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reed magazine logoSummer 2009

Tales of the FBI

By Jim Kahan ’64

The Foster Boys, Incorporated were a merry band of pranksters, captained by Peter Scheiber ’61, who flourished from 1957 to about 1962. They were among the last group of students to live in the old “Cardboard Castle” Foster and Scholz dormitories—war surplus structures erected in 1947 on the east end of campus, roughly where the studio art building now sits. Many of them were the first students to occupy the New Men’s Dorm (later also called Foster and Scholz). Just about all of the many pranks that took place during their era may be attributed to the FBI; the deans’ correspondence files are full of letters to and from Scheiber and his friends, as well as to members of the Portland community to soothe ruffled feathers and compensate for damages. Many of the antics of the FBI appear in The Woodstock Tales: À la Recherche des Choses Perdues, a delightful pamphlet written by Kelly Pomeroy ’61, Marjorie Roston Ireland ’62, and Carol Petterson Hurwitz ’62 that was distributed at Renn Fayre 2007 and the subsequent reunion (see also www.westportcupids.net.) We here recount two FBI pranks: CALL GILRS and the Beavernapping.

Gills ad
CALL GILRS

From 1878 until 1999, there was a book and stationery retailer located at SW Fifth Avenue and Stark Street in downtown Portland called the J.K. Gill Company. In the 1950s, the building had a giant sign on the roof that exhorted, “CALL GILL’S! Your Office Supply and Office Equipment Headquarters.”

In the dark of a new moon one night, FBI agents used ropes to scale the Gill Building, painted over an “L” to be an “R.” Unfortunately, they painted over the wrong “L,” resulting in a sign reading “CALL GILRS!” Their deed was memorialized in an article and photograph in the Oregonian on May 28, 1959, which carried the implicit message that Reed students cannot spell (a longstanding local jibe against Reed dating to the reign of president William T. Foster, who championed simplified spelling).

Back on campus, fellow students were equally unmerciful; a calligraphed sign soon appeared in the Commons, warning that “THE COSP ARE COMING!”

The reason for the gaffe, as an FBI lieutenant later explained, was that Peter was hanging upside down by one foot from a rope as he painted.

A chagrined FBI subsequently braved increased police surveillance of the site to correct their paintographical error, and this time they managed to spell the word correctly. Shortly thereafter, the company modified its sign to read “PHONE GILL’S!”

THE BEAVERNAPPING

In case you never noticed, the highest part of the Old Dorm Block roof is crowned at the east and west ends by two standing beavers, each holding a shield. The FBI, not content with having the Doyle Owl as the sole campus trophy, decided to kidnap the Eastern Beaver. This deed was accomplished in the spring of 1961. During its wanderings, somebody nicely lettered “NIHIL” on its shield, which led to some confusion: “What’s it mean?” “Nothing.” “Aw, come on, what’s it really mean?”

The absence of the beaver was duly noted by the deans, who were quick to identify the usual suspects and demand its return. Such was the displeasure of the deans that the FBI, who were more like the lost boys of Peter Pan than the Mob, returned the beaver one weekend night, depositing it on the desk of Dean Les Squier.

Dean Squier conveyed the beaver to the power plant and publicly wondered who would pay the $300 needed to remount the wayward rodent. The solution suggested itself. One spring night in 1962, the FBI abducted the beaver from the power plant, and, using ropes and mattresses, ascended the roof of Doyle. Down below, a former student who had been “decampused” (banned from Reed) stood guard to distract the night watchman if he ventured too close to the action. The beaver was thus restored to its customary perch, where it remains to this day.

For more apocrypha about Reed football cheers and the Columbus Day Storm, visit the Reed Stories website at reedstories.reed.edu.

reed magazine logoSummer 2009