Story by Roger Moore
While sitting in Fuzzy’s Taco Shop on Stillwater’s infamous “Strip” on a Thursday night in February – often the night many college students let off a little steam in preparation for the weekend – I thought of similar nights some four decades ago. The stories, over the years, have changed, and the bravado of students who may or may not have stripped off some clothes and run across different parts of the Oklahoma State University campus seems to grow annually.
Rewind back to the early 1970s. The situation in Washington D.C. was a made-for-hollywood movie – actually “All The President’s Men” won multiple Academy Awards – and the country was in the final difficult stages of a decades long conflict in Southeast Asia. So, who could blame a few 18-to-21 year-olds for wanting to relieve a little stress, take off a shirt or two and run wild? Trips to Florida, South Padre Island, and the Rocky Mountains were not yet the Spring Break destinations that MTV and the marketing machine of the 1980s would make them. But Spring Break, still, was a break from the stresses of a spring semester that may or may not have been going well. Perhaps, with a diploma in May, it was one last time to let loose before joining the real world outside of a college classroom.
In March of 1974 on various college campuses around Oklahoma there were reported “incidents” of unclothed students streaking in public. As with any situation involving a crowd, bravado grows with the number of willing participants. On the Thursday night before Spring Break in ’74 word spread and a short-lived tradition began. Country comedy singer Ray Stevens, to whom Weird Al Yankovic owes much, read a newspaper account of a particular streaking incident and wrote the song “The Streak” in March of 1974. Stevens’ song was not the first, but with his connections in Nashville, it was the first to go nationwide. Five days after the song was released an advertising executive streaked naked past David Niven during the televised Academy Awards and the phenomenon gained even more national attention. In other words, it went viral.
As one might imagine in the weeks leading up to Spring Break in 1975 there were flyers, contests, wagers, whispers, rumors … everything involved in the promotion of a “non-official” event. Currently, where students and locals purchase cold beverages in the drive-thru convenience of The Barn, there used to sit a large bull outside Sirloin Stockade. On many a night, prior to 1975, a student or two climbed aboard for a photo opportunity. In March of ’75 the bull took a trip north on Washington Street with students, some clothed, others not, atop like they were riding atop a Homecoming float. It was dumped into Theta Pond. Published reports accounted for some 25 unclothed students that night.
As with any growing phenomenon, “outsiders” began heading to Stillwater to partake in the annual festivities. In 1979 there were some 174 arrests for “outraging public decency” among other offenses. The original intentions of beer drinking, naked challenges, a bunch of college kids letting their hair down turned into vandalism with business owners on The Strip having to deal with more than cleaning up empty beer cans. Within six years there was a ban on drinking beer on public streets and the drinking age went from 18 to 21.
Streaking in Stillwater the Thursday before Spring Break was a short-lived tradition on The Strip that remains part of our memory through photographs of wild-eyed college kids having what was, originally, intended to be fun. The front page photos in the Stillwater Newspress – with black boxes placed where necessary – are legendary along with the stories told by some of those who imbibed. No, this scribe did not strip off any clothes and race across any campus lawns. Being just 12 years-old in 1979 I wasn’t quite ready to bare all. But while sitting in Fuzzy’s Taco Shop on a February Thursday as a 50-year-old I wondered if I’d have been able to get from DuPree’s Sports Equipment to Edmon Low Library buck naked. Probably not, somewhere around Coney Island I would trip and fall, end up on the front page of the local newspaper, and have to explain to my wife just what in the heck was I thinking.