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Look Back: A Brief History of Aggie Pranks

A black and white image from 1942 of a wooden Paul Bunyan statue atop a ladder. A group of men is using a firehose to keep people away while they figure out how to get Bunyan down.
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Pranks, when done well, can be memorable, funny, and even unifying—particularly against a common adversary like Brigham Young University.

A good prank requires ingenuity and a good dose of verve. Utah State University Aggies know a thing or two about that. USU archivist Robert Parson recently reflected on campus pranks that deserve credit for leaving an indelible mark.

“One of the most memorable, though likely apocryphal, was a group of fellers in about 1913 who greased the trolley tracks that climbed to college hill from downtown up 5th north,” he says. “The episode [was] so infuriating [to] President John Widstoe that he disbanded all student clubs, declaring that there would be no clubs allowed on campus. The name stuck, and after Widstoe relented, one of the first clubs to reform became the BENO Club. They erected their so-called headstone outside the old Mechanic Arts Building south of Old Main, the same Block A that now sits at the northwest corner of Old Main.”

Other noteworthy pranks Parson cited include a decades-long rivalry between the university’s foresters and engineering students, the origins which date back to 1939.

“The so-called feud involved, among other things, the engineers capturing the foresters’ patron saint, Paul Bunyan and hanging him in effigy,” Parson says.

Conflict arose when a group of engineers held the foresters’ wooden statue of Bunyan for a ransom of 500 tickets to the Forestry Ball. When the ransom went unpaid, “the engineers hung Paul from the entrance of the Engineering Building “much to the delight of the engineers and amusement of the student body at large,” Parson wrote in the 2009 Encyclopedic History of Utah State University.

“The so-called feud involved, among other things, the engineers capturing the foresters’ patron saint, Paul Bunyan and hanging him in effigy.” – Bob Parson

“The foresters retaliated by lighting a huge fire at the entrance of the old Engineering Building,” Parson says. “The feud took a hiatus during the war but reignited during the late 1940s.”

The 1946 Buzzer recounts the vigorous return of the hijinks after a three-year pause. The foresters, uncertain of Paul’s whereabouts, found him “at 2 a.m. atop the flagpole on the east end of the quad. With the aid of a firehose, to provide protection against advancing engineers, and an extension ladder to remove Paul from his lofty perch, the rescue was completed.”

The following year, the engineers kidnapped the queen of the Forestry Ball and held her at a motel in Pocatello. As pranks became evermore dangerous, university administrators intervened and put an end to the escalation, Parson says. “Forestry Week continued, however, and is still visible on campus, noticeably by the huge spray-painted footsteps of Paul Bunyan decorating the sidewalks each spring.”

The rivalry had a reboot in the early aughts. A 2004 Statesman article describes the Bunyan statue being “hung, dressed up as an engineering nerd, put in concrete and encased in rebar,” not to mention suffering a leg amputation.

“Paul is in pretty bad shape,” the college’s then assistant to the dean Mary Ann Lowe told the Statesman. “Students of the CNR are looking for ways to retire him. Such as using a funeral pyre and burning him or cutting him up into little pieces to make miniature Paul’s.”

Chris Luecke, dean of the S.J. & Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources, reckons Bunyan was pulped.

“My memory is that the old version was chopped up and sunk in first dam,” he says.

But no one seems to know for certain.

University athletics are environments ripe for one-upmanship off the field. USU is no different.

Among the most famous of pranks occurred in 1990 during a men’s basketball game on March 1 between USU and University of Nevada, Las Vegas. During a tight game, just before the start of the second half, the Running Rebels and their coach Jerry Tarkanian were soaked when a water bomb was remotely detonated from the vents below the bench. The water, dyed blue, sent Tarkanian to the locker room to change. The Aggies didn’t laugh for too long. Afterward, the Rebels were awarded two technical free throws and ultimately won the game by two points.

BYU and USU have each stolen the other’s bell tower bells. In 2013, USU students took things up a notch. They lofted a white bed sheet with a blue no-BYU symbol just beneath the boom of a 185-foot crane parked outside the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business. The culprits left a typed note under a rock with the following plea:

"Dear Gracious Crane Operator,

As a demonstration of school spirit and our sincere (but friendly) loathing of BYU we have borrowed your crane to hang this not-too-obtrusive banner in anticipation of Friday's game. We plead with you to leave it up just until the game is over. We've placed it out of the way of your cable on purpose so we can continue your work uninhibited. Thank you so much for your support of our team. Go Aggies!

                                                                                             — Anonymous
P.S. We put this flag up using CE and UIAA certified climbing equipment and climbing community accepted methods of lead climbing and belaying. At no time were our lives in danger, and therefore at no point was your investment in danger due to any ridiculous liability laws."
An anti-BYU flag hangs from a crane near the Huntsman School of Business in 2013.

There is no height an Aggie fan won’t climb to snub BYU on game day.

After garnering the appreciation of students, the construction crew, and USU administrators for its strategic placement outside Huntsman’s new Clark Center for Entrepreneurship, the flag was removed.

“We have a great rivalry between two great universities, and the students are fired up for the big game Friday night as they should be,” Tim Vitale, USU’s former communications director told the Herald Journal. “But the rivalry will be settled on the field. It was a great prank, but today it’s time to get back to work.”

By Kristen Munson
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  • Connie Marrone March 22, 2021

    What creative pranks. I don’t remember hearing about any pranks happening while I was attending BYU 1966-1970. Reading about the pranks takes me back to the fun times at BYU. I also got an education while I was there that served me well. I taught school for 29 years and am now enjoying retirement!