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ISSUE 116 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/14/2003

Uncovered: Truth behind the myths - Ytterboe the dog stumbled onto campus and into students' hearts

By Bethany Jacobson
Staff Writer

Friday, March 14, 2003

The story of Ytterboe the dog, preserved with relish over 50 years, is a fine example of the St. Olaf spirit of activism, community and insanity.

Ytterboe the dog was a part-chow, part-cocker stray that stumbled onto campus in 1942 as the result of a car accident. He was taken in by the cafeteria workers and the since dismantled Ytterboe Hall (not to be confused with the current Ytterboe Hall), and was a peripatetic inhabitant of Carleton and Olaf for the next 15 years.

During this time, Ytterboe was present at “more groundbreaking events than any professor,” according to the building contractors. Due to the enthusiastic grooming efforts of certain procrastinating students, Ytterboe acquired a shaggy “poodle cut” that made him look like a lion with a thick, black mane. He also chaperoned the women’s tennis team and was interviewed by the Manitou Messenger.

Then, tragedy struck. In 1957 Minnesota passed a leash law forbidding stray dogs to run free in public, as Ytterboe was wont to do. On May 22, Ytterboe was wandering around and reportedly “nipped” the seven-year-old child of policeman Percy Morris. Morris, forever after vilified in song and story, gathered up two fellow officers and “in a rage” chased Ytterboe onto the St. Olaf campus and up the hill, where some 50 students were relaxing and studying for finals. As Ytterboe reached the stairs leading to the library from St. Olaf Ave., Morris took out his sawed-off shotgun and shot the dog, killing him. He and his two companions then put the body in the trunk of their car and drove to the dump, where they disposed of it.

Reactions at St. Olaf were immediate. Students were furious and, joining with Carleton, marched to Bridge Square to protest the killing. Over 1,000 strong, the students reportedly chanted, “"We want Percy!"” and burned an effigy of the policeman’'s body that they hung from a lamppost. “"It was a rampage,”" said Bill Narum, "a student who attended the demonstration." The Police Chief at the time, Lenno Brandt, issued an official apology for the dog’s death. Morris’s career never fully recovered from the debacle. After reading an elegy to Ytterboe, the students returned home.

Two co-eds climbed the fence into the city dump to rescue the body of Ytterboe. On May 24, St. Olaf held a funeral for Ytterboe, complete with hymns sung by the Viking Choir, condolences from then-governor Freeman, and a memorial from the Carleton student body. The ceremony was broadcast live on radio station WDGY in Minneapolis and on television. "They could have killed one of the professors and there wouldn't have been this many people out for a funeral,” said one student of the gathering, which drew over 2,500 people.

Ytterboe was buried where he fell, on the side of the hill behind the library. His grave is unmarked because college authorities refused to allow a memorial plaque on the site.

The story of Ytterboe was picked up by national and even international news. Papers in London covered the story, which also ran in Life Magazine. Students were interviewed on national talk shows and radio.

Senate declared May 22 Ytterboe Day. For 10 years students reenacted the funeral of Ytterboe in honor of the dog’'s memory.

Barbara Evans, a student who graduated from St. Olaf in 1970, described one such activity. “One ceremony involved carrying a small wooden casket to a solemn deep drum beat and ending with trumpeters on the roof of Holland Hall and the balcony of the old Ytterboe Hall playing Taps which echoed beautifully through the valley.”

Psychology Professor Howard Thorsheim, who was a St. Olaf student in the 1960’s, chaired the Ytterboe Day Commemoration Committee.

While some people say that Ytterboe still haunts the campus and barks in the middle of the night, his presence has also lasted in a more material form.

“Students haven’t forgotten,” said Associate Archivist Jeff Sauve. “"I'’ve been here four years now and I get asked more about that dog than anything else.”"

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