Friedrich Schiller

May 18, 2016 at 7:15 pm

The odd Carleton mania for stealing and periodically displaying a plaster bust of the German poet dates from 1957. Schiller has been shattered several times, glued back together at least twice, and replaced with a new replica on occasion, but the tradition lives on.

The original plaster bust of the German poet had long been displayed in the Scoville Library reading room. In 1957, the year that Scoville Library was turned into a classroom building, a student named Bruce Herrick (Class of ’58) found the statue abandoned in a storage room and took it with him for a room decoration. When he moved the next year into an off-campus house, he placed the bust on the living room mantle. At that point is was purloined by men from another house. The Carletonian reports that the original owner “wasn't too grieved, as he saw a healthy rivalry developing over a useless cause.” From that point on, Schiller was stolen and re-stolen, by one off-campus house or dormitory floor after another. The temporary owners would go to great lengths to protect the prize (often chaining it to pillars or hiding it in such places as “the chapel basement, behind the boiler in an air vent at the bottom of one of the spires”), which meant that prospective owners had to go to great lengths to capture the statue.

The all-campus rivalry soon developed an additional protocol: the “owners” were obliged to display Schiller at least once a year at a public occasion, to prove possession and risk the prize.

A Sampler of Adventures with Schiller

ONE | Schiller took to the skies in 1962, tied to a 50-foot chain and dangling from a helicopter over a Carleton football game. Daniel Jepsen ’66 and William Kolb ’66 rented the helicopter with contributions from Severance Hall residents. Schiller wore a red tie for the occasion in honor of President Larry Gould, and after a quick tour of Northfield and a swing past a St. Olaf game (the pilot was an Ole) he was greeted by a standing ovation from Carls gathered at Laird Stadium.

TWO | Attempting a quick getaway after appearing at a 1965 football game, Schiller took off on horseback. Unfortunately, an air-horn blast spooked the horse, and its rider, Kenneth Berk ’62, dropped the bust. Schiller’s head shattered, but his shoulders and base remained intact. His keepers learned that 3M is the best brand of glue for cranial repairs, according to a note sealed inside the bust in case of future mishaps. (See the comments section below for more details about this adventure!)

THREE | Considering his habit of flirting with death, Schiller needs reinforcements. The bust has been replaced several times over the years, most notably in 1996 at the Great Schiller Exchange, coordinated by a mysterious group called 85 Lost Sheep, who subjected President Steve Lewis to a complex set of instructions and intense negotiations when he offered to replace a damaged bust. After an intricate ceremony involving masked students, recorded messages, scuba divers emerging from the Cannon River, and the new bust’s exodus in a canoe accompanied by a recording of Elvis Presley singing “Hound Dog,” Lewis’s reaction summed up the exchange: “Well, that was a bit on the elaborate side.”

FOUR | While Schiller’s passport is decorated with stamps, a 2000 winter break road trip through Mexico with Zach Handler ’00, Scott Hynek ’01, and Joel Sankey ’00 is among his most memorable travels. Schiller took so well to the warm climate and had such a wonderful time climbing El Pico de Orizaba that he decided to stay in the village of Tlachichuca. Handler and cohorts published detailed instructions (in Spanish) for retrieving him in the Carletonian, and Schiller managed to make his way back to campus for a spring Knights concert. Skeptics question his authenticity, however, and many suspect the real Schiller is still sunning south of the border.

FIVE | At Commencement 2000, Schiller befriended the president of the United States: Bill Clinton. The two took the podium together while Clinton delivered the commencement address, and afterward the president gave Schiller a ride on Air Force One. Enthralled by his brush with power, Schiller asked Clinton for an autograph, which he now sports on the back of his bust.

SIX | In March 2010, Schiller made his national TV debut on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.” Stephen Colbert held the familiar bust in his arms when he ended the show by saying, “In the words of Friedrich Schiller, good night.” The appearance was orchestrated with the help of "inside man" Peter Gwinn ’93, a writer for the popular fake-news show.


  • August 11 2016 at 11:31 am
    Susan Hvistendahl

    This Ole (Class of 1968) wrote about Schiller in "Historic Happenings at Carleton College" published last year. Included are photos of Schiller with Larry Gould in 1962, Pres. Bill Clinton at commencement address in 2000 and Steven Poskanzer dining with Schiller in 2010. Perhaps my favorite story is about Nov. 10, 1962, when Schiller was dangled from a helicopter over Laird Field.

  • July 25 2018 at 7:01 pm
    I am currently in possession of Schiller -- he is every bit as wondrous as one might expect.
  • April 30 2019 at 8:32 pm
    One of Many
    As an alum, class of ‘79, I was thrilled by a recent, unexpected chance to spend time with Schiller in his campus hiding place, in the company of the bold students who secreted him away earlier this year. Having 1 degree of separation with Bruce Herrick, this was a great honor.
  • December 27 2019 at 7:00 pm
    Vicki Jess, Ole Class of 1966

    I, too, loved the fly over at the St. Olaf football game. As a Freshman, it gave me my first insight into the Carleton College student body and solidified all the rumors and stories about Carleton and its reckless and wild reputation (as, obviously, compared to St. Olaf which set the standard for prim and proper, at least as I saw it back then).

    My LEAST favorite public display of the bust was in 1965 when I met Kenneth Berk, et al., while foolishly riding my horse on the wrong (Carleton) side of the river. He convinced me, a naive, innocent Ole, to assist in the display of the bust he and his accomplices pulled from the trunk of a car. I won't use the word "kidnapped," but I recall a rather severe case of reluctance as we were led into the football stadium. He was boosted up behind my saddle, and off we went in front of a screaming crowd.

    As Carls swarmed out of the stand to "re-steal" the bust (or maybe to pet the horse) I lost control of a frightened off-the-track-thoroughbred who assumed an oval track and a roaring crowd meant run for your life. I asked Ken if he had ever ridden a horse before and he breathed "no" seconds before falling off the rear end of my big, bay Thoroughbred. I glanced back to see the busted bust, and we continued around the track as though in the Kentucky Derby. We escaped the stadium and galloped toward St. Olaf and safety. We were, however, chased and hounded by a few Carls, perhaps friends of the unfortunate Mr. Berk.

    In retrospect, they might have wanted to thank me for my assistance.  Irrationally, however, I was frightened and chose to hide in the bushes along the river bed, to swim/splash across the river after dark. I told NO ONE except my trusted Ole roommate. Til now.

  • June 10 2021 at 7:06 pm
    William Solberg

    A fitting tribute from the class of ‘58 that originated the Schiller legend is a sculpture of the bard escaping from his captors through a dorm window. The statue was installed in the Gould Library in concert with the class’s 55th reunion.

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