When the phenomenon known as “streaking” burst into the open (pun absolutely intended) in the winter of 1973 and spring of 1974 Knoxville was not shielded from the fad. Cumberland Avenue was ground zero for UT students who turned a blind eye to convention and frolicked full-blown Lady Godiva (sans horse) down the Strip.
For all that anyone could provide a rational explanation for the birth of streaking it may as well have arrived by flying saucer. Fittingly, the first recorded streaking incident in the U.S. occurred when a college student was arrested for running nude through Lexington, Virginia, in 1804.
George William Crump, a senior at Washington University, drew a suspension for the remainder of the academic year. The notoriety didn’t prevent him from winning an appointment to a vacant congressional seat in 1826.
Closer to the present day, a 1999 article in American Heritage magazine revealed how jaded the streakers’ audiences became: “At the University of Georgia, the phenomenon grew and grew until more than 1,500 people participated in a mass streak. Students finally had to parachute naked onto the Georgia campus to attract any attention.”
West Knoxville resident Margaret Fuller was a college student when streaking took off on the Strip. She recalled standing in the cold with a friend waiting for the action to begin. The night they chose to attend, the streakers were mostly a no-show.
Fuller was kind enough to ask friends on Facebook what they remembered of the craze. Rusty Burke, who now resides in Washington, D.C., wrote a memorable response.
“I was a responsible person with a job at the time. Anyway, I was usually way too fried to notice if people were nekkid.”
David Kendall, returning from Maryville one evening, saw “lots of action. ”
There were people all over the Strip, Kendall wrote, as well as above it.
“They were on roofs and awnings,” and some took part in “mass moonings.”
The moonlight madness around the campus peaked on March 4, 1974, when a crowd of about 5,000 naked men and women rambled down the Strip. An impressed Walter Cronkite dubbed Knoxville the “streaking capital of the world.”
Knoxville police, the university administration and business owners along Cumberland were less impressed, however. A police crackdown aided by colder than normal March temperatures soon drove the remnants of the streaker corps from the Strip.
In a Daily Beacon story by Faith Schweikert, Elaine Watson, a UT undergrad in 1974, said, “All the kids came from all over the campus, everybody was on the Strip. I really promise you, thousands and thousands of kids – you couldn’t move.”
And why would you want to?
Larry Van Guilder is the business/government editor for KnoxTNToday.