Pail and Shovel Party recalls its glory days

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April 12, 1999
by Joshua Golembe
news reporter for the Badger Herald

[Picture from Paper]

From the Statue of Liberty's 1979 appearance on Lake Mendota to the 1997 erection of a giant phallus on Bascom Hill, pranks have always had a rich tradition at UW-Madison.

The masterminds of these campus capers discussed their work Friday at Bascom Hall.

Jim Mallon and Stu D. Baker, founding members of the infamous Pail and Shovel party, were the featured speakers. Their party got its name from a campaign promise to convert UW's budget into pennies that would be spread on Library Mall for students to collect with pails and shovels. Pail and Shovel took over the Wisconsin Student Association, UW's student government, in 1978.

Over the next two years, the group was responsible for bizarre pranks and large, expensive campus parties, according to Mallon, who served as WAS president at the time.

"The checks just flowed," said Mallon, who is now executive producer of "Mystery Science Theater 3000."

At the time, visitors to WSA's office were often given $1 million checks as gifts.

Mallon remembered an early morning call from a frantic bank employee after someone actually tried to cash one of the phony checks.\

Beyond the monetary tricks, the Pail and Shovel era is probably best remembered for two epic pranks. The first was the Statue of Liberty's visit to the frozen surface of Lake Mendota.

The statue's construction was the fulfillment of a Pail and Shovel campaign promise, Mallon said. Unfortunately, Lady Liberty quickly fell victim to arson.

The second was the sudden appearance of thousands of pink plastic flamingos on Bascom Hill in the fall of 1979.

Mallon said within hours most of the flamingos were stolen and began appearing in lawns and windows around the city.

The Pail and Shovel Party faced a great deal of criticism because of its tendency to spend money on items - like toys for students to play with during registration week - that some felt were a waste of the student government budget. Chief among the critics were The Daily Cardinal and "serious" student government representatives, Mallon said.

However, through good old-fashioned humor and pranking, Mallon said they prevailed overall.

"When I look back, it was a real fun time," he said.

Mallon and Baker agreed that the flamingos and the Statue of Liberty were their favorite pranks.

The seminar itself was punctuated by a number of pranks, including a baby crying from a trash can and a visit from Satan - all courtesy of the Order of the Ten-Fat-Tigers.

Current UW prankster Ben Granby, exalted cyclops of the Tigers, said his pranks were used primarily to "get a rise out of people."

"Reactions are the drug of the prankster," Granby said.

In his time at UW, Granby said he completed his goal of shocking, offending and amusing the UW campus.

Last month, the Tigers advocated heroin use as a weight loss measure. Granby and his group also built a 15-foot golden phallus on top of Bascom Hill in 1997. Granby said Mallon and Baker provided inspiration for his own actions.

"When speaking about pranks, Stu Baker and Jim Mallon must always be mentioned as the best," Granby said.

The three men spoke to a crowd of several hundred appreciative students and community members.

"I enjoyed the slide show because it gave me insight beyond the myth of the Pail and Shovel party and to what actually went on," freshman Matty Jacobs said.

Stu's World
Updated: January 1, 2000