Willamette University

The First Pranksters in the West

By Hayley Hill ’13

Students today might be surprised to learn of their predecessors’ handiwork in pulling off some creative pranks on staff and the student body alike. Here are some of the ones that have gone “unseen” for a while, as they have been reported to us. We expect that alumni might have clarifications and/or divergent memories — if so, send them in!

Diogenes Searches for an Honest Man in the State Capitol

The tradition of Blue Monday following the Freshman Glee competition often produced a number of bizarre sights. We think it was in the 1970s that one student was tasked with wandering into the State Capitol dressed as the Greek philosopher Diogenes “in search of an honest man.”

Diogenes, readers might remember, conducted his own sarcastic search for an honest man in Athens by carrying a lamp around during the daytime.

Whether either of these searchers found what they were looking for was never determined.

Landing a Plane on the Quad...Almost

In the 1970s, so it goes, a Phi Delta Theta member who had recently been trying to obtain his pilot’s license snuck out to the Salem Airport with a friend (inebriated, we hear) and took off in a small plane. Their goal was to land the plane on the Quad, but they ended up crash landing on the street behind the College of Law.

Saddle Up the Cow

Willamette students have a long history of cow-related pranks: An 1889 graduate remembered the time one of his peers “took the saddle off the chancellor’s horse, which was tied to a tree near Waller Hall, and cinched it to a cow, which he left in the horse’s place.”

Later incidents, of course, included getting a cow into Waller Hall.

Naked Runs

In the 1960s, freshman pledges of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity would run the “jock race” — wearing only jock straps — around Lausanne Hall. Their purpose is unclear. Later, these runs evolved into completely naked runs around both Doney and Lausanne.

It appears that the present-day tradition of Spring Preview streaking (see sidebar) isn’t so novel after all.

O Christmas Tree

In the 1980s, the freshmen of Sigma Chi had forgotten to cut down their annual Christmas tree from the forest, as was tradition. To salvage their holiday festivities, they reportedly cut down one of the firs outside the Capitol entryway as a replacement. Legend says they were caught and had to plant a new tree but Capitol staff couldn’t confirm where it might be.

Killer goose on the loose.Catching Guido the Killer Goose

Also in the 1980s, the members of Phi Delta Theta conspired to catch Guido, the infamous “killer goose” who hung around campus and was known to taunt class-bound students by blocking their way over the Mill Stream bridges and carping loudly at them.

Upon capture, the students reportedly dyed the bird pink and locked it in the basement of Alpha Chi Omega. Naturally, this led to an even angrier goose and a very messy basement for the sorority women.

Selected Current-Day Traditions

Welcome to WU — Enjoy the Streakers

Every year, Willamette hosts a Spring Preview, where prospective students and parents spend a (typically) warm, sunny day getting a feel for the campus. Along with a beautiful campus and friendly faculty and students, these newcomers are also witness to our unique spring tradition: Spring Preview streaking.

Around lunchtime every year, dozens of students run through campus wearing only body paint — or less. Oddly enough, it makes many prospective parents smile — maybe because streaking on a college campus is nothing new to them.

Don’t Touch the Chicken Fountain

One of the more common and long-lasting pranks involves the Hatfield Fountain, affectionately known as the Chicken Fountain. From bubbles to Jell-O® to brightly colored dyes, students have always found amusement in adding things to the water.

Today, however, many students acknowledge the enormous cost of cleaning the fountain after such a prank and actually get upset when they awake to a Chicken Fountain mess.

Poem Bombing

In celebration of National Poetry Month and National Math Awareness Month, one English professor assigned his class a unique task: the 18 students wrote nearly 100 haikus on small sticky notes and stealthily plastered them all over the second floor of Ford Hall — where the math department is located. The haikus covered walls, desks, doors, TVs, benches and chairs, and the event has since been dubbed the “Haiku Explosion.”

In return, the math department promised to “Pi” the English department. What this meant was never clarified, and so far the department has not followed through on the promise.

Send Us Your Prank Memories

Do you remember a unique prank from WU’s past? Recognize any of these ones and have more information? Share with us! Email scene@willamette.edu.

More at willamette.edu/alumni/alumni_weekend