Gotcha!A tribute to some of the College’s memorable larks and pranksSwarthmore students have often turned their creative and intellectual powers to the commission of pranks. Engineering especially has a long history of pulling off remarkably clever and creative stunts—check out our gallery—but the mischief-making gene spans the College’s entire population. Seats in a lecture hall have disappeared, Adirondack chairs have hung from trees, and Clothier’s bell tower has chimed erratically. There’s a healthy aspect to the benign pranks. Swarthmore is such an academic pressure cooker, it’s a rare student who doesn’t look for occasional relief. The roster of memorable pranks offered here is not exhaustive, of course. Many exist only in oral legend, and some alumni, nominated by classmates as notorious pranksters, declined to respond to queries for this story, perhaps out of modesty or a more mature sense of judgment ... Up the Flagpole Like moths to a flame, swallows to Capistrano, and Elvis fans to Graceland, generations of student pranksters have been drawn to the forbidden territory atop Parrish Hall. Perhaps most memorable was April Fools’ 1997, which dawned with the Canadian flag flying high above Parrish, announcing a revolutionary development: Swarthmore had been taken over by the Canadian government. With signs around campus declaring the school “under new management,” Swarthmore would be known as “McGill South” and offer free tuition for Canadian students, not to mention socialized medicine for everyone, and a better brand of beer at College events (Moosehead over Milwaukee’s Best). In a surrender ceremony documented in the April Fools’ edition of The Phoenix, President Al Bloom graciously posed with the Canadian flag. The “Most Arduous Effort Producing a Disappointingly Ephemeral Payoff” is the prank reported by Bob Norman ’49. He and a 6-foot-9 classmate somehow managed to hoist a bicycle onto Parrish’s roof and raise it up the flagpole. However, shortly after daybreak, maintenance workers had taken it down. Fried Petrina? Never let it be said that physics students lack a sense of humor. Petrina Albulescu Dawson ’76 reports this one from April Fools’ in the mid-’70s: “Professor Paul Mangelsdorf ’49 had worried the previous year, in the electromagnetics lab, when I pointed too close to one of the high voltage plasma tubes: He could see a fried Petrina in front of his eyes! So we made a full-size person by stuffing clothes, a pillow, and a hat with newspaper and posed her as ‘electrocuted’ by the tube.” She writes that it was one of many physics pranks and puns committed in the lab that night. (We understand that Schrödinger’s cat was not harmed during the event.) Speaking of risks in electrical experiments, for her class’s 50th anniversary yearbook, Sandra Dixon ’61 fessed up to dissing Benjamin Franklin, who back then was honored with a bust in Dupont science library. She swiped Franklin’s bust and replaced it with a black cape, some frayed string, a key, and a placard saying, “Benjamin Franklin After Kite Experiment.” Those ‘Worshippers’ Were Nuts! A prank-as-performance-art satire was reported by Bulletin designer Phil Stern ’84. “Posing as expert anthropologists/art historians,” he writes, “two students from the Class of 1984 ‘discovered’ evidence of a tribe of squirrel-worshippers who lived in the College heat tunnels.” The two—who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty—held a carefully advertised “reception” in those steamy warrens, complete with warm wine and melting brie, drawing a crowd of about 50 sweltering Swatties to marvel at the tribe’s wall paintings. The affair went “swimmingly,” says Stern, until it was interrupted by College security, who were alerted by a gullible student asking where to find an entrance to the underground tunnels. High-tech High Jinks What is a Swarthmore term paper without a raft of those learned-sounding academic buzzwords, like dichotomy, hegemony, deconstruction, and postmodern? Students in 2002 found out, thanks to prankster Gabriel Rosenkoetter ’02. He hacked a couple of libraries’ public printers and programmed them to delete a list of more than 200 “typically Swarthmorean” words. Upon finding their intellectual handiwork pocked with blank spaces, desperate students fell into a frenzy that left tech-support gurus baffled. Hours of anxious chaos ensued until normalcy was restored. Rare among the pranksters featured here, Rosenkoetter publicly claimed credit in The Phoenix—and paid a fine for the staff time spent trying to fix the printers. On April Fools’ Day in 2001, an unnamed hacker sent an all-campus email in Associate Dean Tedd Goundie’s name, reminding students about daylight saving time, but advising them to turn their clocks back instead of forward. The Phoenix reported that Goundie called it an “elegantly understated prank.” Paper, Paper Everywhere … A surprising number of pranks involved a fairly primitive technology, invented millennia ago in Egypt. Back when students were required to attend campuswide Collection several times a year, it often meant surrendering precious free time to