An alumnus of the class of 1999 writes, "The large oak tree in the center of Bosworth Court at MIT's Senior House dormitory has sported a peculiar tire swing since the early 1970s. The rope is so long that the tire just rests on the ground, making traditional pendulum-like swinging difficult. Instead, MIT students ride the swing in a great circle, several meters in radius, in imitation of the "conical pendulum" encountered in freshman physics. When the rope begins to wrap around the tree, the physics lesson becomes more advanced: the student's moment of inertia and angular speed must be carefully controlled to ensure a feet-first landing on the tree. The student then kicks off the tree, sweeping out orbit after orbit.

"Tire swing riding has come to be seen a physical manifestation of the Senior House motto, "Sport Death: Only Life Can Kill You", which also emerged in the early 1970s. The motto is an imperative to seek out, face down, and conquer challenges by way of hard earned skill and ingenuity, to never let fear of risk overcome the pursuit of success. Although the swing and the motto are often seen as idiomatic of Senior House (and widely and dramatically misunderstood outside Senior House), they are in fact a distillation of the MIT community's core values. Many an alumnus can say that while MIT's academics forged them with pounding heat, their final hardening came by the cool quenching winds of MIT's unique tire swing."
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  • Fall semester always brought carnage as freshmen tried to learn how to control their moments of inertia in order to land with their feet on the tree trunk instead of crashing into it. Once mastered, tire swinging became a wonderfully peaceful and relaxing thing to do. Those who became very adept would try to spin as many times as possible, or tuck their feet into the tire and hang upside-down while swinging, the pavement just inches from their faces. Tire swinging is a joy to do as well as to watch.

    Jean-Joseph Cote

    17 Nov 09 at 2:04 pm