Tag Archives: Bad Behavior

The Second-Best Ford Hall Practical Joke Ever

Names have been changed to protect the reputations of the guilty.

Once upon a midnight dreary not too many years ago, a Ford Hall dorm master – specifically, the occupant of an apartment overlooking the Pond and Victory Bell – was contemplating bedtime.  The dorm was quiet, the inmates apparently enjoying their guileless dreams, when all at once . . .

912_1513-lrCLANG!  CLANG!  CLANG!  The teacher – we’ll call him Mr. Ford – sprang from his bed and looked out the window, where he could see a shadowy figure ringing the Victory Bell.  Mr. Ford threw open the window.  “Now cut that out,” he shouted – or words to that effect.

CLANG!  CLANG!  The ringing continued.  So Mr. Ford threw on his bathrobe, descended several flights of stairs, and emerged to confront the misguided Quasimodo.  “Please stop,” called Mr. Ford – or words to that effect.

CLANG! Mr. Ford had had enough.  “What the heck is wrong with you” (or words, etc.), he shouted, as he grabbed the bellringer’s arm and spun him around.

The arm came off.  “Aaughh!” screamed Mr. Ford, as gales of laughter descended from the upper stories.  The villains had constructed a straw effigy, tied its arm to the ringer, and operated the bell by means of a length of nylon fishline strung from a window.

And what was the very best Ford Hall Prank Ever?  We’re going to save that for another day.  Subscribe to From the Archives and you’ll never miss a post!

Photo by Ken Edwards '70
Photo by Ken Edwards ’70

So Help Me, Alan Quatermain

by Richard Teller '70, Archivist
A formal meeting of Sigma 'Eta Delta.  The reverse of the photograph is dated 1890.  (Click images to enlarge.)
A formal meeting of Sigma ‘Eta Delta. The reverse of the photograph is dated 1890. (Click images to enlarge.)

The 1870s and ’80s saw the rise of several secret societies or fraternities at Williston Seminary.  Initially there were four: Iota Zeta, L.L.D., Pi Beta Pi, and F.C.  A fifth, Phi Rho Alpha, appeared somewhat later, although its existence was sometimes not acknowledged by the four “legitimate” societies.  History knows relatively little about them; as secret organizations, they kept their petty confidences, and worse, to themselves.  So we have no idea what the initials stood for, not even for the two societies that didn’t affect Greek names.  We do know that their membership was selective; that at least some of their alumni remained loyal to the clubs, often at the expense of loyalty to the school, and that they posed as “service” organizations: in 1916, for example, their leaders formed the first Student Council.

None of the preceding can be said of a sixth fraternity, Sigma Eta Delta.

In fact, the Greek letters ΣΗΔ were a rendering of the society’s real name, the South Hall Devils.  (Since classical Greek doesn’t accommodate the “H” sound, it was the preference of the membership to spell “Eta” with an apostrophe: Sigma ‘Eta Delta.)  The group was formed in the winter of 1889, mostly to poke fun at the elite, thus much-resented, fraternities.  Membership was open to any resident of South Hall, the dormitory with the least desirable and least expensive rooms — thus a dorm shunned by any self-respecting (and they were nothing if not that) frat boy.

South Hall, ca. 1890.
South Hall, ca. 1890.

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Thou shalt not . . .

A new school year is upon us, with all the annual rituals that accompany it: friends to be made, rooms decorated, class schedules to figure out.  An essential opening-of-school tradition is our attempt to instill into all our students’ consciousnesses the concept of “A Certain Minimally Consistent Standard of Behavior,” also known as “The Rules.”  Yes, friends, this is when Alma Mater actually asserts her rights in loco parentis.

When I began to compile this essay, it occurred to me that it was a great topic for alumni input.  A brief and wildly unscientific sampling of Facebook friends elicited many responses, some of which are reproduced here.  But Amy Goodwillie Lipkin ’77 noted, “what I thought was ridiculous in my mind as a 16-year-old, I may not see as ridiculous now as an adult.”  It’s a good point, one with which most parents or deans, if not every teenager, might concur.  On the other hand, alumni recollections suggest that sometimes, even after many years, passions, or at least the memories of outrage, run high.  It is also a reminder of the essential conflict between common sense and regulatory detail.  Even today, the idea of having, say, a simple conceptual dress code of “neat, clean, and appropriate” is utterly impractical in a community of approximately 700 students and adults, who will voice as many opinions over exactly what that means.

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Bad Behavior

The document below recently came to light.  What prompted Silas Holman to write Principal William Gallagher (served 1886-1896) and confess his misdemeanors of forty-two years earlier is unknown — except that as every alumnus knows, the statute of limitations rarely extends beyond graduation.  We will leave it to others’ historical perspectives to determine whether, at the most fundamental level, things have changed much.

Principal William Gallagher

Los Angeles Cal.
Feb. 18th 1891

Mr. Wm. Gallagher
          Dear Sir: Yours of the 11th is received.  Well do I remember the happy school days at East Hampton, when we irreverently nick named Mr. Wright the Principal “Boss Wright.”  Post Master Ferry once caught me as I was climbing up the inside of the tower of the old Town House to ring the bell, or rather to attach a chord to the tongue.  I remember getting a string through the ventilator of a fellow student’s room, attaching it to his door key, opening the door and putting eggs in his boots while he was asleep.  I was not a bad boy but loved fun.  Please call to see me when you come to Los Angeles.  Truly yours, Silas Holman.

Silas Holman was a member of the Williston Seminary class of 1849, enrolled in the English (i.e. Scientific) curriculum.  After Williston he returned to farming in his home town of Bolton, Mass., and also served as an Internal Revenue assessor and Deputy Sherriff.  In 1879 he emigrated to California, where he became a fruit grower.  He died around 1904.

Utterly off-topic: Holman’s papers at Williston also include an 1847 receipt for one term’s tuition.  Any comment one might make would merely restate the obvious.“Bad Behavior” will undoubtedly be an ongoing series on this blog.  What’s the worst thing you ever did?  Keeping in mind that we really can’t revoke your diploma, consider confessing to rteller@williston.com.

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