WPI Journal

Winter 1996

The Case of the Purloined Goat's Head

By Joan Killough-Miller

The news was broken at halftime of the Homecoming game last fall: "The Class of '96 has the goat!" A few brazen seniors bearing a hand-painted banner raced across Alumni Field in the middle of the singing of the alma mater. Their unexpected announcement reignited the century-old Goat's Head competition, which had been dormant for decades.

Spectators who turned in time caught a glimpse of the bronze trophy, which was briefly held aloft. But just as quickly as it appeared, the goat was tossed over two fences to a waiting senior, who spirited it across Institute Road and back into seclusion.

The Goat's Head is finally back, after years of work by more individuals and campus groups than can be named here. Lisa Hastings, former director of young alumni programs, says the movement evolved from the rebirth of the Student Alumni Society in the early 1990s.

"Reviving traditions was the issue around which SAS was rebuilt," says Hastings, who is now director of development at Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum. Students produced a new version of the Tech Bible, a handbook for freshmen first published in 1897, and established Traditions Day in 1991 to educate the WPI community about its heritage. Class rivalry events, including the Pennant Rush and the alma mater singing contest, have also been reinstated.

The most celebrated rivalry in WPI lore is the competition to acquire and hold the Goat's Head for one's class. The contest originally involved the preserved head of an actual goat, but when the stuffed trophy grew too fragile, it was replaced by a bronze statue in 1926 (see the story on page 24 for more on the history of the Goat's Head and the story of Gompei Kuwada,* the original goat keeper). After the 1950s, the Goat's Head tradition waned and the bronze goat was relegated to a shelf in the WPI archives, to be brought out occasionally for display at alumni functions.

With the revival of enthusiasm for WPI's traditions in the 1990s, interest naturally turned to the Goat's Head. By then the 1926 goat was deemed too valuable to again serve as a trophy in a student competition. So a group of students approached the Executive Committee of the WPI Alumni Association in 1993 requesting funding for a new statue. The request was approved, casting arrangements were made (see box, page 23), and the Goat's Head Committee was formed to draft a new set of rules for the class competition.

In the fall of 1995, the bronze replica was finally ready. Then a new question arose: how, exactly, should the Goat be put back into play? The SAS debated the issue and decided to hand the new Goat's Head over to the Class of 1997, on the grounds that the class had won more rivalry events than any other class during its sophomore year. The presentation would be made at a ceremony during Homecoming in September 1995.

Corollary: Casting Call

Not all students were satisfied with that decision. A group of disgruntled seniors gathered after the meeting, aggrieved that their efforts to restore the goat were going unrewarded. In the spirit of Gompei Kuwada and his friends, they contrived to steal both goats. "We wanted to be the last class to possess the old goat before it went to the archives forever," says Skull president and SAS member Brian Klauber '96. "We figured we could get our hands on the new one eventually."

The seniors quickly came up with a plan - actually, several plans. All of them revolved around Hastings' successor, Christopher Boffoli, who was scheduled to pick up the goats - new and old - from the foundry on Friday, Sept. 15, 1995. When Klauber and Justin L. Holwell '96 asked to go along for the ride, Boffoli agreed.

Plan A, according to Klauber and Holwell, called for two carloads of reinforcements to tail Boffoli's car and swipe the goats at the foundry. If that failed, Plan B was to feign the need for a rest stop on the return trip, giving the henchmen another opening. The actual thieves were to remain anonymous, so Boffoli wouldn't connect the deed with the senior class. "We didn't want to betray Chris," says Klauber. "He really helped us out, so it was important not to let him know that we were behind this. I didn't want it to get ugly."

Corollary: Why a Goat?

Both plans quickly went out the window, as the chase cars were separated from Boffoli's vehicle before they had even reached the Worcester city limits. Boffoli pulled onto I-290, leaving the trailing cars heading south on Main Street. Boffoli explained that the goats were not at the East Bridgewater, Mass., foundry of Jeff Burek '76, as the seniors had thought, but at a foundry in Rhode Island, where Burek had arranged for the casting to be done.

Their hopes dashed, the seniors returned to campus in Boffoli's car, eyeing their bronze traveling companions and fishing for clues as to their weekend accommodations. That was simple. Boffoli told them right off that he had been instructed not to risk storing the goats at the WPI Alumni Office in Higgins House, but to take them home.

