In the past few years Wisconsin politics have become a national talking point. In 2009, Governor Walker announced controversial plans to curb union’s collective bargaining rights which sparked enormous protests. And in 2012, Wisconsin elected the first openly gay Senator, Tammy Baldwin. But before all this, back in the Dark Ages of the 1970’s, there was Pail & Shovel.
|Varjian and Mallon|
The pair was famous for pranks. Their campaign included promises such as flooding Camp Randall Stadium to reenact historic 19th Century naval warship battles and renaming every male student on campus “Jim Smith” so faculty could remember everybody’s name. One stunt in particular won them national attention. Pail & Shovel publicly declared their intention to steal the Statue of Liberty. But, like so many of their promises, it was quickly laughed off...until one cold February morning in 1979. The city of Madison woke up, rubbed their eyes, and couldn’t believe what they saw. The crown and torch-bearing arm of the Statue of Liberty sticking through the ice of Lake Monona. Pail & Shovel claimed to have stolen the green lady, but the helicopter cables broken during transportation and the statue plunged into the icy waters.
But that was not all. The next semester saw their pièce de résistance. On September 4th, 1979, students on their way to the first day of classes were greeted by 1,008 pink lawn flamingos sunning themselves on Bascom Hill. Vice President (yes, they won the election) Varjian claimed the flamingos were blown north by Hurricane David. However, Pail & Shovel was not appreciated by everybody and 60 students protested and demanded their student activities money back. Varjian acquiesced and wrote 60 checks for 10¢ each. But by-and-large, the Party was a hit. For a time, Pail & Shovel attempted to rename the University of Wisconsin to the University of New Jersey so the students could have a fancy East Coast degree.
Pail & Shovel was reelected to a second term under the banner “Are You Stupid Enough To Vote For Us Again?” The student body spoke, and the Pail & Shovel threw a party. A 10,000-person toga party, in fact. The Dalai Lama was schedule to speak on campus at the same time, and was rescheduled so that he wouldn’t get caught in the festivities. Festivities such as a Dalai Lama look-alike contest. During their final term, Stu D. Baker, Pail & Shovel’s Sergeant-At-Arms, declared war against University of Missouri, which became tit-for-tat pranks at each others campus.
They did not seek a third term.
The legacy of Pail & Shovel lives on. Varjian ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Madison City Council with the promise to rename the city to “Cheesetopia”; an idea MTC is not entirely opposed to. The flamingo prank was so popular that in September of 2009, 30 years after the original prank, the plastic pink lawn flamingo was made Madison’s Official Bird by the Madison City Council. And President Jim Mallon went on to create the show Mystery Science Theater 3000. Pail & Shovel is an excellent example of Madison’s quirky personality and will be a campus and city-wide legend for decades to come.