Probably the best thing that happened in my college career
October 8, 2017 10:42 AM   Subscribe

20 years ago today, Cornell students, faculty, and staff woke up to find someone had speared a giant pumpkin on the McGraw clock tower spire.

The prank garnered national news attention.

After 5 months on the tower, and concern it would fall off and injure someone, authorities attempted to remove the then-frozen pumpkin. Pumpkin-themed festivities were planned for the removal. Unfortunately, a cage hoisted by a crane knocked into the pumpkin on a practice run and sent it falling down to some scaffolding below.

The perpetrators of and methods used to execute this feat remain a mystery, although it has been confirmed that it was in fact a real pumpkin up there.
posted by misskaz (24 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
A suitable story for Canadian Thanksgiving.
posted by clawsoon at 10:52 AM on October 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

From a story on the pumpkin's 10th anniversary:
The remains of the desiccated gourd were freeze-dried and placed on display at the visitor's center in Day Hall. But it continued to decay as only biota can. The last extant piece of the gourd sat beside a brain display in the Department of Psychology. Ten years after making international news, it is now on a shelf in the office of Barbara Finlay, the W.R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Psychology. Beside it is a eulogy of sorts written in honor of "Pepo Cucurbita," aka The Cornell Pumpkin.
A side note from a story about the Wilder Brain Collection:
Another specimen of notoriety, though not on display, is a preserved piece of the infamous Cornell pumpkin that mysteriously appeared atop Uris Library's McGraw Tower one morning in 1997 and ranks as one of Cornell's most notable pranks. "We had a spare jar," noted Finlay.
posted by jedicus at 10:52 AM on October 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

The official Kingsbury Commission authenticity certificate uses Comic Sans. And it's perfect.
posted by mochapickle at 11:10 AM on October 8, 2017 [7 favorites]

I remember this well. The campus went crazy over this. There were carved pumpkins on the ground holding signs that said "Don't jump". The pumpkin was up for so long that fatigue set in and no one really cared about that removal event.
posted by JiffyQ at 11:26 AM on October 8, 2017 [22 favorites]

I like how the official conclusion is “It is a pumpkin” but on the certificate it reads “It’s a pumpkin”.
posted by chavenet at 11:41 AM on October 8, 2017

So, how on earth did someone get it up there?
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 11:59 AM on October 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

That is a very impressive prank. They must have been serious rock climbers. Or at least roofers.
posted by Bee'sWing at 12:11 PM on October 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

The two confessions that I'm aware of:

Rob (on p3 of the Cornell Chimes Newsletter)
Tom Cruise (Cornell Sun article, truncated. By Farhad Manjoo, who was Editor in Chief at the time.)
posted by zamboni at 12:31 PM on October 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

Regarding the image of the certificate of authenticity, perhaps we should offer a Comic Sans trigger warning.
posted by mwhybark at 1:23 PM on October 8, 2017

This is a lovely effort.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 1:33 PM on October 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Welcome great pumpkin
posted by growabrain at 2:20 PM on October 8, 2017

I was there when that happened. It was so great. People were convinced it had to be plastic, because a *real* pumpkin couldn't be skewered that way.
posted by acrasis at 2:36 PM on October 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was there! It was a pivotal moment of my college experience. Some of my favorite memories from it:

The administration was crazy afraid of the pumpkin rotting, falling off, and hitting somebody. Within a day or two of the pumpkin's appearance, McGraw Tower was surrounded by orange fencing with signs saying "Danger, Falling Pumpkin!" The signs kept getting stolen and replaced.

The competition to determine if it was a real pumpkin or not was held while it was still up on the spire, and the winning team's ingenious solution involved floating a balloon carrying a device with a servo-controlled syringe to get a sample, then analyzing the DNA to compare it to that of a real pumpkin. This was long before the era of commonplace drone aircraft and DNA sampling. More details in the OP's last link:
On March 4, the four senior physics majors used a remote-controlled balloon and Rube Goldberg ingenuity to obtain a sample of the pumpkin.

The students used video and biological samples, an analysis technique known as polymerase chain reaction, and a scanning electron microscope to reach their conclusion. In the team's 30-page report, the students also showed the object to be a pumpkin.
posted by purple_frogs at 3:48 PM on October 8, 2017 [20 favorites]

My father told me the tale of the prank of a 55 gallon drum with one end open placed over the top of a very tall flag pole in a large open square. They had to get the local fire department to get it down. If you can figure out how it got up there, you can figure out how to get it down without the fire department.
posted by Xoc at 5:31 PM on October 8, 2017

Xoc: Attach a long pole to the flagpole rope, such that the drum on the end of the pole will be above the level of the flagpole top when it is raised?
posted by fings at 6:51 PM on October 8, 2017

That's really impressive... how'd they do that?
posted by ph00dz at 8:07 PM on October 8, 2017

Oh, thank you so much for posting this. And thank you, pumpkin impaler, for giving me a wonderful snort-laughing fit.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 10:28 PM on October 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Trebuchet, lots of calculus, hot air balloon, alley-oop!
posted by TreeRooster at 10:33 PM on October 8, 2017

fings, exactly right.
posted by Xoc at 12:46 AM on October 9, 2017

that's genius haha. i really wonder how they did it. maybe with a drone?
posted by gogreensolar at 3:39 AM on October 9, 2017

maybe with a drone?

In 1997?
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:54 AM on October 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mister Ruki was there for this. Three years ago, when we stopped by Ithaca on our way home from a family vacation, we spent more time at that spire on our Mister Ruki led tour of the Cornell campus than any other spot.
posted by Ruki at 9:34 AM on October 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

how many mefites of today were in college with me in cough 1997?

I can barely remember any of this even though I think I was there!
posted by goneill at 1:39 PM on October 9, 2017

You can relive the original webcam experience at
posted by zamboni at 12:12 PM on October 12, 2017

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