In the Summer/Fall 2022 issue of the IU Alumni Magazine, we asked readers to recall their IU shenanigans. From Showalter Fountain rearrangements to late-night phone calls from “The Great White Hawk,” enjoy these truly unique practical jokes.
Back in 1972, I was in the Delta Gamma sorority, and Phi Delta Gamma (Fiji) had pulled a prank on our house (back then, I think the term was a “boress”). They picked up my sorority sister’s Volkswagen Beetle, carried it to the front lawn, and mounted it on railroad ties. It was quite a feat.
How could we successfully boress them back when the bar had been set so high?
My idea was to go to their house, pull the fire alarm, and throw water balloons at them as they came out. Believe it or not, our house mom called their house mom (they were one of the only fraternities that still had a house mom) and worked out the plan. The Fiji mom said they needed a fire drill and that might just work.
Early in the morning hours, [we] DGs crept over to the Fiji house, let off smoke bombs outside, and pulled the fire alarm. When the men came running out, there were two firetrucks waiting on Third Street. They thought their house was on fire, but it was just a drill.
—Sioux Hill, BA’74, MS’77
’Twas fall 1974 at the McNutt Quadrangle, Bordner, second floor. I got up early for classes and grabbed the handle of our dorm room door and noticed it was covered with Vaseline. [When I opened the door,] there was toilet paper everywhere.
“What happened?” I asked a fellow floormate. They responded: “It was a boress. The girls did it in retaliation.”
—Jim Borman, BA’78
Our Zeta Beta Tau [Little 500] bike team did not have the budget of the larger bike teams at IU. Instead of going to Florida to train for a week, we drove to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to train at the University of Alabama and stay at the ZBT house there.
While there, we decided to talk to a few of the local sorority girls—[we] told them we were doing a “story” on campus life at Alabama for the Indiana Daily Student. They invited us to dinner, and I suspect by the end of the dinner, were probably on to us. However, we took a few photos with them in front of their house. I think they were actually in on the joke and just played along. The camera was stolen later in the trip, but we have a race day photo of the team.
—Ben Pearl, BA’87
Twist and Spout
I was an IU student from 1961 to 1967. Showalter Fountain, The Birth of Venus, had recently been completed. One day, while walking alone by the fountain, with not too many other folks around, I was curious to see if the fish spouting water rotated on their waterline bases.
I pushed on the tail of the closest fish and, lo and behold, it easily rotated. The water now spouted out of its mouth onto the slate ground outside the fountain! I looked around, apparently with no one seeing me, and I quickly walked away! I think it was the fish on the west side of the fountain, opposite the IU Auditorium.
The next time I walked by the fountain, probably several days later, everything had been restored to normal.
—Bob Harman, BA’65, MA’67, MD’71
Musical Chairs … and a Kidnapping
I was a member of Sigma Alpha Mu (Sammy) during my four years at IU. It was a tradition for each pledge class to pull a prank on the fraternity’s active [members] as part of a “walkout.”
We decided our [pledge class’s] prank would be to overturn all the furniture in the living room and remove all the dining room furniture in the middle of the night and put it on the front lawn. The actives would wake up in the morning and have to put it all back. We did this at 3:30 a.m. and then took a bus to stay at the Sammy chapter [house] in Illinois for the weekend.
As part of our walkout, we also “kidnapped” the active member who was the toughest on our pledge class. We kidnapped him, put jelly on his chest, and left him in his underwear at a phone booth in Terre Haute, Ind., on our bus ride to Champaign, Ill. We gave him enough money to call the frat house and have someone pick him up.
—John Golper, BA’72
A buddy would call people we knew and say, “This is Southwestern Bell, and we will be conducting maintenance on your phone line for the next five minutes. Your phone will ring a series of times, sometimes once, sometimes twice, sometimes more—but it is critical that you do not answer the phone, or it could electrocute the lineman.” The person he called would say they understood and would not answer.
Then, he would call several times in a row, letting the phone ring a random number of times (once, three times, five times, etc.). After five minutes, he would stop calling.
