Campus Lore and Tall Tales
Any institution that’s been around more than 100 years will have plenty of stories and rumors. HSU certainly has its fair share. Some reflect national issues of the day, and others are odd tidbits. All are an important part of the history and identity we share.
Written by Grant Scott-Goforth
Lucky Logger’s Origin Story
LUCKY LOGGER WAS ADOPTED as the Humboldt State College mascot in 1959, but until recently many had forgotten where the idea came from. After 50 years, Lucky’s ancestry has been re-discovered in the Humboldt Room, and what a story it is!
He was born as Red Bunyan, a papier mâché statue with a redwood bark beard made by an unknown Humboldt County artist for display at the California State Fair, according to a 1966 Lumberjack story.
After the fair, Bunyan came to the Eureka/Arcata airport, but it became a nuisance because the statue had to be moved every time it rained. So airport officials contacted Humboldt Dean of Students Don Karshner and asked if he wanted it.
Karshner told the Lumberjack he accepted because the Rally Club was looking for a mascot. Some time later, a naming contest was held and Red Bunyan became Lucky Logger, which as you probably guessed, referred to a popular beer called Lucky Lager.
Lucky’s arrival spawned a secret society, whose irreverent and lager-fueled exploits are documented in a scrapbook kept in the Library’s Humboldt Room.
He was brought out at football games, stolen once by Chico State students, and then eventually died as a mushy pile of wood pulp after someone left him out in the rain. A photo of the mascot was sent to an artist, who recreated the fiberglass mascot we see in archival photos.
That mascot was a common campus fixture through the ’80s, though he did get the tongue-in-cheek ire of the administration on at least one occasion when it was determined that Lucky was unfit to represent the campus at events because he wasn’t enrolled.
“For this reason,” wrote the registrar in a memo to the Society, “you must see to it that this refugee from a sawdust burner stops participating in college events.”
He didn’t stop and today, Lucky can be spotted at games and events and his image adorns T-shirts and bobbleheads.
Changing Faces of Founders Hall
THE BUILDING ON THE HILL was the first built specifically for HSU, in 1922, then known as Humboldt Normal School. Given the inauspicious moniker “Administration,” it has since become the iconic edifice of Humboldt State University.
And while it’s instantly recognizable to the HSU community, it’s undergone some subtle—and not so subtle—changes in its nearly 100 years.
The building’s original configuration didn’t last long. Students quickly realized that the open-air hallways made for chilly passage in Humboldt’s cool, wet winters. The corridors were enclosed with windows several years after construction was complete.
By the mid-1940s, ivy was growing up the front of Founders Hall, an aesthetic mix between the well-worn image of East Coast universities and California’s Mission style. That all changed in World War II, when, in response to concerns of a Japanese attack raised by the local community, Founders Hall was camouflaged with drab green paint. The paint killed the ivy, and the cream color was reapplied in 1949.
Later, concerns about a fast-growing campus made some ask, “Remember when people used to say hello?” Decades before social networks supplanted ice cream socials, people were concerned that the student body was losing touch with professors and one another. Thus, in 1954, was born “Hello Lane,” a walkway on the west side of Founders Hall where conversation was encouraged. Other times, it was mandatory—for several years the proclamation of “Hello Day” meant students and faculty saying “Hi” to everyone they passed.
That’s the Team Spirit
EARLY WOMEN ATHLETES at Humboldt saw a lot of success. Softball was a popular team sport, and intramural volleyball, field hockey, basketball, track and field, archery, and golf also had strong participation.
Elta Cartwright, a track team star, broke national running records in 1927 and competed in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics.
Lumberjacks Football wasn’t always an NCAA Division II force, partly due to low enrollment by men in the early years. The first football practice, in 1927, saw only 12 players show up, just enough to field a team. They’d play against local company teams since they were unable to travel efficiently out of the area. The team even played against Fortuna High School, where it suffered the indignity of a loss to the high schoolers.
SEVERAL TIME CAPSULES dot the campus. One, created on the University’s 40th anniversary, lives in the Humboldt Room on the third floor of the library, where it frustrates eager librarians who aren’t allowed to see the contents until 2053. Another was dedicated in 1989 when Student Business Services was built, and remains buried on the first floor of the building.
