The Harvard Crimson vs. The Harvard Lampoon

These two Harvard publications have had a very long-standing feud that still continues to this day. A memorable snapshot comes to us from the pages of Harvard Magazine

“Another Lampoon president, John Updike, found himself challenged by both the law and Soviet diplomats after a prank. The crime: kidnapping. On April 26, 1953, in the midst of a long-running stand-off between the Lampoon and the Harvard Crimson, Updike and his fellow Lampoon editors were dismayed to find Threskiornis aethiopica, the Lampoon’s copper ibis, missing from its perch atop the Lampoon castle. The usual suspects, of course, were Crimson editors.

The ‘Poonsters wasted no time striking back. Later the same day, the Crimsonreported the disappearance of its president and managing editor, Michael Maccoby ’54 and George S. Abrams ’54. Maccoby and Abrams would be returned only in exchange for the ibis, an anonymous caller told the Crimson. Updike then made the threat public: “[N]o Crimson editor can rest safe in his bed,” he informed the paper. “We promise, within a week, to depopulate Cambridge totally of this unfortunate element.”

What followed was slightly less heroic. Contacted recently for comment, Updike remembered that “it seemed pretty unfeasible and drastically illegal to be holding Maccoby against his will. This part of our counterstrike petered out pretty quickly.” The Lampoon released its hostages. The Crimsondid not reciprocate, however, and Maccoby and Abrams resurfaced in Manhattan where, as a gesture of goodwill toward the new Moscow University, they presented the purloined ibis to Semyon K. Tsarapkin, the deputy representative of the USSR to the United Nations. Tsarapkin formally accepted the gift on behalf of his government, and it wasn’t without great diplomatic finagling that the Lampooneventually repatriated their bird. Asked by reporters his thoughts on American humor, Tsarapkin replied: “I am unsmiling.”

At least, that’s how the Crimson tells the story. One current Lampoon editor, wishing to remain anonymous, refused to corroborate the details: “The reporting is mediocre,” he sneered. “They probably got it at least half wrong.”

 Mental_Floss has this addition to the story:

“A long-running rivalry between Harvard’s school papers, the Crimson and the Lampoon, came to a head with this 1953 prank. Crimson staffers play one of their favorite pranks by stealing the Lampoon’s Ibis, the large bird statue perched on top of their office. But this time, they send a letter to the Soviet consul in New York to report that the editors of the Lampoon wish to offer the Ibis as a symbol of friendship, billing the bird as “sort of an American peace dove.” The Soviets accept, and the Ibis is handed off to a confused U.N. delegate in a formal ceremony. Not wanting to be outdone, the Lampoon retaliates with a letter of their own. With help from then-editor John Updike, they write to Joseph McCarthy, insisting the prank clearly proves the Crimson’s communist leanings and calling for a full investigation.”

Though not much came of the charge against the Crimson, in ’53 Sen. McCarthy did“order the investigation of Instructor Leon J. Kamin and Associate Professor of Physics Wendell H. Furry on their past Communist associations and were required to give testimony in Boston’s Federal Building. The Crimson later published a series of six editorials criticizing Furry and Kamin for their refusal to speak about their activities in the respective trials.”

As a unrelated side-note, in 1985 another Lampoon president was convicted of the following incident… The President? None other than Conan O’Brian:

“Legend has it that O’Brien spent a night in jail following a stunt he pulled as an undergraduate. (On “advice of counsel,” O’Brien declined to comment.) Having procured a jack-hammer as well as several hard hats and other construction-related paraphernalia, he and a group of fellow students cordoned off a section of street in downtown Boston and went to work, as it were, tearing up the pavement.

O’Brien then reported his own crime to the Boston police: college students dressed as construction workers were jack-hammering in downtown Boston — Do something, quickly! His handiwork only half done, O’Brien then telephoned the Massachusetts state police. He and his fellow construction workers, O’Brien said, were trying to do their jobs but were being harassed by a bunch of college pranksters dressed as policemen. In short order, the Boston police came to arrest the students and the state police came to arrest the Boston police. The confusion that followed landed its choreographer in hot water, but also in the annals of Harvard prank history.”


~ by herodotuswept on January 10, 2008.

2 Responses to “The Harvard Crimson vs. The Harvard Lampoon”

  1. A hilarious anecdote. Thanks for all the follw-ups. Can you tell me when the excerpts from the HM appeared?

    Jack De Bellis
    Prof. English emeritus
    Lehigh U.

  2. The article from Harvard Magazine that I pulled from can be located here:

    The hard copy of that story appeared in the March-April 2004 issue. I also used an article from Mental_Floss that I reprinted in its entirety which can be found here:

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