Hugh Troy

“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.…
  • Hugh Troy was tall so he would hide change on ledges of buildings in Manhattan and retreive them at a later date — while walking with an unsuspecting friend he would ask for change and then go over to a ledge and retrieve the previously hidden change.
  • Hugh had a friend who worked for Con Ed or such and along with some other friends the dug up part of the street in front of St. Patrick’s while the Police directed trafic around them. After digging for a while they loaded up their tools leaving the hole with the police directing trafic.
  • Hugh reportedly bought a park bench and would go to the park and sleep on the bench until the police would attempt to chase him at that point with the help of an accomplace they would pick up the bench and walk off. When stopped by the police and brought before a judge he would produce his receipt.
  • Hugh had a basement appartment in the city that hand a large front window that allowed a view of the appartment from the street, and when the bathroom door was left open the toilet was visible so he painted a nude that appeared to be sitting on the toilet. This was apparently a head turner.

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.

Fancying herself a patron of the arts, a rich and famous lady planned a benefit carnival and art auction at her estate. Her affair was strictly by invitation, the only people to attend being the cream of the social register crowd. Commanding various artists, including Hugh, to volunteer their services, she asked them to bring their paints and brushes.

Arriving at her mansion, they were escorted into her lordly presence. “I’m giving you just two minutes of my time,” she told them imperiously. “Your task is simple. Each of you is to paint a picture for the auction. You’ll find easels and canvases on the terrace. Please get to work right now. My carnival starts in two hours.”

Selecting four of the largest canvases, Hugh retired to a quiet corner of the terrace to paint. In short order he finished his task. Carrying them down to the big stone gate beside a busy highway, he put them on display around the entrance to the estate. They were signs:


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.

See also:

Home Home email email

On This Day in SniggleryApril 13, 1844: The New York Sun prints a “news” item written by Edgar Allan Poe on a recently-completed transatlantic manned balloon flight. (See News Trolls for more info)