September 18, 2008

'Yo, You Got Cornelled!'

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[img_assist|nid=31849|title=Mr. Gorilla Man and Senor Banana|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]On October 31, 2006, a gorilla woke up, got dressed and decided to spend his day chasing a banana around campus.
Or more accurately, two dudes decided to pull an ingenious prank on Halloween — a guy in a gorilla suit chasing a guy in a banana suit throughout campus — classrooms, up and down lecture halls, skipping through Ho plaza, even meandering through Trillium and Libe Café, picking up some much needed coffee and potassium.
If you were present (mentally and physically) for this event, you may have had the same reaction I had: surprise, followed by a quick, warm flush of love — love for Mr. Gorilla Man, love for Señor Banana, and love for Cornell. A Cornell that was no longer a center of stressed out, hungover and overworked students taking themselves too seriously, but instead a beacon of light and antics, where fun people come together as a community and mess with everyone else.
Whether you were one of the lucky few present for Banana Halloween, or a new student who now knows about it thanks to Youtube (, by the way), you recognize that it boosted the Cornell morale — in the same way that the architecture students who come running into Libe the week before Dragon Day do, or a dorm room filled with newspapers does, or a Pacman running through an engineering lecture also does every Halloween, or the way that erstwhile group of flash-mobbers attempted to flash-mob a few years back during finals — albeit with rather unsuccessful results.
Cornell has a fairly extensive history of pranksterdom. After all, Willard Dickson Straight ’01, an architecture student, is credited with having been a bit of a prankster himself; he instilled a sense of “class unity” (according to the website) through nontraditional means, and created Dragon Day, which historically had a somewhat tense relationship with the administration. And Willard Straight Hall was donated after his death, in order to provide “a more humane environment on campus for the students” — namely, something non-academic.
But perhaps the most famous of Cornell pranksters was Hugh Troy ’27, also an architect (which may prove that architects are more clever, or at least more mischevious, than the rest of us), and one of the world’s most famous pranksters.
Troy was known for his ridiculously tall build and elaborate yet gentle and non-malicious pranks, according to his biography, Laugh with Hugh Troy. Troy was actually suspended before ever receiving a degree after printing fake and pretty scandalous false newspapers called The Globe and Square Dealer, with headlines like “President Breaks Wind for New Areonautical College on Upper Alumni Field.”
He also, in no particular order: created a false alumna, created a false crumbling ceiling in one of his professor’s offices, initiated the tradition of painting footprints between Ezra’s and Andy White’s statues on the Arts Quad (though whether he began the virgin rumor is anyone’s guess), and conned the entire freshman architecture class into lining up under Sibley for a photograph.
When the cameras flashed, upperclassmen poured buckets of water on them from on top of Rand — something that might be a nice add-on to Orientation week. One of his greatest pranks — planting rhinoceros footprints in the snow by Bebe Lake using a large, hollowed out rhinoceros foot — is still contested to this day by some as never having happened.
Hugh’s expulsion was not the end of Cornell pranks and practical jokes. Some sources — most of whom wished to remain anonymous so as not to suffer a similar fate — filled me in: 32 street signs were stolen in one night; alcohol-less jello shots were made as a money-saving tribute to Freaks and Geeks; the tables outside the Terrace were stacked into a pyramid; a student who passed out in the dorm common room woke up in the common room — outside; and, perhaps my personal favorite, the Rock of Shame. Apparently, there is a Rock of Shame attached to a shackle, which in turn often finds itself attached to a drunken, passed-out, poor soul unlucky enough to get in its way. [img_assist|nid=31844|title=Clocktower|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]x
On a larger scale, perhaps the two most infamous pranks were 1997’s still unsolved pumpkin mystery, and poor Cornellia’s kidnapping. For those who don’t know, a pumpkin was mysteriously found on top of the Clocktower on October 8, 1997. No one knows how it got there or who put it up there. Needless to say, the pumpkin made massive, national headline news, remained on top of the clocktower for about five months, and befuddled scientists and laymen alike, the former of which, after much research and study, finally declared, with a “harmonious conclusion,” that the pumpkin was, in fact “a pumpkin!”
[img_assist|nid=31847|title=Kidnapped Cornellia trying to escape!!! No!!!!!!!!|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]And poor Cornellia, the life-sized ceramic cow that stood on top of the Dairy Bar, was kidnapped and held for ransom — twice: once in 2003 and then again in 2006.
Yet nothing so large-scale as Hugh Troy, or as community-oriented as Dartmouth’s “It’s Drinking Time” (, has graced our campus with its morale-boosting ability.
One has to wonder with such a lavish, pranksterly past, what the hell happened?
According to Corey Earle, alumni affairs and development staff, there are a few contributing factors: “Fear of retribution from the administration, because no one wants to risk their graduation on a failed prank” and everyone being “too busy with assignments and interviews and career planning. But I think it takes a certain type of twisted genius to develop and implement a perfect prank like the clocktower pumpkin or those by Troy. Maybe the right person only comes along every few decades.”
Wynn Maxwell ’10, orchestrator of the Donlon-newspaper prank, has a different reason.
“Boredom breeds creativity. The reason why Dartmouth could pull off ‘Drinking Time’ was because there is nothing else you can do in Dartmouth but drink. If I went to Dartmouth, I’d be drinking also.” In Wynn’s opinion, there’s a certain dynamic necessary to encourage large-scale pranks. “You need to find the right balance between a very intelligent, creative, thoughtful group of students, and people who have lots of free time on their hands,” — a luxury most of us lack.
As morale boosters go, nothing beats a successful prank. So, to break journalistic integrity for a moment, I’ll make one plea: Hugh Troy’s successor, if you’re out there — get your brain-a-thinking and your pranks-a-planning. Come on, it’s been too long since Cornell “got Cornelled.”

Much thanks to Corey Earle, staff and Wynn Maxwell ’10 for their help with this feature. And thanks to Wynn Maxwell and the rest of the Donlon-newspaper pranksters for the headline.

Julie Block is an arts and entertainment editor, and a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].