listen to a boring minor-league speaker. A favorite form of protest was for students to whip out copies of The New York Times and rustle the papers en masse. Mimi Siegmeister Koren ’60 made use of these papers when she and her pals pranked a dormmate who was away for the weekend by filling the victim’s entire room up to the ceiling with crumpled wads of newsprint. Then there’s Bill Schmidt ’76, who confesses to leading the Great Toilet Paper Heist of 1975. Like locusts stripping a field clean of crops, the pranksters methodically plundered every common dorm bathroom and public restroom for toilet paper. The heist happened on a Friday after maintenance staff had clocked out and locked up replacement supplies for the weekend. The campus was wiped out until Monday morning, when supply closets reopened and the conspirators revealed where the stash was hidden. Name Games Melissa Morrell MacBeth ’99 fondly remembers the prank her senior year when hundreds of the black name plates identifying specimens in the Scott Arboretum were simplified to labels such as “Green Plant—Greenus Plantus,” “Small Shrub,” and “Short Tree.” When France failed to support President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, some U.S. lawmakers protested by symbolically renaming the french fries served in the congressional cafeteria as “freedom fries.” That bit of patriotic absurdity inspired Raghu Karnad ’05 to perform some relabeling work at the department of modern languages. Using stickers, he converted all occurrences of “French” to “Freedom.” (He notes he was mocking the war hawks, not the French.) Swarthmore pranked itself during the Sesquicentennial celebration in 2014, producing an official-sounding April Fools’ news release declaring, “Swathmore Drops ‘R’ from Name to Fix 150 Years of Pronunciation Confusion.” Au Naturel? Oh No! Swarthmore students love to do things in public without their clothes on. The rugby teams’ naked coed fundraiser, the “Dash for Cash” through Parrish Hall, is a legend in its own right. In our clothing-free category, the best prank was described in a 2009 Phoenix article by Kendal Rinko ’09. As a tour guide led a group of prospective students into her dorm, they encountered a group of students, all in the buff, having tea in the lounge. Rinko wrote, “A shocked mother replied, ‘Oh, my stars! Is this normal?’ To which the tour guide replied, ‘Would you care for a cup?’” Weathering Academia Many students had trouble returning to campus from spring break in 1993 after a blizzard blanketed the region on the Saturday before classes resumed. Monday morning, Joanna Vondrasek ’94 left Sharples for her 8:30 a.m. class when she saw official College letterhead notices posted on several doors declaring that classes had been canceled for the day. Only after spending the morning holed up in the library did she learn that the notices were bogus and classes had gone on as normal. Oh, What a Beautiful Prank! One of the more legendary highbrow pranks had a musical theme. In the 1950s, during a campuswide Collection, noted lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II spoke. When it was time for the hymn, a cabal of students instead started singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! “Eventually the organist gave up and joined in,” Peter Van Pelt ’54 says. “Everyone was singing like crazy. Hammerstein said it was the best welcome he ever had.” Lowbrow Cultural Commentary John Fischer ’81 cops to being in the group that planted a pink flamingo in Wharton Quad and chuckled as maintenance crews struggled to extricate it, because the conspirators had anchored the bird in place with concrete. John Bowe ’83 reports that the flamingo later made appearances all over campus, most notably on President Theodore Friend’s windowsill. From the Awesome-if-True Archives Some stories of long-ago epic pranks remain unconfirmed despite diligent digging. A couple of early 1970s alums mentioned a legendary episode in which students supposedly raided Sharples for a huge stash of butter and applied it to the train tracks at the Swarthmore station. As the locomotive arrived, so the story goes, it hit the butter and slid past the station. (If true, it proves that some things are not better with butter.) No one wrote in to claim credit for the time the clock face on Tarble was turned into a Mickey Mouse timepiece, but several alums remembered seeing that one circa 1980. Joyce Klein Perry ’65 recollected seeing treetops on Magill Walk toilet-papered (presumably, Swarthmore’s own Scott brand), reputedly scattered there by a student piloting an airplane. And then there’s the distant legend of the cow that was led up to the president’s second-floor office in Parrish and refused to go back down the stairs. Fran Brokaw ’76 says it happened, citing her grandmother, Class of 1909, as the source. True or not, generations of Swarthmoreans have milked that story for all it’s worth. Did we miss any mischief? Let us know in the comments or by emailing us your additional College capers! + View a slideshow of recent April Fools' Day pranks by Swarthmore engineering students.