The Curious Case of the Cow on Campus

Author: Elaina Barbieri ’19

Published Date: 2/15/2019

Categories: Alumni F1RST Magazine F1RST Spring 2019 F1RST Summer 2019

Alumni Remember Spring Fling Prank

"Who put the...cow in the President's Office?" 

cow on the stairs in Main Hall

It was a seemingly random question asked by Everett Stevens ’68 within this fall’s Class of 1968 50th Reunion memory e-book. A question like that certainly raises a few eyebrows, but even more intriguing was a remark found only a few pages earlier. Another alumnus not only mentioned the cow, he specifically claimed to have helped heave the animal up the stairs after “feeding it a heavy dinner.”

Despite these strange musings in the memory book, Carroll’s hooved guest does not make too many appearances in campus lore. Carroll archivist Sue Riehl struggled to find detailed information regarding the ruse in the university’s old yearbooks, student newspapers, Waukesha Freeman clippings or photo collections. In fact, there are only two pieces of solid evidence marking this moment in Pioneer history.

One was a single sentence report on the incident in the Waukesha Freeman in 1969, simply noting that a senior prank involving a cow had occurred around the time of Spring Fling.

The other was a photo, placed last-minute in the index of the 1968 Hinakaga. It was an image of the infamous cow. The creature was captured in black-and-white, standing apprehensively on the landing of Main’s staircase. It was the only irrefutable evidence of this silly tale. 

No other details could be found. The existing evidence only created more burning questions.

What seemed to be a rather innocuous question snowballed into an investigation when the Office of Communications and Marketing reached out to two of the alleged pranksters, to see what all this cow business was about. 

The first was, ironically, Stevens himself. His question was apparently not so innocent after all. The second alumnus was David Opitz ’68, who had been called the “mastermind” behind this entire scheme. Both generously agreed to share their perspectives on what went down that fateful night so many years ago.

But before their stories are told, it’s important to consider this: 50 years have passed since that unassuming cow stepped onto campus and into legend. Time enough for memories to fade. Certain details differ within each man’s version of the story. The crew of pranksters, the location within Main where our spotted visitor spent its night and other small bits of information vary in their personal recollections.

Stevens started off by providing a crucial answer to one of the biggest issues on everyone’s mind: Why?

blurry main hall exterior with green overlay

"You don't forget pushing a cow up three stories of stairs!"

—David Optiz '68 —

“It started off with the idea to raise money for a senior class gift,” Stevens recalled. “We collected money in the PIT during coffee breaks. When only $300 was raised, we realized our options were limited. Newspapers in 1968 were running articles about the current milk surplus and photos appeared of farmers dumping out milk to decrease supply and encourage government milk subsidies. What better gift than to take one milk cow off the market?
We decided to purchase one cow and give it to Carroll College.”

There were probably better gifts to give to a rapidly growing college, but none would be quite as memorable as what Stevens had planned. 

He detailed his excursion to pick up the cow, which entailed borrowing a horse trailer from a fellow Carroll senior and going to the Milwaukee stockyards to pick up his barnyard accomplice. Unfortunately, the vehicle he was using to transport the cow broke down and he and his new bovine friend spent the evening hours alone on an industrial street. 

“I had been given a short rope, so I walked the cow down the street to a really seedy bar and asked to use their phone. I called a mutual friend and Bill showed up, in the dark, two hours later.” 

They waited until Sunday for the perfect time to strike. Stevens didn’t discuss the gritty details that pertained to bringing the cow up Main’s notoriously steep stairs, but he did mention what the cow did upon arriving at its final destination.

“We had fed the cow a lot...and the cow chose not to soil its trailer. When the cow arrived in the president’s office, it really cut loose.”

So there you have it. Or maybe not. A phone interview with the other alumnus, Opitz, provided the investigation with a slightly different account of the night’s events.

Opitz, having grown up on a farm, was able to get his hands on a young female cow that was destined for the slaughterhouse. Her grim fate was sealed due to a pregnancy that would prove fatal due to her petite size. Of course, petite for a cow is still 900 pounds. 

The adventure began with Opitz parking the trailer on Barstow Street and unloading the cow across from the former Maxon and Lowry Halls. He then snuck the animal discreetly up Main’s northwest staircase with help from friends. Two other accomplices were recruited to start a ruckus near Voorhees in order to distract the security guard patrolling campus. 

Opitz described the trek up the stairs as a comparatively easy one, all things considered. “You don’t forget pushing a cow up three stories of stairs,” he laughed when he recalled the cow’s slow but easygoing climb. 

In Opitz’s version of the story, the cow was let loose to roam the third floor. Regardless of which floor the cow was on, both stories had one big thing in common: the cow made a massive mess. 

Stevens didn’t go into detail about the cow’s discovery and subsequent departure from campus. Likewise, Opitz wasn’t entirely sure who came to find the young cow grazing in the hallway after a night in Main. Both men laid low during the following day.

Neither alumnus was fully able to forget their college antics. Opitz even mentioned getting loud “Moos” when he went to receive his diploma during Commencement. When his parents commented on the random chants, Opitz was quick to blame his cow fame on his status as a “farm boy” around campus. Quick thinking for an equally quick-witted prankster.

It’s impossible to know what truly occurred on that night 50 years ago; memories are fuzzy and the details are vague. Was the cow left to roam the hall or was it locked in the office of an unfortunate professor or university president? Which gang of friends was involved in the heist? What unlucky soul found the cow first and who was the one tasked to clean up the mess?

The only ones who can really know the truth are the long-gone cow and the stone-lined walls of Main Hall. Sadly, neither witness is available for comment. 

More Moos

Like many great legends, there are always new details waiting to be discovered. When the above story about a now-infamous prank that involved a group of students sneaking a cow onto campus appeared in the spring 2019 edition of F1RST, new informants came forward to shed more light on this epic tale. 

The first new source was Dan Steffen, a former Carroll faculty member who taught physical education until his retirement in 2001. He reached out to share his knowledge of the prank, particularly of the one person who was unfortunate enough to be caught with the cow during the heist: Mike Gray ’68. 

Through the information provided by Steffen, we contacted Gray, who recalled the mischievous event fondly. “We were lucky we got away with it … fortunately nobody got expelled.” 

Gray claimed he had gone along for the ride and just so happened to be caught holding the cow at the wrong time. His accomplices bolted when a security guard showed up and inquired about the students’ presence inside Main Hall after-hours with a cow. 

Alone, and with no good excuse to explain the 900-pound animal next to him, Gray hesitantly presented his ID to the campus guard. After a few moments of silent panic, Gray then dropped the cow’s lead line and dashed to a fraternity house across the street. 

The next day, Gray and some of his fellow cow cohorts were discussing their papers with a professor on the second floor of Main. The mess from the cow was still being cleaned in the hall. During that meeting full of anxious students, the dean stuck his head into the professor’s office and let out a loud and knowing “moo.” 

“To this day we can smile at it,” Gray said, still amazed at the turn of events.

Stay Informed With F1RST Magazine

Panoramic View of campus