Once upon a time, specifically Spring of 1966, Bloomington needed some excitement. Our basketball team had sucked, Vietnam was claiming lives and we still had some weeks to go before Little 5.
Kevin Duffy and I decided to liven things up.
Kevin was Chicken Hawk’s roommate, and a finer figure of a human being, albeit crazy, you never saw. Kevin was a footballer too, a middle linebacker who gained national exposure during our Rose Bowl appearance. You see, Kevin looked like a movie star, played linebacker, despite having lost his spleen during a game in 1966 or 1967, and was cut like Arnold da Gov. He and Chicken Hawk had been boyhood friends in Connecticut and had always roomed together. Kevin had a smile which lit a room, which is part of why he became something of a national celebrity during the Rose Bowl. (The other reason was sympathy and admiration about his recovery from the spleen operation and the fact that while he was in LA, he came under the wing of some Hollywood types who may have stuffed some funny stuff under his nose).
Now I realize that the old TV show Batman is passé today, but in 1966 it was THE TV show nobody wanted to miss. It swept the IU campus just as it did the imagination and funnybone of the nation.
Kevin and I decided The Joker must be somewhere on campus and that a visit from Batman and Robin was in order.
Having hailed from Indy, I knew of a shop where costumes could be rented. So one afternoon, Kevin and I drove up there and found that they had the fixings for a believeable Batman and Robin costume. We rented the stuff and returned to B-Town. The next day, a Friday, Kevin and I donned our costumes and drove into campus, parking in the Memorial Union lot, near the back, where we could enter and leave the car in relative obscurity. Obviously, we weren’t wearing our masks -- yet.
As we approached Ballantine Hall, we donned our masks and began running. We entered the Hall and stormed through several of the lecture halls. We moved so fast and struck so quickly, nobody thought to give chase. You can imagine the shock and wonder on the faces of students, some sleeping, some taking notes, and especially at the podiums, as we ran through several lectures and stopped them in their tracks. “Have you seen The Joker?” we shouted. “Kazaam! The Joker has escaped!”
From Ballantine, we headed east toward the Education Building but found an older building in between which had a fire escape. Perfect! We pulled down the ladder and up we went, bending down under windows so as not to be seeen until we reached the top. Then, once there, we began peering in windows, gesturing to catch the instructor’s eyes, then ducking down as the students turned to see what the instructor was gawking at with open mouth. As I recall, there were about four stories to this building, with two classroom with windows accessible via the fire escape. We played this game for about twenty minutes, working our way down until we reached the bottom. By this time, some students were leaning out the windows yelling at us, and exit doors were opening.
Toward the Education Building we raced, but slowed down when we realized nobody was chasing us – yet.
Now understand, we were wearing costumes with full masks. Kevin had the full Batman outfit, including cowl, while I was wearing a yellow T-shirt, Robin’s thin mask and Speedos (Yes, I even looked good in them then, or so I thought). And we had our best running shoes; we figured we’d need them.
Well, we couldn’t run forever. We had to stop and catch our breaths and plan our next attacks. As we were standing there, our chests heaving, Kevin’s much more than mine because there was so much more of his to heave, a coed neither of us knew walked by and as calm as howdy-do, said, “Hi Kevin. Hi Ben.” To this day, I don’t have a clue how she recognized us; well maybe me because of the tiny mask and my spindly legs and pencil-neck. But huh? We’d seen plenty of other people we knew and they hadn’t seemed to recognize us, how did she when neither one of us knew her?
The Education Building and Music buildings were next, where shock and awe prevailed, but as we left the Music building, we began hearing sirens.
The main thoroughfares were out: that’s where the cops, local or campus, would be. So we had to double-back running through alleys and around buildings. By now classes had broken and students were everywhere. And we were collecting some groupies, or at least people following us, waiting to see us taken down.
Somehow we made it west to a back entrance to the Memorial Union, where we slipped in a back door and entered the cafeteria. That was fun. The cooks and staff weren’t particularly appreciative when we ran through the kitchen. Maybe they were worried we’d see the cat carcasses they may have been serving. Or maybe they objected to our copping a few french fries and sticking our fingers into a few pudding bowls. Some little guy wearing an apron took particular offense and chased us, yeah, like he was going to stop a future All Big-Ten linebacker and his long,tall skinny sidekick in a Speedo. Or maybe it was me he was after; maybe he liked my Speedo…
The little guy was yelling, “Stop! Stop! Police!” as he chased us, but we lost him, probably because he was embarrassed to be running around in an apron that looked like a dress.
This was during the oh so long period when Herman Wells was chancellor. You’ve seen pictures of Herman. Big fat friendly guy with jowls that could hold a 19 lb turkey with dressing. Boy, I’d have hated to walk into his bathroom in the morning. Well anyway, while he had been president, Herman had installed pictures of food everywhere in the Memorial Union, maybe so he could smile while he walked down the halls, maybe because he figured nobody would try to steal them. Well, Herman was no longer president, but nobody had taken his pictures down. So, as we’re running, I kept seeing bowls of fruit, steak dinners, mashed potatoes, and as my lungs were hurting, my stomach was turning.
It was time to bail or I was gonna hurl.
We knew we couldn’t just run down the steps and out the front door, then rush to our car and exit through the pay gate. That would be too obvious, and if there were any Campus Mounties around, that would be where they’d be waiting. So we took the stairs up, then ran down a hallway to another stairwell further west, which meant we’d exit somewhere at the back of the Union.
This tactic worked. We ran along behind the Chapel to Kevin’s car, popped his trunk, donned some sweatshirts and offed our masks. Then we calmly drove out of the parking lot, which at the time charged 10c/hour, and drove back to the House to a hero’s welcome. There were cops around but they were looking for two dufi wearing masks, not two students in sweatshirts.
Well, the next few days were hectic. Batman and Robin were the talk of the campus, in the IDS, on radio and in the HT. Everybody was waiting for a second appearance, it seemed, and the cops weren’t having any luck tracking the perpetrators. (Thank God, our fraternity brothers could keep a secret!)
But Kevin and I decided not to push our luck. The Administration had taken a dim view of our stunt, and Kevin was worried about losing his scholarship if he was caught. And as our fraternity was already on social pro for somebody punching out a cop (another story yet to come), we had to be careful. Afterall the president of the Intrafraternity Council lived in the house across the street, the one terrorized by Chicken Hawk after the touch football taunting incident mentioned in my story about Chicken Hawk. How he would have loved to nail us for this prank!
So, we returned our costume material and laid low.
I don’t know what happened to Kevin. After his Rose Bowl celebrity, he seemed to flip out. Once in law school, I ran into him during a workout in the weight room. He’d grown a beard and said he was living in a tent with a German Shepard somewhere outside of Bloomington. He said the feds were looking for him, something about drugs.
But he must still be around. I got an email from Chicken Hawk some weeks back, saying he and Duffy were coming home for a weekend in the next few months and did I want to meet them for breakfast.
I’ll probably think of Herman Wells as I eat.
This is a true story; well maybe I stretched it a bit saying I looked good in the Speedo…