No, not the Birdman of Alcatraz. I mean the Birdman of McNutt, a quiet unassuming student who caused a campus-wide riot involving thousands of people. You can read an approximate account in the May 19, 1967 edition of Life Magazine or a moderately accurate retelling in the book Hoosier Folk Legends by Ronald Baker, both available at the Main Library. Or, you can read the true story of what actually happened by a person who was there and took place in the riot – namely me.
McNutt is a dormitory at Indiana University in Bloomington. It is shaped like 2 sideways, squared-off letter U’s, with a dining hall between them. Back in 1966, (I know this seems inconceivable) men and women lived in separate sections of the dormitory. As if that isn’t shocking enough, women actually had hours. All women had to be back in their dorms by 11:00 p.m. on weekdays and 1:00 a.m. on weekends. As you might expect, men drifted back to their dorms just after women’s hours.
Once the men were back, a popular activity, for those whose rooms were on McNutt’s courtyard, was to yell out the window. If you were in the east wing you would shout your opinions of the west wing in short sentences composed of short but strong words. Naturally, the westsiders yelled similar opinions back at the east wing. This went on every spring night. The northsiders were pretty much left out as they did not have a dorm wing facing them.
Until the advent of the Birdman. He was a northsider who emitted a sound that defies description, but I’ll try. It started out as a kind of a tropical bird call lasting a good ten seconds and ended in a maniacal laugh. The Birdman did this once a night, about fifteen minutes after women’s hours.
At first, he was just one more bored student shouting out the window, but because his call was unique, he soon began acquiring followers. Right after women’s hours his fans began encouraging him, “Come on Birdman, do your thing.” When he finally did, there was always a round of applause. Soon, those of us on the courtyard side of the hall started encouraging our friends on the other side to come over and listen to the Birdman. It wasn’t long before men from other dorms started wandering over to hear the strange call themselves.
This was all too much for the Resident Assistants who decided to put a stop to Birdman’s reign. Every night the RAs stood in the courtyard trying to determine which window he was yelling from. Then they would point to the suspected window and storm up the stairs hoping to catch him, but they never did. Worse, the RAs had to endure a shower of verbal abuse from Birdman’s fans, as they came back empty handed. This went on night after night. Birdman kept changing rooms, the crowds kept growing and the mood of the RAs kept worsening.
Then one magical night, the courtyard was standing room only. There was a feeling that something big was going to happen, and it did. Birdman called as usual, the crowd gave a huge roar and the RA’s made a fruitless search. However, instead of returning to their regular activities, everybody stayed put. Then the fire alarm went off. As the McNutt students excited, the large crowd gathered outside to hear the Birdman moved toward Foster Quad to make room for us.
At that point, someone started a chant which was quickly picked up by all of the members of what now had to be described as nothing less than a mob. ”We want panties! We want panties!” The horde surged toward the women’s part of Foster, and within minutes there was a snowfall of lingerie.
When Foster was played out, we headed over to Teeter, and then to Read. With every new dorm our numbers grew. After completing a circuit of all the women’s dormitories, the crowd, which had grown to several thousand, finally dispersed.
A couple of days later the Birdman was nabbed, blamed for instigating the riot and expelled from school. He turned out to be a quiet studious type with a strong GPA whom I was acquainted with (the guy, not the GPA). I do not know what happened to him after that, but it is a fact that the Birdman is now an IU legend.
In case you’re wondering, I was not able to grab any panties but did get a small strip of a nightgown which I proudly displayed on my bulletin board. And no, I did not swim in the Showalter Fountain. That happened the following year.
Here are some books which have college-life tie-ins:
The Straight Man: A Novel by Richard Russo
The Other Wes Moore: The Story of One Name and Two Fates by Wes Moore
Beach Trip: A Novel by Cathy Holton
Joyland by Stephen King
Beautiful Disaster: A Novel by Jamie McGuire
Still Alice: A Novel by Lisa Genova
Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man , A Young Man and Life’s Greatest Lessons by Mitch Albom
Hoosier Folk Legends by Ronald Baker
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe
Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire
Easy by Tammara Webber
The Coincidence of Callie and Kayden by Jessica Sorensen
Wait for You by J. Lynn
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Bad Rep by A. Meredith Walters
Book: A Novel by Robert Grudin
Alma Mater: A College Homecoming by P. F. Kluge
Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, A Young Man and Life’s Greatest Lessons by Mitch Albom
The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College by Jacques Steinberg
Cicken Soup for the College Soul: Inspiring and Humorous Stories about College by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Kimberly Kerberger and Dan Clark