Warm summer nights in Hanover lend themselves to outdoor music, late-night swimming and exploits such as hauling a 9’ by 5’ pong table across Webster Ave to your house of affiliation. That is, if you’re taking part in the friendly tradition of stealing from other Greek houses and setting off amicable wars of retaliation. The majority of Dartmouth students are Greek-affiliated, providing ample opportunity for inter-house shenanigans. Some frequently stolen items include pong tables and composite pictures of sorority and fraternity classes, but some ambitious thieves set their sights on more cumbersome or elusive objects.
Typically, these clandestine operations go off without the thieves getting caught. According to Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority vice president Lily Steckel ’22, KDE had a wooden car — the wooden cut-out car that the sorority uses for their signature WoodstocKDE concert every year — stolen from outside their house by members of Chi Gamma Epsilon fraternity during the 2020 fall term. The members of KDE managed to avenge themselves by carrying off the fraternity’s grill, according to Steckel. It wasn’t until a week later, when the brothers of Chi Gam arrived in their backyard for a barbeque, that they realized their grill had gone missing.
The ideal steal-worthy item is something that would be hilarious to take, slightly offbeat and utterly inconvenient for the targeted house, according to Chi Gam member Gabe Kotsonis ’22. For example, shower heads from a frat bathroom fulfill these criteria, making them a perfect target for thieves in this kind of prank war.
According to a member of Bones Gate fraternity, who asked to remain anonymous, one morning this summer, the members of BG were startled to find a particularly jarring stolen object: a mounted deer head made its way to a popular hangout room on their third floor. The previous night, some thieves pulled off an exhilarating steal from Zeta Psi fraternity that involved at least a few high-speed getaways and misleading house searches. The striking new home decor didn’t last too long in BG before the members of Zete demanded it be returned.
BG member Kieran O’Day ’22 said that geographic location has everything to do with the pranking business among Greek houses. For example, O’Day said due to BG’s proximity to Sigma Nu fraternity, the members of Bones Gate dig massive holes in Sig Nu’s backyard. This multi-person operation involves at least a few hole-diggers and someone to keep an eye on Sig Nu’s basement windows, which are — for better or worse, depending on your perspective — located at ground-level so that residents can see what’s happening in the backyard. If the lookout spots an angry brother running towards the front door, the diggers disband.
O’Day also said it has become a tradition for BG to hurl eggs across the street at Chi Gam after house meetings. These shenanigans were all fun and games until an unknown pitcher from BG broke a window, causing the presidents of the fraternities to sort out the damages.
“It’s nice that we have an outlet for our shenanigans,” O’Day said. “Although, we do try not to cause lasting damage.”
Try as they might to avoid creating lasting damage, sometimes these games get out of hand among houses. Kotsonis recalled a frantic twenty minutes during a recent weekend wherein the brothers of Chi Gam had to stop a moped thief in their tracks and, just minutes later, stomp out a pizza box that was set on fire in their front lawn.
Psi Upsilon fraternity member Henry Prestegaard ’22 also said that members of his house felt some guilt the morning after egging Theta Delta Chi fraternity — when they realized that the victims were hosting an alumni event the following day.
However, when it comes to stealing, students usually take the high road. The system’s informal code of conduct says that when somebody knocks on the door of a Greek house and requests a return, the stolen object must be turned over immediately.
“I think it all facilitates lighthearted relations among the houses,” Kotsonis said. “[It] puts you on a level playing field, in a way.”
In addition to thievery, there are also intra-house prank wars. According to Steckel, these endeavors bring together those carrying out the stealing.
“Planning a prank is an automatic bonding experience,” Steckel said. “[In the fall,] it bonded us a lot, so we kept hanging out and got really close.”
Next time you see an out-of-place object in the front yard of a house on Webster or spy a group of students running off with a pong table in the wee hours of the night, know that you are witnessing a sacred Dartmouth tradition that plays out in secret during the night.