Oh,what fun those pranksters Wrought!

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By Gwen Carlton
from The Capital Times
April 10, 1999

Sure, you’ve seen photos of the pink flamingos on Bascom Hill, and of the Statue of Liberty's crown and brow brimming from a frozen Lake Mendota.

But have you heard the one about the hundreds of beer-stained $1 bills stuffed down a Park Bank deposit chute?

On Friday, a standing-room-only crowd packed a Bascom Hall auditorium to celebrate the glory days of the Pail and Shovel Party, the University of Wisconsin's original merry pranksters. Stu Baker and Jim Mallon, former members of the notorious student organization, were on hand to offer their personal recollections of a unique moment in UW history.

(Leon Varjian, perhaps the most visible Pail and Shovel leader, was not present. He now teaches high school math in New Jersey.)

It all began in the mid-1970s, Mallon recalled, sometime after the antiwar, insurgent student government of the 1960s and before the serious conservatism of the Reagan years. A group of idle undergrads decided to lighten up things a bit, promising to let their fellow students scoop UWs budget from Library Mall with pails and shovels and to bring the Statue of Liberty to Lake Mendota. (Technically, the promise was to rename UW the University of New Jersey so everyone could say they went to a prestigious East Coast school.)

Before they knew it, they and their friends had taken over the student government. And then the fun really began.

"We had $200,000 to spend each year as we basically saw fit," Mallon said. "I think Park Bank rued the day it got the student government account."

To hear Mallon and Baker tell it, the pranks came fast and furious - and with remarkably little forethought.

They distributed watermelon to their, constituents and bought $500 worth of toys to stock a Memorial Union student day care center.

They passed student government resolutions requiring that all requests be delivered in song, and wrote milliondollar checks - at least one of which someone tried to cash.

They made Frank Zappa an honorary senator and waged war with their favorite opponent, the righteous and still radical Daily Cardinal newspaper.

Then there was the Statue of Liberty. In 1979, party members. - true their campaign promise – brought Lady Liberty to the ice of Lake Mendota. The papier-mâché, plywood and chicken wire creation soon burned down by some drunken fraternity boys and had to replaced. Yet it also proved one of the party's highest profile ranks, causing local traffic jams, leading airline pilots to change their flight patterns, and even, Mallon recalled, "making Dan Rather smile."

That stunt was followed by the flamingos, hundreds of, them that party members bought for $1 each and then planted on Bascom Hill the cover of night. There was no plan at all for that one, Mallon said.

They're Back Pink Flamingos on Bascom Hill

"But it was pretty cool, because they were stolen within the first two hours" he said. "They ended up all city."x

And the beer-stained dollar bills'? Those - roughly 1,800 of them – came from one of the party's two famed toga parties, which Pail and Shovel members decided to hold after seeing the film "Animal House."

The parties, which took place in circus tents and were attended by between 10,000 and 15,000 students in September 1979, proved profitable, Baker said.

"We (emptied) about 250 kegs beer, at $1 a glass - it was insane," he said. The outcome was a late-night trip to Park Bank, where party leaders shoved bags stuffed with uncounted bills down the deposit chute, he said.

Dave James, a Madison resident attended the event, said he eagerly followed Pail and Shovel as a boy and also appreciated more recent stunts by the Ten Fat Tigers, a student group known for ridiculing the UW Board of Regents and erecting a 15-foot phallus on Bascom Hill.

"Thank God people like this are gut there," James said. "Otherwise, would get so stale."

Stu's World
Updated: January 1, 2000