Scraps of Humor in the Archives: Stories from 160 Years of Wheaton College Pranks

While many of the records in the College Archives relate to the work of the administration, staff, and faculty at Wheaton College, the collections also hold documents from generations of Wheaton students, including biographical files, personal scrapbooks, student group papers, oral history interviews and student publications. Through these records, the College Archives preserves students’ experiences and traditions, from the serious to the lighthearted. One of the most enduring of the student traditions documented by the Archives is that of the college prank.

In a 1931 prank, senior jackets were strung on a clothesline during chapel. (College Archive Photograph #B8772)

Tales of Wheaton students’ antics appear from the very early days of the college. In A Minority of One, Clyde Kilby recounts one prank on the first president of Wheaton College, Jonathan Blanchard: On April Fool’s Day, students placed a goose on the lectern prior to Blanchard’s arrival. Upon entering Blanchard assessed the situation and left the classroom after exclaiming, “Well, students, I see you have chosen a new leader. Since he must be more to your liking, I will take the only course open to me. I will withdraw.”

Jonathan Blanchard’s reported self-assurance in the face of student humor is echoed by later stories of students’ pranks on professors. Wheaton alum, Effie Jane Wheeler (’19) recounted in a November 1933 Record article the story of her history professor, Mr. Smith, who “came into his classroom…to find nothing but primary Sunday school chairs there for himself and his students to sit on. The students, who had laboriously exchanged the chairs through the windows, solemnly took their seats and Mr. Smith, being a good sport, folded up his long legs and sat down to an orderly class discussion just as usual.”

In another example of the aplomb of Wheaton professors, Dr. Clarence Hale, former Chairman of the Foreign Languages Department (1935-1969), related to the Record in April 1982 how he once came to class on a scheduled exam day to find an empty classroom with a note inviting him to the Stupe. Dr. Hale arrived to find all his missing students arraigned around an ice cream sundae. To their consternation, he coolly passed out the tests before sitting down to enjoy his ice cream.

Some of the most frequent targets of student pranks have been Wheaton landmarks, like Blanchard Hall, Edman Chapel, and Perry Mastodon. A 1911 poem found among the student papers of professor Dr. Darien Straw (Archived in Vertical File-College Life) cheekily relates the legend of one such prank concerning a mysteriously missing clapper from the Blanchard Tower bell:

Other Blanchard Hall pranks have involved various animals let loose in the building (including Jonathan Blanchard’s favorite horse), tires on the Tower flagpole, endlessly ringing bells, and the substitution of the American flag with the skull and crossbones of the Jolly Roger.

Wheaton College Record, April 5, 1974

On one especially memorable April Fool’s Day in 1971, the campus woke up to large cut-outs of Mickey Mouse on the Edman Chapel clocktower. The prank was later memorialized in the Wheaton College Coloring Book produced by the Kodon in 1973, and then repeated again in 1974, with the famous cartoon joined by a cutout of Dr. Hudson Armerding, then president of Wheaton.

Another well-known prank on a Wheaton landmark involved the Perry Mastodon, not long after its dedication on November 22, 1975. Students replaced the original exhibit narration recording with a fanciful history of Perry Mastodon that included being frozen in a giant ice cube for thousands of years, being tranquilized by Judge Joseph Perry, and, after reawakening, having half of its body removed for use in the cafeteria. Listen to the alternative recording now held by the College Archives.

Perry Mastodon prepares for opening of exhibit, 1975. (College Archive Photograph #B13126)

Among the many pranking traditions found at Wheaton, including the senior cake, senior bench, and the many stunts surrounding the senior sneak, one of the longest-held is that of the chapel prank. Over Wheaton’s history, students have hidden alarm clocks and playing cards, let loose mice and greased pigs, and, more recently, dramatically reenacted the Gospel story of the paralyzed man lowered through a roof to see Jesus.

An undated chapel prank (possibly from the 1950s or 60s) involved playing cards left at chapel seats with this note, courtesy of the “Association of Card-carrying Evangelicals” (From Vertical File: Pranks)

In one well-known chapel prank, students opened the first chapel of the 2002-03 school year with a modified rendition of the traditional Wheaton hymn, “Give Thanks to God on High.” While the administration and faculty on the chapel stage had unaltered hymnbooks, everyone else opened to their books to find a revised version of the hymn lyrics taped over the original. When the call for the hymn went out, College President Duane Litfin and Chaplain Stephen Kellough were surprised to hear very different lyrics accompanying the familiar tune.

A copy of the revised song sheet (From Vertical File: Pranks)

Many more stories of Wheaton College pranks can be found in the College Archives, particularly through student oral histories, publications, and subject files. Explore other Wheaton student traditions on the Archives’ website dedicated to Wheaton College history, Wheaton AtoZ.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s