Then after about 10 minutes, when the “testing” was supposedly finished, he would call the number again. When the person answered, he would yell “Uhhhhgggg!” like he was being electrocuted.
A sidenote that was funny: One time, a couple of guys on our floor were studying in their room, and we listened outside the door as our buddy called them and conducted his “tests.” One of the guys had little patience and kept telling his roommate to answer the phone. The roommate replied, “I’m not going to electrocute the guy!”
—Larry Cheek, BS’78
Lock and Run
I resided in Dodds House in Wright Quad while serving as freshman class president from 1963 to 1964. Our house held weekly meetings in the lounge on the third floor. During one of those meetings, Chuck Ott, BA’67, and I excused ourselves from the meeting, telling the others that we had some studying to do. As we left the meeting, we took the key to the lounge and locked all the members inside.
When they tried to leave the meeting, we could hear loud noises bellowing out as they realized their predicament. I opened the door and was immediately mobbed and thrown into a cold shower with my clothes on. Chuck moved to a room (not his own), and being very lightweight, he was able to get under a bed and pull himself up to the box springs. The Dodds House men searched the room, but no one found him.
Chuck let some time go by and then crawled out from under the bed. As he did so, he surprised the occupant of the room, who was ironing a shirt, unaware of his hiding.
“Did they find me?” Chuck asked the startled occupant who then turned ghostly white as if seeing someone who arose from the grave.
—Rex Joseph, Jr., BS’67, JD’70
Late-night phone calls, especially at 2 a.m., can sometimes involve news of a tragedy—unless “The Great White Hawk” happens to be on the other end of the line.
Legend has it, going back to the 1940s, that The Great White Hawk had fun pulling pranks on pledges; and for two years in the late 1970s, I had the honor of secretly serving as TGWH at Delta Tau Delta.
The Hawk would work in conjunction with the pledge trainer to warn the pledge class of a potential phone call that evening. The Hawk and the pledge trainer were the only two people privy to the ensuing prank. Every room in the Delt house had a landline and every [member] had a phone list.
Before you read any further, please know, there was never an ounce of hazing, dangerous behavior, or alcohol consumption involved: It was simply 100 percent college silliness and frivolity. Nobody ever got hurt or complained.
I used a cheesy accent and always whispered to disguise my voice whenever the calls were made, usually at 2 a.m. (and always annunciating the word “Haaaaaawk”). I remember fondly that many times the pledge would whisper to his roommate, “It’s him.”
I always addressed the pledge as Mr. so and so, was unusually polite about calling so late, and would explain what his duty would be.
Pranks included playing the IU fight song on a trumpet underneath the flagpole, hitting a half dozen golf balls from our front yard to the fraternity across the street, or performing “a Hoover,” [which is] pushing a basketball down the hall with your nose while on all fours and making the sound of a vacuum cleaner.
To this day, on a phone call to an old fraternity brother, I sometimes will introduce myself by saying, “This is The Great White Hawk calling.”
—TGWH, Scott Brennan, BA’80
Crime and Punishment
My prank was in response to an outburst by a young lad who also lived in [the] Men’s Residence Center in the fall of 1968. He was upset with me about something, so he kicked in all four panels on the heavy wooden door to my room. I responded with a time-honored assault on his room—filling an album cover with shaving cream, jamming it beneath his closed door, and stomping on it. The shaving cream erupted inside the room, and a crowd of students who had gathered to watch the battle also erupted—in laughter.
Our counselor arrived on the scene, promising trouble not only for us but also for the rowdies who watched in [the] hallway. We two adversaries opted for punishment from a student conduct board, which sentenced us to a semester of conduct probation. The watchers elected to take their punishment from the counselor, and he sentenced them—the non-participants—to a full year of conduct probation.
—Dennis Royalty, BS’71
Read an excerpt from Royalty’s unpublished memoir of his time as a sports reporter, specifically his coverage of the Hoosiers and his relationship with former IU men’s basketball head coach, Bob Knight.
Hot Off the Press
I lived in the Men’s Residence Center on the Bloomington campus from 1966 to 1969. One weekend in November 1967, two guys across the hallway from me left on a trip and left their room key behind.
