Monday, April 30, 2018

Campusland Snippet #6 - The Tarzan of Anderson House

A story from Devon back in the day when her father Sheldon was a freshman. Lulu will find inspiration from it when she hits a low point...

The Tarzan of Anderson House

Late one night, someone lowered a window on the fifth floor of Anderson House, a freshman dorm on the East Quad right across from Duffy. Yelling into the darkness, he executed a perfect Tarzan call, right out of the back lot jungles of Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. It went largely unnoticed, but then he did it again the next night. And the next, and the next after that, all at precisely the same time: 11:09. 

After a week or so, a small crowd began to gather, eager for the nightly Tarzan call. That no one knew the would-be Tarzan’s identity added to the crowd’s general ironic self-amusement. (No one liked self-consciously ironic humor more than Devonites.) It was always dark and Tarzan never stuck his head out far enough to be identified. No one in Anderson was talking, either. When the Devon Daily wrote a piece about it, the crowds got larger, numbering in the hundreds each night, their excitement often fueled by alcohol. Tarzan developed a sense of drama, now delaying his nightly calls by a few minutes to build the anticipation. Other pseudo Tarzans would call out from Pope and Ketcham but these pretenders were always roundly booed by the crowd. Only the Anderson House Tarzan was worthy of their adoration. They chanted, Tar-zan, Tar-zan, building in volume until, at last, he would come. 

As the fame of the Anderson House Tarzan grew, someone at the Daily wrote, “I was reminded of those old film reels from Mussolini rallies in the 30s, where the crowd would screamIl Duce’ over and over until he appeared on the balcony.” Tarzan-themed parties sprang up around campus, serving “jungle juice” (naturally) and campus conversation was of little else. Things in East Quad eventually got so unruly that the administration felt the need to intervene. They narrowed the possible Tarzans down to five, and let it be known through the Anderson RAs that Tarzan could have one final call, and then no more. 

That night, over a thousand people gathered in East Quad, many dressed as Tarzan or Jane. There were one or two ape suits as well. The Devon Marching Band showed up, playing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” over and over (it was the only jungle-themed song they knew). Some reporters from the CBS Evening News even came, planning on doing one of those human interest pieces that come at the end of the broadcast, the ones that always start with, “And finally tonight…” All this had the effect of whipping the crowd into a frenzy. One observer later described them as a “mob, coiled as a spring.” Finally, the window opened, and a single hand emerged to silence the crowd. As a midnight calm fell over the scene, there came the most beautiful, perfectly executed Tarzan call that anyone had ever heard. When it stopped, there were a few moments of reverent silence, as if the crowd was moved by what they had just heard. 

And then everyone pretty much lost their minds.

The crowd became a mob in a matter of seconds, starting with throwing rocks at Anderson, smashing most of the windows. Were they angry that they could no longer have their Tarzan? Perhaps. Or were they just whipped up into a frenzy of self-amusement? Those asked later didn’t really have an answer. It just seemed like the thing to do. 

Having dispensed with Anderson, the mob moved out onto Dudley Street, trampling cars, tearing off their shirts, making jungle noises and beating their chests. By the time the Havenport police arrived over a dozen vehicles had been damaged. Two dozen students spent the night as guests of the city. CBS News got its story, but it was no longer of the human-interest variety. Their lead in was, “Violence Erupts on Devon Campus.” 

No one ever did figure out who Tarzan was. Sheldon said at his 25th reunion at least seven classmates claimed the Tarzan mantle for themselves, though Sheldon said the real Tarzan would never be one to take personal credit.

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