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Frequently Asked Questions
Student Pranks

Princeton University students have a long history of making the most of their extracurricular activities, not all of which are University sanctioned. The University Archives documents many examples of the various pranks and hoaxes in which students have indulged on a seemingly regular basis over the years. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to distinguish between legend and truth.

Veterans of Future Wars

One of the more famous pranks (if it can be called a prank) in Princeton's history was the movement that became known as the Veterans of Future Wars (VFW). The VFW began its short life in March 1936 as a joke by a number of members of Terrace Club in response to the Congressional action to advance the date on which veterans of World War I would be eligible for soldiers' bonuses. In short order, the VFW became a chartered University organization with the goal of attaining a $1,000 cash bonus for all men between the ages of 18 and 36 for their expected service in hypothetical but inevitable wars. By the end of the academic year, chapters of the VFW had sprung up on some 500 campuses and had attracted some 50,000 members, outraging congressmen and veterans.

Related Sources

Leitch, Alexander. A Princeton Companion. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978). Also available online.

Office of Communications Records, 1922-1995

Office of the President Records: Jonathan Dickinson to Harold W. Dodds Subgroup, 1746-1999
. See Harold Dodds Records, Correspondence Subseries.

Princeton Alumni Weekly

Veterans of Future Wars Collection, 1935-1947

The Red Baron

During the late 1960s and 1970s a lot more skin began to be seen on campus. Arguably the most famous of the many streakers of this era was the student who became known as the Red Baron. No student was ever specifically identified as the Baron, but during a three-year span many examinations were interrupted by a student running down the aisle wearing nothing but a single red article of clothing, be it a baseball hat, sneakers, or—most famously—a red cape.

Related Sources

Historical Subject Files Collection, 1746-2005. See folder Customs--Streaking.

Office of the President Records: William G. Bowen Subgroup, 1940-1998

Cannon Heist

In September of 1969 one of the most famous pranks in Princeton's history occurred. On the eve before the anniversary of the Rutgers vs. Princeton football game four undergraduates “stole” the cannon that had often been the center of vandalism and thievery between the two schools since the inaugural football match a century earlier. In the early morning hours a hole was dug next to the largely submerged cannon, covering what little of the weapon was visible. Students then reported a disturbance to Public Safety, claiming that Rutgers students had somehow stolen back the cannon. After the supposed heist (and the football game) acquired a national audience, the students called a local newspaper and let them in on the secret, much to the chagrin of the campus.

Imaginary Students

In the course of its history, Princeton has had an impressive list of non-existent students. There was the Class of 1917's Adelbert L'Hommedieu X. Hormone (who in one of his years at Princeton sat for a record of over 20 finals in one semester), the Class of 1939's Ephraim di Kable '39 (who was a member of the varsity cross-country team all four years), and, last but not least, the Class of 1968's Joseph David Oznot. The invention of two Princeton students, a Columbia undergrad and a Michigan State student, Oznot sat the SATs, scoring exceptionally well, and even interviewed on campus. His acceptance letter was sent to him, and as then Director of Admissions E. Alden Dunham put it, “we would have loved to have had him.”

Related Sources

Historical Subject Files Collection, 1746-2005. See folders on Hoaxes and Pranks, Fraudulent Students, and Fraudulent Classmates.

Leitch, Alexander. A Princeton Companion. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978). Also available online.

Handsome Dan the Bulldog

Princeton-Yale rivalries have always drawn pranks on campus, none more celebrated than the now mythic capture of the Yale mascot (Handsome Dan the Bulldog) by Princeton students prior to the 1979 Yale-Princeton football game. This heist gained national attention as the purloined pooch was walked around campus draped in full Princeton regalia and photos sent to the media. The dog was handed over at halftime, and Yale (unfortunately) went on to win the game and avenge the temporary loss of its mascot.

Related Source

Historical Subject Files Collection, 1746-2005. See folder on Hoaxes and Pranks--General.

Campus Myth

For all of the hoaxes that really did take place, there are others that are pure myth. Every time the Orange Key tour passes by Brown Hall, the story is told of how a number of sophomores blocked its archway with an enormous snowball. There is no evidence to suggest that this ever happened, though in a strange twist of life imitating the story, when there is enough snow to warrant the plowing of the Art Museum parking lot, that snow tends to be plowed directly into the archway, often blocking it off sometimes up to 8' high.

Miscellaneous Pranks

There have also been a large number of smaller, but notable hoaxes ranging from underclassmen finding a way to get a bike up the flagpole that used to reside on the roof of Henry Hall to the gift wrapping of the statue of Oval with Points by the freshman class in 1994 as a “present” to the university.

Devin Jay “DJ” Thomas ‘04

Last modified: Tuesday, 24-Apr-2012 14:02:35 EDT