So, a bunch of us collected old newspapers from all over the campus and piled them up in their room. The newspapers were wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, and covered everything.
When the guys returned after their trip and opened their door, all they could see were newspapers. And more newspapers. They began throwing the newspapers out into the hallway. We all then started pushing the papers down the chute to the incinerator in the basement. The incinerator became too full, and smoke started coming up through the chute and out of the basement. Someone called the fire department because of all the smoke coming out of the building.
Although there was no fire nor any smoke damage, there were some discussions between the fire department personnel, dormitory personnel, and some of the culprits, but nothing bad happened to anyone. Everyone, including the firemen, got a good laugh out of it.
—Mike Weasner, BS’70
After reading the “Bars in Bloomington” story [page 15] in the Summer/Fall 2022 issue, I feel like this story needs to be told.
As a freshman pledge to Beta Theta Pi, we were told that drinking was off-limits. At that time, just about all my pledge brothers were of age and back from serving with the military. Some of us would quietly enter the Hendricks Brothers’ Tavern through a back entrance to a room upstairs. There, we would enjoy a few cold ones. When, and if, we were asked where we had been, we coined the phrase “at the Regulator”— a name that was taken from the big wall clock over the bar downstairs.
Word gradually spread and the name slowly became the Hendricks Brothers’ Regulator, and finally, just The Regulator. I believe they are no longer in business. That is too bad, because I will always have fond memories of fooling the active members of Beta for a long time.
—Jack “Lunchbox” Harris, BS’52
The Red Baron
For our epic boress (do folks still use that term?), one needs to go no further than pages four and five in the 1967 Arbutus and read “The Red Baron.” It was my two roommates, Stan Kent, BA’67, JD’73, Chuck Abbott, BA’67, and I who created IU’s Red Baron in 1966. Although the Arbutus tried, it didn’t quite get the story straight. Here’s how it really was:
One evening in the early fall of 1966, the three of us were sprawled around the living room in our house at 314 E. Smith St., bored, and discussing the latest hit song, “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron.” During our conversation, someone came up with the phrase, “The Red Baron backs Big Red,” and the rest is history.
The three of us spent many evenings that fall skulking around campus, spray painting sidewalks, and posting signs on trees about the Red Baron, IU, and Snoopy. We got caught several times by the campus cops, but we lied through our teeth and told them we were from the Student Athletic Association, so they let us off. After the Red Baron really caught on, they even helped us on several occasions and offered suggestions. Aside from a couple very close, tight-lipped friends, no one knew who we were.
As the Purdue football game approached, we were trying to figure out how to get into the parade and out to the bonfire. Finally, we decided to use Stan’s Triumph TR3 sports car and break into the parade. One of the sororities, seeing us approach from a side street off Third, most graciously let us slide in. In the photo, Stan’s driving; I’m beside him wearing a pickelhaube [a spiked Pith helmet] and brandishing a saber; and Chuck, sitting on the back, is the Red Baron.
We proceeded through the parade and were guided by cheerleaders to the site of the pep rally and Jawn Purdue’s cremation. On our arrival, to our surprise, the powers that be led us right up to the pyre. Chuck, the Red Baron himself, was invited to light the fire. As flames and cheering rose, we returned to the TR3, which was quite close to the fire, backed off, slid out, and vanished into the night, not to be seen again.
—Robert “Bob” Rossow, BA’67, MA’71
Open Door Kidnapping
It was 1963 or so, and my friends and I were fortunate to be living in the experimental Mason Hall apartments. We were permitted to entertain male guests on Sunday evenings (doors open of course). During a festive Sunday dinner, one of our guests remembered that he was supposed to be at a fraternity pledge meeting, and even if he left immediately, he couldn’t get there in time.
What to do? With thinking caps on and lots of giggling, we decided to stage a pretend kidnapping—complete with a strong rope to secure our “victim” to his chair. A call was then placed to the fraternity house excusing the pledge since he had been kidnapped.
