Harvard Toasts the Lampoon

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Filed under: College Pranks, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire, The History of Pranks

An exhibit in Harvard’s Pusey Library pays playful tribute to the Harvard Lampoon, one of the most influential satirical magazines in American history.


“Pranks at Pusey Library”
by Aidan Langston
Harvard Magazine
August 6, 2016

AOTPLampoonVisitors to Pusey Library this summer have been greeted by a large cardboard cutout of a cow—part of an exhibit celebrating The Harvard Lampoon and the role it has played in Harvard’s comedic history. The exhibition, “Remorseless Irony and Sarcastic Pens: The Story of the Harvard Lampoon,” showcases photographs, drawings and other artifacts collected over the course of the Lampoon’s 140 years.

The cow is an homage to the Lampoon’s custom of unleashing farm animals on campus for comedic effect. William Randolph Hearst, a member of the Lampoon and the class of 1886—although his pranks resulted in his expulsion—is suspected of having sparked the tradition by releasing roosters in Harvard Yard. Lampoon members were also blamed for the appearance of a cow in the Yard sometime in the 1930s, which was “forcibly ejected” from the premises by Harvard police.

The exhibit contains an array of memorabilia from the magazine’s earliest days, ranging from photographs of the seven students who founded it in 1876 to a copy of its first issue.

In its pages, a jester—the first of the Lampoon’s unofficial illustrated mascots—made his debut. Another cartoon derisively imagined a feminist Harvard 100 years in the future. (This suggestion proved prescient: coeducational student housing at Harvard was introduced in 1970, and the Lampoon inducted its first female members in 1972—just a few years shy of the magazine’s centennial.)

Other, more mundane artifacts are also on display: minutes from Lampoon meetings over the years note milestones such as the official incorporation of the organization in 1902 and the purchase of its modern-day home on Bow Street—the “Lampoon Castle”—in 1909. The building, the exhibit notes, bears a resemblance to a human face; a photograph on display depicts it adorned with oversized sunglasses and a faux cigarette to honor Natalie Wood, who came in person to receive her “Worst Actress” award in 1966. Read more.