"We decided that the Temple must be utterly destroyed, ruined beyond redemption, so we would blow it up."
These words, which some might attribute to a deranged madman, are actually those of a former Bowdoin student. An anonymous note, which appeared in the Bowdoin Alumnus magazine of 1928, described one of the more notable incidents in the long history of pranks at the College: the leveling of the campus outhouse, known as the "Temple" in 1875.
With the sense of revelry, and accompanying debauchery, that arrives with Ivies Weekend, this seems a particularly apt moment to revisit the often overlooked, but decidedly lengthy, history of pranks at the College.
For someone who has not spent time poking around the College Archives, it may be difficult to think of life at Bowdoin as any different from the polished image we see today: a well-ordered, quaint New England college filled with diligent and respectful students. Yet, scratching the surface quickly yields stories that are hard to imagine once happened on our own campus.
The story of the exploding Temple remained a mystery for years after the incident, and it wasn't until the appearance of an anonymous note in the Bowdoin Alumnus over 50 years later that the incident was fully explained.
The College outhouse, located behind the Chapel, was widely disliked by the student body in the late 19th century.
"Students decided that the only proper solution was to blow the offending item off the face of the Earth," wrote Special Collections and Archives Assistant Daniel Hope in a recent exhibit. "So in the fall of 1875 a charge of explosives was used to transform the venerable College outhouse, the Temple, into a burning pile of rubble."
The guilty parties were never identified, but the anonymous note did provide a glimpse into the prank process. Over the course of the preceding summer, the students had gathered the necessary explosive materials in a large iron kettle they found, "in a scrap-heap in the woods behind the dormitories."
"In the silent hours of early morning, we lowered this engine of destruction into the center of the 'Temple's' pit, lighted the 20-foot-long fuse and stole back to our virtuous beds," explained the anonymous note. "A tremendous 'boom' shook the dormitories...the detested Temple had been blown to bits."
Despite their successful destruction of the Temple, the outhouse was quickly rebuilt in the same spot. However, the students refused to accept this outcome, and the Temple quickly became "a canvas for fraternity graffiti," wrote Hope.
Although other historical pranks may not match the explosive nature of the Temple incident, the stories that emerged from the Phi Chi society in the late 19th century were no less dangerous.
As described by Hope, the secret society was "founded in 1864 for the expressed purpose of hazing freshman and causing havoc in the community." Phi Chi certainly sought to live up to its founding doctrine in the years that followed, terrorizing the freshman class from their base in Winthrop Hall.
"The north end of Winthrop, popularly known as Sodom, was...used by Phi Chi when, as the Sodom County Court, it tried offending freshman," wrote Louis C. Hatch in "The History of Bowdoin College", published in 1927.
The rampant sophomore initiation of first years in Winthrop, "became so dire that in the 1860s its north 'Sodom' end had to be closed for four years to repair the damage," wrote Hope.
The dangerous tactics of the society did not last long however, and Phi Chi was forced to disband in 1882, "when a prank including the violent launch of a freshman down a slide almost ended the life of its victim," wrote Hope.
The initiation rites of Phi Chi are closely linked to another College tradition since forgotten—that of students climbing the Chapel. The tradition stated that if a first year managed to summit the Chapel and place their class flag at the top, all freshman hazing had to cease.
"Peary Macmillan [and two other students] did it in 1898, and the museum has the actual flag that he placed up there," said Secretary of Development and College Relations John Cross. "Frank Noyes was actually the last one to physically climb the outside of [the Chapel] in 1917 though."
Indeed, the 1917 yearbook featured a photo of the Chapel, complete with a small class flag draped around one of the spires.
Yet not all past pranks at Bowdoin have been as dangerous as Chapel climbing or the Phi Chi society. The most recent College tradition is that of the Green Hornet Construction Company, which began appearing annually in 1965.
Hope wrote that the Company, "took it upon itself to build a variety of campus structures...and then to submit bills to Bowdoin's administration for the pleasure."
These construction bills, mailed to the Dean of the College, demanded payment for whatever "fees" the Company had accumulated during the annual building project.
The Company recorded several questionable charges each year, as demonstrated by the fees included for the inaugural pyramid project in 1965: "Burial Costs for One Murdered Guard: $650.39" and "Burial Costs for Two Executed Slaves: $1.29."
Green Hornet construction projects varied widely in their focus over the years, and Cross described them as, "usually a pointed inquiry on something that was happening on campus" at the time.
Some of the more famous building projects were entitled "An Elegant Outhouse for the Deans," "Dining Services Auxiliary Warehouse and Stock Yards" (complete with stolen animals from nearby farms), and one ominous sounding "Practical Safeguards Torture Chamber for Cheaters." The last recorded project appeared in 1990.
Following the final Green Hornet project, the College settled into a period of relative calm. Professor of Government Allen Springer attributed the recent decline of deviant activity to the forced disbanding of Greek life on campus nearly a decade ago.
"To some extent, [pranks] may have been more fraternity-linked, and with the demise of fraternities, pranking kind of went out the window," he said.
Yet Springer, himself the victim of several pranksters during his time as a Dean at the College, said that the return of warm weather and nearing end of classes has always brought out the most "creative" sides of students.
"Spring time seems to be a particularly appropriate time for these types of things," he added.