During HSU’s Centennial celebrations in 2014, another time capsule was buried in front of the Library just beyond the steps, where it’s marked today. While the contents of the others will remain a mystery until they’re opened, the 2014 capsule contained native plant seeds, artwork, and an issue of the Lumberjack, among other items.
RECALL THE CANNON on the lawn in front of Arcata’s Veterans Hall? Far fewer people remember the short residency it took in front of Founders Hall. Several days after its overnight appearance, it was returned as mysteriously as it had appeared.
The cannon wasn’t the only object of campus consternation. Whistling Pete, a cadaver used in anatomy classes, once made his way to the entrance of the women’s dormitory (probably not under his own power). At the time, the Lumberjack called the period of pranks “disgusting.”
No one knows (well, someone might know) what happened to the 9-foot-tall, 150-pound ax that used to change hands between the winner of the Humboldt-Chico football games. After one particularly controversial loss, HSU students frothing with school spirit drove to Chico to abscond with the ax. The trophy apparently lived under a bed for a year before it was lost in storage. It remains missing to this day.
Kid Has a Blast
CHILDREN LIGHTING DYNAMITE? What could go wrong? Mary Estelle Preston goes down in history as the person who helped pulverize the first stump on the future site of Founders Hall. She went on to train as a teacher at Humboldt and was later crowned Homecoming Queen as an alumna.
College Up for Grabs
ARCATA WAS NOT a lock for the Humboldt Normal School when it was first decided the area needed a school to train teachers in the early 1900s. In fact, the location of the eventual HSU became a bitter fight between Eureka and Arcata, cities that still harbored resentment from a similar battle for the county seat more than 50 years prior.
Eureka, with its central location and larger population, felt it was the right fit. But Arcata produced a convincing proposal that included use of the grammar school, high school, and other facilities. After a tense back and forth with state officials, the board voted in favor of Arcata—partly because of a 12.5-acre donation of ridgetop lands from local resident William Preston.
When all was said and done, a Eureka newspaper responded to a request for reconciliation; “The Standard is pleased to say to the Union and Arcatans generally that there is no hatchet to bury. Eureka wants the Normal School to be a success. … Forget the contest and go to work making the institution a power. Eureka is with you.”
Taking a Stand
HSU MADE NATIONAL HEADLINES in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement when the 1960 undefeated football team traveled to Florida for the national championship game. The team’s five black student athletes stayed in segregated housing, per Florida state law at the time.
Back in California, 37 faculty members signed a telegram to the state superintendent of public instruction asking if there was some way to intervene or if some state policy were in place about participation in segregated events.
The segregation—and the telegram—caused controversy on campus and nationwide. And it brought a discussion of the national issue to HSU.
A decade later, HSU saw the largest demonstration in its history as 3,000 students and faculty gathered on campus and declared a weeklong “Strike for Peace” to protest the invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Gov. Ronald Reagan closed state college campuses in an effort to prevent violence. Humboldt students spread their message to the community through door-to-door visits, sent draft cards back to Washington, D.C., in protest. Humboldt President Cornelius Siemens, meanwhile, called for an abolition of the draft and an end to the war.
IN THE LATE 1960s, a flock of migratory cliff swallows took up nest in the eaves of the newly built HSU Library on their yearly journey from South America. The University’s efforts to evict them prompted a strong response from students and faculty.
In June, the Academic Senate heard a proposed resolution penned by Forestry Professor Rudolf Becking and Librarian Charles Bloom, who called themselves the Society for the Welfare, Advancement, Learning, Love and Observation of the World’s Swallows (SWALLOWS).
Writing that “Humboldt State College is an institution devoted to the study of the aforesaid universal harmony between man and his environment,” Becking and Bloom proposed that “the aforementioned inimical forces at once, henceforth, and forever cease their catastrophic irruptions into the tranquility of our Avian cohabitants, so long as the redwoods shall stand and the Eel River flows to the sea.”
The resolution passed unanimously.
Some animals have been invited. In the early years of the University, local fish and game clubs supported conservation education. Game pens were built in Redwood Hall and 250 pheasants arrived on campus in 1941.
