In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Penn Jillette’s joke falls flat, the town decides on Prohibition, and more.
November 3, 1975—Penn Jillette (now of Penn & Teller) tries to garner publicity for his upcoming performances with the “The Asparagus Valley Cultural Society” by staging a joke attempt to jump over five Volkswagen Rabbits on a unicycle in front of Murray-Dodge Hall, where the group will later perform. The joke falls flat; 2,000 onlookers (mostly not affiliated with Princeton University) express mob outrage when he simply rides his unicycle off a ramp instead. “People were calling me a fraud, when I knew OF COURSE I was a fraud. That was the point,” Jillette later says. “I found myself playing a joke without a punch line.”
Penn Jillette and his “Unicycle Jump” set up outside Murray-Dodge Hall. Photos from the Daily Princetonian.
November 5, 1918—Princeton voters decide whether Prohibition will continue in town after World War I is over. The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ultimately renders this question moot, and national prohibition of alcohol remains in effect for approximately 14 years. When the ban is finally lifted, Princetonians will have their first legal drinks in 1933, at the Tap Room at the Nassau Inn.
November 6, 1844—Election results for the New Jersey 3rd Congressional District are disputed on the grounds that students voted in Princeton (both from The College of New Jersey and Princeton Theological Seminary). The election was close—John Runk won by 16 votes. His opponent, Isaac G. Farlee, said that the Princeton students should not have voted; further, that since Farlee thought it could be assumed that most voted for Runk, he should win the seat instead. The House of Representatives itself ended up deciding the issue, voting that Princeton students were, indeed, legal residents of Princeton and eligible to vote in the district, setting a precedent regarding the definition of “resident.”
November 9, 1969—A fire almost completely destroys 76-year-old Whig Hall. The cause is determined to be a group of students smoking cigarettes inside at around 4:00 AM.
For last week’s installment in this series, click here.
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