Nearly twenty years ago - Spring semester of 1989, to be exact - I instigated one of the more memorable pranks at Haverford College. I have alluded to this caper before but the full story has not been told until now. I will not claim to have eclipsed the "achievement" of one of our most notorious alums - Chevy Chase - who allegedly was asked to leave the college after one semester because of his shenanigans. College lore has it that young Chase managed to get a cow to the upper floor of Barclay Hall, which may or may not have been the inspiration for the horse episode in Animal House (which film also provided the inspiration for the title of this post).
"Another of Chase's stunts is supposed to be a faked suicide. During Parents Visitation Weekend, he stuffed some of his clothes to create a scarecrow-like dummy. He sat the dummy on the sill of his open window in Barclay Hall, which overlooks Founders Green, the center of the campus. As students and parents milled around the green, Chase screamed, "I can't take it anymore!" and pushed the dummy out the window. People turned at the sound to see a human-like figure hit the pavement four stories below."
Still, what I and three other merry pranksters pulled off had a certain style of its own, and here are the pictures to prove it. We converted a lonely security shed into a Fotomat booth late one night while the guard was on duty.
Right off the bat I have dated myself and completely lost the legions of Walking the Berkshires readers who are too young to remember analog living or any President before Bill Clinton. Something as anachronistic as a Fotomat would hardly do today, but the whimsy of the thing had great appeal to us in those days. There it sat, a tawdry little outpost on a lonely wooded path in dire need of a makeover. The trick was how to do it.
Anyone who has ever organized a sleeper cell knows that a decentralized command structure is essential to avoid infiltration. My co-conspirators were casual acquaintances, though I knew one of them from my boarding school days, and we were not known associates. One of us bought the paint, trays and rollers. Another purloined a board to make the Fotomat sign. A third found hammers and nails. The last did a recon of the guard hut to determine the schedule of the officers and discover any gaps in night-time coverage that we could exploit.
It turned out that the guard left the shed punctually at 2:00 a.m. and returned less than 10 minutes later for three nights running. Whether to relieve himself or merely a change of shift was not clear, but we had enough information to plan our attack.
We hid our finished sign and our paint and tools in the woods and moved stealthily into our positions as the hour of action approached. It was late March, just exactly this time of year. Sure enough, the guard stirred and got into his patrol car. As soon as he rounded the bend in the path we were out of the woods like lightning, two of us plying rollers for all we were worth and the other two preparing the sign. We had almost completed the paint job, with only a few areas to trim before we mounted the sign, when the headlights of an approaching car told us the guard had returned. We dropped tools and fled, a paint tray still on the ground before the shed and our sign just off to the side.
Two of us flattened out in the leaves and watched the guard walk around the shed. He ensured that it was still locked, then went back to his car and to our utter astonishment drove off for back up. We had the sign on the shed within 30 seconds, retrieved our tools and paint and were safely indoors when reinforcements arrived. The four of us posed in from of our handiwork later that morning.
I think the campus police secretly liked their Fotomat, for it retained its cheery paint job and Fotomat sign until graduation week.