Lumber from a dormitory was re- (up?)cycled into a fish hatchery in 1939. More than 10,000 salmon eggs were used in the initial project. HSU continues to be one of the only campuses in the nation with a fish hatchery.
Then there are the yaks—two, in fact, who frequented campus with their notoriously surly human companions in the early 2010s.
And some animals played unwitting parts in pranks that popped up after WWII; cows on the second floor of Nelson Hall, and goats and burros in the Founders Hall courtyard.
Look up in the sky
IF YOU WERE ON CAMPUS, you may have done a double-take when the Goodyear Blimp floated by last year, but that was a common sight at one time. U.S. military dirigibles, stationed in Samoa, often flew over during World War II, when Humboldt State was on high alert for foreign invasion.
Blimp pilots, in apparent efforts to impress the ladies, would dip the blimp gondolas low into the courtyard of Founders Hall.
Students, teachers, and bystanders got a great view of campus in the late 1980s when Biology Professor Jack Yarnell set up his 65-foot hot-air-balloon on campus for a visiting class of preschoolers—his way of getting students of all ages excited about science.
MANY ARCATA RESIDENTS were born at the Trinity Hospital between 1944, when the hospital was built, and 1972, when Mad River Hospital was built. For years after that, the building was used by the University for classes and offices, until it was largely abandoned in the early 2000s.
Since then, black mold has made the basement, formerly a morgue, uninhabitable. Ghost stories abound from the Annex. Word has it that a contractor was spooked because he’d heard noises while inspecting the building. After several visits from campus police, they found evidence of a squatter, but not of a haunting. Still, the ghostly ambiance of the Annex remains.
Another eerie mystery: A bizarre, bowling-ball-holding chimp figurine that until recently peered out from the crawlspace underneath the YES House, just out of reach. After its retrieval, the ball in the chimp’s clutches was revealed to read the cryptic initials: “J.D.”
THE EARLY DAYS of HSU saw hands-on learning taken to the extreme. Once a year starting in 1925, students and faculty would take a day off classes to clean the campus buildings and grounds and other manual labor. One work day, in 1947, saw the Redwood Bowl’s east bleachers built.
With the new field built, Saturday game-day turned Arcata into a virtual ghost town, hurting the bottom line of the retailers who relied on Saturday shoppers. So, aided by alumni donations, local lumber companies and student activity fees, the University built a lighting system and games were moved to the evening.
HERE IN REDWOOD COUNTRY, our trees are legendary—and in more ways than one.
HSU’s 240-foot-tall Sitka spruce is the tallest tree on any university campus. It’s near Fern Lake, due east of the athletics complex. Come check it out the next time you’re on campus.
And did you know some of HSU’s residents have orbited the moon?
NASA’s moon program may be long over, but memories of those trips continue to grow around campus. Astronaut Stuart Roosa took 500 seeds from five tree species, including redwoods, on the Apollo 14 lunar module, and the future trees orbited the moon 34 times before returning to Earth.
Upon their return, some of the seedlings were given to HSU, where they were unknowingly distributed and planted around campus. After the fact, retired Forestry Professor Bill Sise was able to track down where some of them were planted and still thrive on campus to this day.
THERE’S A GOOD CHANCE you’ve heard of the Coral Sea, the University’s 90-foot research vessel that’s an important contributor to HSU’s marine sciences.
The Coral Sea was built and chartered as a research vessel in 1974, nearly 25 years before HSU acquired it.
After being released, the Coral Sea helped its crew chase pirates away from a sunken Spanish galleon, recovering treasure after diving and exploring the wreckage.
After that, the Coral Sea found new life as a cocaine smuggling control center in the Caribbean. The new owners operated an air fleet that transported eight tons of cocaine into the United States before they were caught in 1984. The Coral Sea was seized and spent time as a Florida state research vessel before being sold to HSU in 1998. Now, the Coral Sea’s pursuits are decidedly less scandalous, but no less adventurous, as it takes students, faculty, and researchers on regular hunts for answers to the ocean’s great mysteries.
A View From the Hill, William R. Tanner, Ph.D.
Humboldt State University, Katy M. Tahja
The North Coast Journal
The Humboldt Historian
The Humboldt State University Library
The Mad River Union