Palo Alto History. Org

Senior Pranks: Taking it to the Limit

There was one subject on the lips of graduating seniors at Palo Alto High School during their 2007 graduation--- and it had nothing to do with summer internships or starting college in the fall.  Rather, it was the fate of Blaine Marchant, the graduating senior whose spray-painted and tireless Volvo station wagon was found parked upside down on a school deck in the wee hours of June 5th, 2007.  Although, most Paly seniors saw the prank as harmless, school administrators were not amused.  Marchant was arrested, spent seven hours in county jail and faced the possibility of felony charges.

There was an immediate backlash from students and parents who felt that the response was heavy-handed.  More than 100 seniors took to buying $5 T-shirts asking the administration to “Free Tom,” a reference to Marchant’s nickname.  And some 300 people joined a web group in support of Marchant on Facebook.  Paly then seemed to do at least a little backpedaling.  Original estimates of the $3,000 worth of damage were lowered to $530 and Marchant was allowed to walk in Paly’s graduation ceremonies --- where he received a standing ovation.  

Of course, senior pranks are nothing new at Palo Alto’s high schools.  For some, graduation is not complete before they streak the campus or scale high walls to paint their class year on the school roof.   Libraries and pools are often in danger during a high school’s final weeks. One year, students emptied all of the books out of the Gunn High School Library and dumped them in the quad, while another year the library was host to 75 mice and some assorted pigeons and chickens.  In 1968, the pool at Paly played host to a live shark from Monterey Bay, while another year it was completely filled with old tires.

And 1977 saw a particularly artistic stunt, as a group of Paly seniors calling themselves the Michelob Gang spent most of the night arranging beer bottles along the roofs of the buildings surrounding the quad, producing a rather beautiful spectacle.

But nobody was laughing after the unfortunate prank that rattled Palo Alto in 1994.  At 10:15 in the morning on June 8th, an old water fountain on the Gunn High main quad suddenly exploded.  A cloud of smoke and flames up to thirty feet long flew in all directions, showering students with smoke and white-hot burning embers.  Students relaxing, strolling and signing yearbooks on the quad fled as the scene devolved into chaos.  Eleanor Lin and her friend Catherine Meyer were seriously injured, receiving second and third degree burns.  18 others received minor injuries.  News of the smoke bomb made CNN and was covered extensively throughout the Bay Area.

Police later arrested three 18 year-old seniors who confessed to the stunt.  David Chin, Robby Roberts, and Brendan Wheatley said that they were trying to create a smoke bomb, but that the prank had gone wrong.  The boys pleaded guilty to one felony count each and were placed on probation.  After meeting a list of conditions (including speaking to an all-school assembly at Gunn the following year), the charges were reduced to misdemeanors. Lin and Meyer received $100,000 and $50,000 respectively from PAUSD and two of the boys were deemed able to pay.

Of course, no one has ever defended the Gunn pranksters of 1994.  It was a poorly executed and very dangerous stunt.  But Marchant’s overturned Volvo (and the “zero tolerance” reaction from school administrators) prompted great discussion.  Each year as graduation day approaches, the question remains, “How much is too much?” []

 Our Reader's Memories:

"By the way, two of the four members of the Mr. Michelob gang were Mormons, at
least one of who went on to BYU.  The impressive thing about the beer bottle
display was that these guys actually drank all that beer, and it was a lot."   

"At Paly in 1972, one special day it was raining and it got rowdy and all these boys got cardboard and somehow they managed to fill up the inside of the building with water.  They sprayed it and opened the door.  And they were sliding down the halls, it was the strangest thing.  And nobody stopped them.  I was just watching and we were all just watching and clapping and cheering.  It was really fun.  I'll never forget that day, in Winter 1972."

Cubberley Senior Prank:
"Someone put a toilet on the top of the totem pole in (I think) 1969."
"Best Cubberley Prank:
Early 70's (74?)
A wandering Dinosaur from "Lost World" Felton (Across Hwy 17 from Santa's
Village) somehow found its way to the top of the Theatre... or was it the Pavilion?...
Need to find photo, it was cool... Fun times..."
"I can remember someone putting a plastic but real looking weed plant on top of
the statue in the amphitheatre.  Or the time we bricked up the math door over the
weekend so as not to take exams the following Monday. My classic prank was
along with buddies, collected locker combinations during the year then over the
summer switched everyone's personal contents with all the lockers.

I've got one more prank I was involved in.
Homecoming between Gunn and Cubberly High Football teams.  We put fish
emulison on the visitors bleachers. Sure did stink...."

Send Us Your Memory!

The damaged car in 2007. (PA Weekly)

Blaine Marchant in 2007. (SF Gate)

Marchant was eventually allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies. (PA Weekly)