Keep on Joustin’ in the Free WorldS

It lasted roughly a thousand years (give or take a few centuries). It generated mind-boggling advances in science, technology and medicine. It saw magnificent cathedrals rise at Chartres, Salisbury and scores of other cities and towns. It witnessed the first rumblings of a kind of proto-democracy in England and elsewhere. It wholly transformed the political and economic underpinnings of an entire continent. In light of all that, it's odd that the long, long period of European history commonly known as the Middle Ages should be associated in so many people's minds with ... jousting.

But as an entertaining LIFE feature from 60 years ago reminds us, people have long indulged the urge to recreate those days — complete with troubadours, falconry, greasy cooked meats, archery, jousts, chicks in tall, pointy hats and all the rest. In fact, in its May 19, 1952, issue the magazine treated its readers to an article on a "college joust" in West Virginia that makes clear that, for all sorts of people, dressing up and getting Medieval on each other has never really gone out of style:

Looking for a spring ceremony more exciting than their junior prom [LIFE wrote], the students of Bethany College in West Virginia this year turned to jousting and, on a sunny day in May, held a King Arthur tournament. Opposing Arthur's knight were Robin Hood's followers — this despite the historical fact that the famous outlaw lived probably seven centuries after the famous king. The local utility company contributed two telephone poles for a jousting log and the funeral parlor lent a tent with scalloped edges as an ornament for the field. For jousting, the combatants used staffs, with which they belabored each other, and pies, which they threw at each other. There was also an egg-throwing contest and a search for the Holy Quail. The tournament ended when everybody had exhausted themselves. That night, after a banquet and dance, Merlin went out to the tennis courts and amazed revelers by magically filling the sky with rockets.

Well played, lords and ladies of Bethany. Well played, indeed.

See the full gallery, "LIFE Goes to a College Joust."

Ben Cosgrove is the editor of LIFE.com. Picture This is his weekly (and occasionally more frequent) feature for The Stacks.

Photo Credit: George Skadding—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images