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The Cornell Daily Sun: 26 Years After Notoriety Prank, Pumpkin Placed on McGraw Tower Again

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    For 26 years, Cornellians have wondered who placed a pumpkin on the spire of McGraw Tower, in one of the most infamous pranks in Cornell’s storied history.

    But on Friday, Oct. 20, Cornellians looked up at McGraw Tower in awe to see a new pumpkin on the top of the tower. The Sun spoke to two men who claimed to place the pumpkin on top of the tower on the condition of anonymity. However, The Sun could not verify their claims.

    “I wanted to see if [the original pumpkin prank] was possible, and if it was, I wanted to take one of my friends to go carve it,” one of the students said. “I had the pumpkin with me, so I tried [climbing the tower] with the pumpkin and verified it was possible.”

    Unlike the infamous 1997 prank, this year’s pranksters possibly gained access to the spire atop the tower by climbing the scaffolding constructed by Safespan, which aids construction workers as they renovate the clocktower.

    This potentially made scaling the clocktower considerably easier compared to the initial 1997 incident, in which the pranksters — who are still unknown — free-climbed the clocktower with no kind of scaffolding in place. 

    “I think it was a cop-out,” said Amber Prasad ’26, in regards to this year’s pumpkin prank. “There was scaffolding.”

    The 1997 prank involved a still-unknown culprit sticking a pumpkin on the spire of McGraw Tower on Oct. 8, 1997, where it remained for 158 days. Prof. Don Michael Randel, music, who served as the provost of the University at the time, planned to remove the pumpkin with the aid of a crane bucket. However, before he could be lifted, the empty crane bucket slammed into the tower due to high winds, knocking the pumpkin over on March 13, 1998.

    Reflecting on how the original pumpkin impacted campus, Randel wrote in an email to The Sun, “In a period in which college students were most often being publicized for misbehavior, here was an occasion when Cornell students were having fun displaying their imagination and sense of humor.” 

    The prank received national recognition, with visiting lecturer and expert in Cornell history Corey Ryan Earle ’07 calling it a “viral sensation.” 

    “The 1997 clocktower pumpkin was a viral sensation before social media existed. It was on the evening news; it had ongoing coverage in the New York Times for months,” Earle wrote in a statement to The Sun. “The fact that it still remains in the popular zeitgeist over 25 years later speaks to how much it captured the Cornell community’s attention and curiosity. The mystery behind it is half the fun, and I think that’s part of the reason that it has had such a lasting legacy.”

    Cornell has leaned into the pumpkin’s vitality as well. Cornell has incorporated the pumpkin into Cornell Store merchandise including clothing, mugs, tote bags, statuettes and even The Dairy Bar’s Clocktower Pumpkins ice cream flavor.

    According to Earle, the pumpkin is also referenced throughout Cornell academically. 

    “The University Archives does maintain a collection of clocktower pumpkin miscellany with memorabilia and materials related to the incident, and the remains of the pumpkin itself were added to the Wilder Brain Collection,” Earle wrote.

    This is not the first instance of an item being placed onto the spire of McGraw Tower following the 1997 prank, with a disco ball being hung onto the tower in 2005 and a Santa hat being capping the spire in 2019. However, Earle states that the copycat pranks did not imprint themselves onto Cornell’s collective conscience as the original pumpkin did in 1997.

    “[N]either of those [pranks] had the staying power or media attention of the original pumpkin,” Earle wrote. “The ubiquity of technologies like drones over the last decade have made the feat somewhat less impressive.”

    One of the supposed culprits of this year’s prank claimed to have climbed the tower two times, once on the afternoon of Oct. 20 after construction workers had left and once again with a group late Saturday night, with the goal of carving something into the pumpkin. They then stayed on the clocktower into the early morning on Sunday, Oct. 22. Photo and video evidence shows the two men did successfully scale the tower Saturday night, but The Sun could not verify that they were responsible for placing the pumpkin onto the spire. 

    Both students refused to say what was carved into the pumpkin, and they crossed out the message in images sent to The Sun.

