“It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s…Schiller!” On Nov. 10, 1962, a Carleton football game versus Lawrence was interrupted by a strange sight. A helicopter flew over Laird Field, dropping as low as 100 feet. Swinging back and forth at the end of a 50-foot chain attached to a landing rail was a bust of the German poet Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, sporting a red tie. The word was passed through the crowd, “It’s Schiller!” and an uproar ensued.
Some of you readers may be perplexed at this point. So we must back up a bit. In the 1920s and 1930s (as documented in the Carleton archives), a bust of Schiller led a placid life in Carleton’s Scoville Library, in quiet communion with nearby busts of Shakespeare and Garfield (the president, not the cat). At some point the bust was exiled to the storage room in the solarium of the library where it was found in 1957 by a student named Bruce Herrick, who thought it would make a mighty fine dorm room decoration. Other students also admired this bust and in the years to come Schiller was either purloined or passed among them, pop-ping up on odd occasions from hiding places. Schiller also spent some time decorating the garden of Carleton President Larry Gould, whose penchant for wearing red ties was passed along to the bust upon Gould’s retirement after the 1961-62 school year.
So, red tie and all, here was Schiller, on Nov. 10, 1962, swinging above his admirers from a helicopter that had been rented from the Rosemount air-port for $60 by Carleton fresh-men Dan Jepsen and Bill Kolb, using donations from other frosh. (The pilot, a St. Olaf graduate, also took the helicopter over a St. Olaf game in progress, but no one recognized Schiller.) After Schiller’s aerial adventure, Jepsen returned the relatively unscathed bust to its home in the Lyman Lakes drainpipe.
Schiller was not so lucky during an appearance at a football game in October of 1965. Arriving on horseback, Schiller was dropped by his guardian and the bust busted in two. One floor of the Goodhue men’s dorm ended up with the head, another with the base and shoulders, and the two floors played a football game to see which floor would gain full possession. The bust was then reconstructed, spending some time in Duluth for R & R. Due to its fragility and the slings and arrows of its outrageous fortune, the bust has had several reincarnations since then and has occasionally dropped out of sight entirely.
In the spring of 1977 the bust was treated to a shopping spree in downtown Northfield and was pictured trying on ties in Perman’s clothing store. The bust also tried on eyeglasses, looked at lingerie and made a stop at Tiny’s Smoke Shop for a cigar and a hot dog. Then in June, Schiller (wearing a red tie and mortar board) was escorted to the commencement stage on a motorcycle and was handed a diploma by Associate Dean Chuck Carlin, thus becoming a member of the Class of 1977.
But Schiller’s greatest glory came in June of 2000 when President Bill Clinton gave the commencement address at Carleton and held up high what he called “a souvenir from my stay here.” To loud cheers and applause, Clinton said, “Someone asked me if I would give this fellow a ride on Air Force One, to sort of add to the legend, you know? And I thought, why not?” So it was that Schiller, once dangled rather ignominiously from a helicopter, rode in Air Force One with President Clinton, who thoughtfully put his signature on the bust.
Carleton archivist Eric Hillemann notes that the saga of the Schiller bust in Carleton lore is now 50 years old, one of the longest school traditions. Indeed, Schiller lives!
Information for this story was found in the archives of the Northfield Historical Society and Carleton College. Photos courtesy of Carleton College Archives.