Although Boffoli's address is not listed in the phone book, the seniors came up with a scheme for getting it. Posing as a radio disk jockey, Jesse Parent '96 called Boffoli Sunday night and fabricated a contest that Boffoli was sure to win. Boffoli's prize was a pair of tickets to a concert, which the station would be happy to mail to him, Parent said. He verified Boffoli's address twice before hanging up.

A group of seniors staked out Boffoli's home at dawn, until they were chased away by suspicious neighbors. They knew that once Boffoli returned the goats to the Alumni Office, it would be too late. An ambush at Higgins House was their last hope.

Monday morning, Boffoli got up, retrieved the goats from his garage, and left for work. On the way in, with the statues sitting side by side on the floor of the back seat, he went over in his mind how he would carry them in and hand them over for a photo session with the Alumni Association and the WPI News Service. He pulled into the Higgins House circle shortly before 9 a.m. and parked behind the building.

Phil Gunning '96 appeared from nowhere and grabbed at the handle of the car's rear door. It was locked. The would-be thief shrugged and walked off. "I though nothing of it," says Boffoli, who is accustomed to the antics of fraternity members who often cut through the grounds of Higgins House. "It didn't go through my thick skull that something was really wrong."

He unlocked his car, hoisted a heavy bronze statue under each arm, and headed for the Higgins House door. He didn't get far before he was ambushed by Jason Averill '96 and Holwell. The seniors made off with the goats without a hitch. "I had heard stories about how people schemed to get the goat, but I had no idea the students would pull something like this," Boffoli says. "It made no sense to struggle or give chase; I was afraid that the goats would be dented or damaged."

Reluctantly, he marched upstairs to inform Sharon Davis, director of alumni programs, of the theft. "It was my duty to bring the goats back safely, and I failed," he says. "I felt betrayed. It was humiliating to have disappointed Sharon by dropping the ball."

After some tense phone calls, an emergency meeting was convened. The seniors' position was that they were carrying out a time-honored tradition, one not subject to administrative control. The administration voiced concerns about the historical value of the goats and WPI's liability in an unregulated chase. There was also some controversy over which set of rules was in effect at the time of the robbery - the original, decades-old code or the new rules being developed by the Goat's Head Committee.

After much discussion, a new set of rules was quickly drawn up and officially adopted by the Executive Committee of the Alumni Association at Homecoming. It forbids transporting the goat by motor vehicle, confines chases to campus, and requires that classes report the goat's whereabouts to the Goat's Head Committee each time it is moved.

By the evening of the day of the heist, the seniors returned the old goat to the Alumni Office, but not before having their class year engraved in a conspicuous manner on the animal's rump. They kept the new goat to display at a time and place of their choosing.

Thus, the kick-off of the revived Goat's Head rivalry took place at Homecoming, as planned, but not in the ceremonious manner that the Alumni Office and the Student Alumni Society had intended. The seniors enjoyed their moment of glory, but some parties on campus were at odds with the tactics used to attain it.

"A number of students were dismayed by their exclusion from the events surrounding the Goat's Head," Boffoli says. "I liken it to grabbing the football from the ref and running down the field for a touchdown before anyone was ready."

Once the old goat was returned and the rules controversy settled, the seniors began flaunting their prize and torturing the younger classes with bogus clues that sent them pointlessly digging through a mound of fresh dirt by Skull Tomb and rising at the crack of dawn to search local landmarks. "The Class of '96 really did do a good job of exciting the student body and engaging the underclassmen about possessing the goat," Boffoli says.

"I wanted the students to have a good time and learn something about WPI history," says Klauber. "We told them that if they truly knew the Goat's Head history, the trophy's location would become so apparent, it would just unfold right before their eyes.

"That was completely false, but the good thing was, they were sitting down and reading the literature - learning WPI history." Reference works, such as the late Mildred Tymeson Petrie's Two Towers and Seventy Years of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute by Herbert F. Taylor '12 are much in demand these days.

With the Goat's Head back in circulation, the campus is alive with signs of the chase, from colored-chalk graffiti on the sidewalk, to rumors of a live goat in the dining commons, to letters and editorials in Newspeak, the student newspaper, to e-mail bulletins on the status of the mascot. The goat has also been a philanthropist, raising money for charity when Alpha Tau Omega fraternity auctioned off a chance to touch the bronze animal.

After their triumphant showing at the Homecoming football game, the seniors put their trophy up for grabs in a treasure hunt held after the rope pull on Homecoming Day. The juniors won. But when Klauber went to award them their prize, it wasn't in its hiding place. Some enterprising freshmen had stumbled upon it and, in the true tradition of the chase, stolen it from the thieves.

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