    When asked how he initially climbed the clocktower, the student claimed it was easy to climb up. 

    “[It’s] pretty easy to be honest,” the student said. “Basically you just hop the fence and then from there, they have netting along the edge where the stairs are and the doors to the stairs have a padlock, so you can’t get in through that door. You had to go onto — I don’t even know how to describe it, but it’s above Uris Library and then get onto the scaffolding, and then from there you can go up the stairs most of the way towards the top, and then you have to climb up the outside of the scaffolding to get to the very top levels.” 

    The other student concurred, but he added that switching to the scaffolding from the stairs was difficult. 

    “Right when you get to the base of the clock, it gets a little sketchy because there’s no more stairs or anything, you just have to like go straight up the scaffolding,” he said. “You have to climb on it.”

    Several students were alerted to the pumpkin being on the clocktower via a post on the popular social media app Sidechat between approximately 8 p.m. to 8:30 pm on Friday, Oct. 20. The post was deleted hours later.

    The post was captioned “Happy October ;)” and included a photo of the pumpkin punctured onto the spire. Because the post showed the first close-up photo of the pumpkin on the spire, students theorized that this post was from the culprit.

    The Sidechat post announcing the crowning of the clocktower with a pumpkin. (Screenshot of Sidechat)

    “I thought that whoever posted that was either the person who did it or someone from the construction crew,” said Tamer Gabal ’27.

    However, the student who claimed to climb the tower on Friday night said that he did not make the post. 

    “I actually have an Android, so I can’t use Sidechat,” he said. “I didn’t see any of the Sidechat posts until [the other student] showed me.” 

    Sidechat is only available for iOS systems, and The Sun verified the student who claims to have placed the pumpkin on top of McGraw Tower uses an Android cell phone.

    The student said he did not take any photos during his initial trip up the tower on Oct. 20.

    However, the students took several photos and videos with their faces showing at the top of the clocktower Saturday night, including one in which they attempted to carve the pumpkin. 

    One of The Sun’s anonymous sources poses at the top of the clocktower with the pumpkin blurred out.

    “This will get us kicked off campus so quick dude,” one of the men said in a video sent by the purported pranksters to The Sun.

    When asked why he decided to put the pumpkin onto the tower, the student said, “I originally wanted to do it because I wanted to A, see if it was possible, and B, if it was, I wanted to take one of my friends to go carve it.”

    In an email to The Sun, Randel wrote, “It is not surprising that someone would think of [placing the pumpkin at the top right now], since the scaffolding in place now almost invites it.” 

    No one knows the exact time this year’s pumpkin was put up, according to Safespan worker Michael Black. 

    “We left here at about [4 p.m.] on Friday… just shortly after I guess,” Black said. 

    Fellow Safespan worker Jody Beaumont also estimated the time of the pumpkin-related shenanigans to be between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m on Oct. 20. However, the Cornell University Police Department’s crime log contains a report regarding a pumpkin being placed atop the clock tower at 3:42 p.m. that day.

    Unlike 1997, this year’s pumpkin did not stand the test of time, as workers removed it early Monday morning. 

    “We were working down here — they took it off this morning,” Beaumont said.

    Employees and members of the Cornell community have their own guesses to who put up the pumpkin, ranging from fraternity brothers on a dare to rock climbing aficionados.

    “I would think it’d be part of the frat houses, who could get up there the fastest,” Black said. “It makes sense, it’s kinda funny. I think it’s hysterical.”

    Maya Leigh Cruz ’27 had a different hypothesis.

    “Maybe someone who works at the rock-climbing gym?” Cruz said. “No fear of heights, they can climb really fast, up and down.”

    While it cannot be said for sure who placed the pumpkin on the clocktower like in 1997, the Cornell community has a Halloween mystery towering above them. 

    “I wanted to stay anonymous because I feel like that’s the tradition,” the purported culprit said. “Cornell tradition as well as potential legal [action]. I care more so about preserving the traditions.” 

    Henry Fernandez ’27 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].

    Correction, Oct. 26, 11:50 a.m.: A previous version of this article misstated Corey Ryan Earle’s class year.


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