Very shortly thereafter, through our open door, came three strangers—the president of the fraternity with two helpers for the rescue operation. The rescue was quickly followed by the kidnapping of myself and one of my suitemates. We were taken to the fraternity house and tied to pillars in front of the frat house. Some noisy but harmless hazing [took place], buckets of cold water were dumped over our heads—and it was winter!
Most all thought it was good fun, but the fraternity president felt sorry about our wet shivering, so we were treated to warm towels and hot chocolate.
A year or so later, that fraternity president and I were married in IU’s Beck Chapel.
—Virginia (Ahrens) Nixon, BS’66
I was a sophomore in the mid-1960s. One late night (a.m. hours) after a few in-dorm, “rule-breaking” drinks, a friend of mine and I bought a large box of Tide detergent and walked over to Showalter Fountain. We wondered what it would look like if we dumped that entire box in the fountain. Would it create a larger-than-life bubble bath that spilled out into the street? Didn’t know, but we wanted to find out.
We checked to see if anyone else was in the area and dumped [the detergent] into the fountain. The next day, we discovered that the fountain had been shut down for Founder’s Day. We didn’t wonder why.
—Roger Cook, BS’67, MA’72
Surprise Birthday Blaze
In 1964, Wright Quad’s Hummer House RA was Mel Hughes, MS’65. He was a Purdue graduate and was attending IU for a graduate degree. Mel was an affable person with a great sense of humor.
Weeks prior to his birthday, the Hummer House residents decided to “pimp” Mel by filling his room with rumpled newspapers to celebrate his birthday. For weeks, Hummer House residents collected and saved newspapers in anticipation of Mel’s birthday. When the big day came, Mel headed off to class and the Hummer House minions began their task.
First, access to his room was required. No problem—after Mel left for class, yours truly went to the front desk and told the sweet lady that my roommate had locked his key in the room and could I borrow a key for access. I said my room was 11-101. (Actually, it was 11-107, but she never checked). Armed with the spare key, the door was quickly opened, and the spare key returned.
A team of hard-working college students began wadding up newspapers and filling Mel’s room—including drawers, closets, etc. After some time, the room was more than half filled with wads and wads of crumpled newspapers.
At the end of the afternoon, Mel returned from class to be greeted by a room filled with newspaper—Happy birthday, Mel! Lots of laughs, conviviality, and joy. The birthday gag had been a tremendous success. At this point, Mel announced, “OK, get it all out!”
Fortunately, the trash chute was just across the hall from his room. Many hands began cramming the newspaper into the trash chute. More carrying, more cramming—it was a lot of paper. At some point, to eliminate the backlog, someone went to the lower level and set the paper that was accumulating in the incinerator on fire. Problem solved, the newspaper would be burned and forever forgotten.
Well, not so fast. Because of the enormous quantity of newspaper, some of the burning paper went up the chimney to the third floor of Hummer House. Fortunately, it was trapped at the top of the chimney by a large screen cage. But from a distance, it looked like Hummer House was on fire.
In a matter of minutes, Bloomington Fire, Bloomington Police, campus police, and everything else with a siren and red light arrived at Hummer House. Thankfully, the fire was contained in the screen in the chimney and no damage was done to Hummer House.
Wright Quad’s head counselor quickly arrived and asked the obvious question, “Who is responsible for this?” After some hurried looks and mumbles, my name came to the surface. I was asked to join the head counselor and the birthday celebrant in the counselor’s office. It was explained to me, in great length and detail, what could have happened. He was 100 percent correct. At this point, I had to rat out the kind sweet lady at the front desk (nothing happened to her).
No real damage resulted from Mel’s birthday celebration. As a result of this escapade, I was awarded disciplinary probation for the next twelve months at IU—just another recognition of my years and degrees at Indiana University.
—Larry Alt, BS’68, MSBA’78
Alumna Moira Marsh, MA’83, PhD’92, MLS’94, is an expert on the practical joke. Her research and writing
focus on practical jokes, cross-cultural approaches to laughter, and humor theory. An excerpt from her book—Practically Joking—was featured in the Spring 2023 issue of the IU Alumni Magazine, a magazine for members of the IU Alumni Association. View current and past issues of the IUAM.