“People should be mystified more than they are. Life moves along too regularly.”
— Hugh Troy
Hugh Troy is one of the prankster hall-of-famers. Seems like he couldn’t stop playing practical jokes.
Troy pranked a Cornell University professor who used to leave his galoshes out by the classroom door. During the lecture, he quietly painted them to look like feet, then covered them with soot to restore their black color. When the professor walked outside, the soot washed away so that he appeared to be walking barefoot.
Troy also used a trash can made from a rhinoceros leg, suspended from ropes, to make a track in the snow down from the campus to the lake. A zoölogy professor identified the tracks, and afterwards many people refused to drink tap water that originated in the lake, thinking that a rhino had crashed through the ice and drowned therein.
Writes one memory hole lifeguard:
My father knew Hugh Troy and we visited him when I was a boy, it was around Christmas and he had a tree cut in half so it looked like it grew through the piano.…
In 1935 the New York City Museum of Modern Art held a Van Gogh exhibition. On the theory that many attendees were more interested in the sensational aspects of Van Gogh’s life than in his art, Troy molded a piece of beef, placed it in a velvet-lined box and attached a label that read: “This is the ear which Vincent van Gogh cut off and sent to his mistress, a French prostitute, Dec. 24, 1888.” Troy smuggled this supplementary exhibit into the museum, where it attracted the greatest crowds.
He once stood in a manhole, put a blanket around his legs, and asked passers-by for change, pretending to be an amputee.
Troy kept a life-sized fake balsa-wood model of a fire hydrant in the trunk of his car that he would use to mark his favorite parking space in front of the door to his apartment in New York City while he was away.
When overwhelmed by worthless paperwork as an Army lieutenant during World War Two, Troy invented a new form, the “Flypaper Report,” which was supposed to list the number of flies caught per sheet of flypaper per week, and periodically total and average these numbers. He submitted carbon copies with his regular reports to Washington as a gag.
To his surprise, his peers in other units started pestering him about where he got his flypaper reports, as their counterparts at the Pentagon had started to complain that they were missing from their reports!
He borrowed his uncle’s professional-grade camera and posted notices at Cornell reminding the freshman class to assemble for their class photo. The ritual of having the freshman class pose at the base of White Hall for their photo whilst the upperclassmen bombard them with bucketsful of water from the upper floor windows continued for some years.
He once painted the bench at a bus stop to resemble a series of toilet seats.
Troy was even able to use his reputation as a prankster to subvert expectations:
In a stationery store, he bought a supply of paper with a faint design of meandering lines. He had it cut Christmas-card style and printed with only a border and this message: SOAK THIS CARD IN TEPID WATER FIVE MINUTES — HUGH TROY. The scores of friends who received his cards would try warmish water but no design or message would appear. So they’d figure they’d used water too warm or too cold and would try again. They’d try and try. Only after their card came apart in soggy fragments would they realize they’d been had.
And that’s really just the half of it. If you want to learn more, try to get your hands on a copy of the out-of-print book Laugh With Hugh Troy.
|On This Day in Snigglery||December 12, 1921: Ferdinand Waldo Demara, “The Great Impostor,” is born. (See Impostors for more info)|