The mystery of the Life archive is a mystery no more (thanks to Jen‘s search fu). Turns out that the images of those college-aged kids and their medieval hijinks are mistagged. They actually belong to the Life feature article on a big day out put on by Bethany College in West Virginia called “The College Joust,” which appeared in the May 19, 1952 issue (pictured left).
Other feature articles that week included a story on American prisoners in Communist China, a photo essay on the poverty-striken peoples of Peru and Bolivia, and a feature on the fashion craze that was sweeping the nation, “Powedered Streaks,” a way of adding temporary highlights to your hair by dusting yourself with tinted talcum powder.
Poking around the Bethany College website, it looks like the Joust was a tradition that did not last the fifties.
As for the mysterious smiling lady, she is still a mystery. The photographer clearly liked her; there’s a good two dozen or so pictures of her in the archive, but none appear to have made it to print.