The close of the spring semester last May brought with it the desperate anticipation of summer, the frenzied stress of finals, the end of Tony Marx’s term as president of Amherst and a combination of all three.
Upperclassmen may remember coming into Valentine and finding all the framed pictures in the dining hall, formerly of college history and old buildings, changed to photographs of our 18th president.
Contrary to popular belief, the administration was not involved in the ordeal. It was, in fact, a group of students who seem to either have broken in at night or hidden inside of Val for up to five hours between the time when the last meal was served to when the workers left later that night. The Valentine staff, however, did not see anyone suspicious during their night shifts.
Charlie Thompson, Director of Dining Services, said that a few hours after Val closed one evening, the staffers returned in the morning to find all the pictures switched. Other Val staffers estimated that it must have taken a whole army of students to do it all by themselves in one night, as there were more than 50 framed photographs and each of which had a new photo inserted.
A few frames and walls suffered damage in the form of cracked glass, scratched walls and curled descriptive labels, but overall the job was neatly done. Leftover fingerprints inside the glass in some frames meant the responsible pranksters must have gone through every single photograph in Val, removed the frames and replaced the original photographs with the new ones, some of which were of very recent events.
Although Thompson said some frames still had the originals buried behind the pictures of Marx, there was some concern over where the originals ended up, as some of the frames that decorated the Russ Wing included valuable original art donated by alumni.
The answer lies in Amherst’s attic of history: Archives & Special Collections. Over the summer, a package was sent from the President’s Office to the Archives enclosing what student workers (including yours truly) recognized as the original photographs from Val. Apparently the pranksters left all the photographs on Tony Marx’s doorstep, along with a note that read: “We hereby render unto you that which is Amherst’s — may you always remember the Fairest College. Sincerely yours, The students.” The President, though flattered, did not know what to do with the photographs, and so sent them to the folks over at Archives. “That’s what a lot of people on campus do when they know something shouldn’t be thrown away, but they don’t know what else to do with it,” explained the Head of Archives, Mike Kelly.
Several students noticed Marx himself walking around Val in the days after the prank. He joked about it with a few students in the front room and walked out half-laughing and half-confused.
Overall, most people found it quite entertaining, but also did not realize it was a prank. Danielle Trevino ’14 thought it was Val Management’s doing: “I certainly didn’t think it was a prank. Tony Marx was leaving and I simply thought it was a silent tribute to his departure. I also thought they were trying to brighten up Val, because, let’s face it, that bronzed man could illuminate a black hole if he wanted to.” She also noticed that in the hurried confusion of replacing all the pictures, the perpetrators neglected changing the captions on the descriptive labels. For example, under a photo of Marx in a snowball fight with students hung a label titled “Women in Athletics.”
Although the students responsible have not yet been found, there was not much damage done, and most people enjoyed the entertaining décor while it lasted. If anything, the prank added a touch of humor to finals week. It was a good reminder that even though Amherst students are a studious bunch, it is important to have a good laugh once in a while. And it made students much more aware of the framed art all over campus. Kelly took the joke well and put it best: “It was a perfectly fun and harmless prank. It was obviously done out of affection for our departing president…If it makes people think about the stuff hanging on the walls of Val, that’s a good thing. If it makes someone curious about where those photos came from and what other documents of College history exist in the Archives, that’s even better.”