A ranking of the best pranks at Goshen College

A ranking of the best pranks at Goshen College

Bored students do silly things. 

In Goshen College’s 125 years, students have used pranks as a creative outlet for their rebellious desires and youthful angst. But not all pranks are created equal. From soap suds in the fountain to ruminants in residence halls, college pranks vary in complexity, originality and tact. 

In his 34 years working for the Physical Plant as the director of facilities at Goshen College, Glenn Gilbert has witnessed and dealt with the aftermath of dozens, if not hundreds, of student pranks. Joe Springer, curator of the Mennonite Historical Library since 1986 and alumnus of the class of ‘79, has decades of place-based prank knowledge. Gilbert and Springer offered their thoughts on what makes a good prank. 

For Gilbert, a good prank is eye-catching and funny, but “one that doesn’t require a lot of time to clean up,” he said. He also mentioned that good pranks don’t involve hate speech. 

Springer agreed. A good prank is original, safe, and doesn’t offend or vandalize, he said. 

With these criteria in mind, the Record ranked four memorable pranks from throughout Goshen College History. Enjoy. 

4. The broken Broken Shield

The Broken Shield, the bright red-orange sculpture that sits between Wyse and the art building, was once disassembled and carried off to various parts of campus. The pranksters dumped one piece in the fountain by Kulp and another in the fountain in Shrock Plaza. 

“These were some big guys and they were so tired afterward that they couldn’t lift the last big piece and so they just left it sit there,” a contributor is quoted saying in a collection of Goshen College folklore edited by Kyle Schlabach, adjunct professor of English and alumnus, class of ‘96.

“The Broken Shield was truly broken then,” said John Mishler, the sculptures creator. The sculpture is now welded together. 

Mishler said he doesn’t mind harmless pranks that draw attention to the sculpture. This prank made the Goshen News, and it makes our list for its modest mischief and harmlessness.

3. Word Play for Wilma 

Wilma Good, the donor for whom the Harold and Wilma Good Library was named, is the daughter of J.M. Smucker, the founder of J.M Smucker Co., known for Smucker’s jams, jellies, and peanut butter. The Good family became wealthy in large part because of their ties to the company, which found success with the slogan, “With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.” 

During the construction of the library in the fall of 1967, a student painted an altered version of the slogan in huge letters across the inner framing of the building: “With a name like Good, it has to be Smucker’s.”

This prank wins points creativity and no penalties for permanent damage; the message was later hidden by construction of the library.

2. New Room

During Thanksgiving break in 1977, a group of students brought all the furniture from someone’s room in Coffman and set it in place on the second floor of the library. One of the conspirators hid in the library past closing time to let the others in. They brought laundry, wall hangings, desk items, a potted plant and a soccer ball to recreate the student’s dorm room with a lived-in feel. 

“It was very effective visually,” Springer said. Thoughtful planning, execution and an eye for detail makes this prank a worthy third place.

1. Devil’s Pie 

In 1974, two students rigged a wooden catapult that launched an apple pie at a speaker during a chapel presentation on demonology. At that time, chapel attendance was mandatory, and students were starved for excitement, Springer said. The mastermind was Nelson Kraybill, now the president of Mennonite World Conference in London. 

Kraybill and his roommate snuck into the church chapel using a key from a sympathetic former-groundskeeper, and positioned the pie-thrower on the balcony behind the podium. The next morning during chapel, the catapult, triggered by an alarm clock, launched the pie high into the air. 

The projectile hit the speaker “square between the shoulder blades,” Kraybill wrote in an article for Festival Quarterly 20 years later. The speaker, Dr. Paul Miller of the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, was startled but laughed off the shock and finished his presentation, Kraybill wrote. He “did nothing to deserve being a target,” Kraybill said recently in an email. 

“Some have ranked that the best prank ever,” Springer said. The Record agrees. Kraybill’s ingenuity, dedication and sheer disregard for a speaker’s suit jacket earn his prank the top spot on this list.

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Written by Gabe Miller, News Editor

2 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    August 14, 2020

    I was privileged in the Spring of 1974 to have witnessed the engineering feat that was the Devil’s Pie prank. The movie, “The Exorcist,” had opened in December 1973, so the guest speaker’s topic on demonology was timely. About 10 minutes into the presentation, an alarm clock went off in the empty balcony above. Everyone’s gaze shot upward to where the loud buzzing noise was coming from. The buzzer stopped abruptly, and a flat wooden paddle with a devil’s face painted on it catapulted upright against the balcony railing, flinging a pie off of the devil’s face, over the railing and down to the podium where it hit the speaker square on the back. If the speaker had turned around to look, he would have gotten a pie in the face. The trajectory was perfect. I wondered how many practice rounds it had taken to hit the mark on one try. It was a thing of beauty and I marveled at the precision and planning necessary to pull it off. I wondered too, how many guys were involved. The guest speaker was totally cool. He wiped off the pie with his handkerchief, commented that, “The devil made him do it,” and continued his presentation as if nothing had happened.
    The launching of a pie in a place of worship by an anonymous hand was indeed a shocker. I would have to agree that Nelson’s Devil’s Pie prank is without a doubt deserving of its highest ranking.

  2. Avatar
    August 11, 2020

    I was privileged in the Spring of 1974 to have witnessed the engineering feat that was the Devil’s Pie prank. The movie, “The Exorcist,” had opened in 1974, so the guest speaker’s topic on demonology was timely. About 10 minutes into the presentation, an alarm clock went off in the empty balcony above. Everyone’s gaze shot upward to where the loud buzzing noise was coming from. The buzzer stopped abruptly, a flat wooden paddle with a devil’s face painted on it catapulted upright against the balcony railing, flinging a pie off of the devils face, over the railing and down to the podium where it hit the speaker square on his back. If the speaker had turned around to look, he would have gotten a pie in the face. The trajectory was perfect. I wondered how many practice rounds it had taken to hit the mark on one try. It was a thing of beauty and I marveled at the precision and planning necessary to pull it off. I wondered too, how many guys were involved. The guest speaker was totally cool. He wiped off the pie with his handkerchief, commented that, “The devil made him do it,” and continued his presentation as if nothing had happened. I would have to agree that Nelson’s Devil’s Pie prank is without a doubt deserving of it highest ranking.

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