upon hearing that we had been unable to find Alice.
Before exiting the dorm, visitors voted for their favorite hall. The results from the popular vote combined with the feedback from judges to identify the winner. For the third year in a row, Summit took the prize.
Once all the people left, the Walkerites are left tired and with the gigantic job of returning their hall to its normal state. But first, they get the reward of enjoying having a Christmas story read to them. While President Chip Pollard and his wife usually do the honors, Vice President of Student Development Steve Beers and Science Assistant Professor Jane Beers served as replacements for the year.