Throwback Monday: A Gnome Origin Story

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On April 22, 2010, the Yale Daily News dutifully reported on the thievery and origin story of Davenport’s beloved mascot. The story carried so much traction that it was reported on by national newspapers such as US News.
Here is the YDN article from that fateful day:

Davenport may have been the most popular residential college in a recent News survey, but D’porters have failed to do one important thing: protect their beloved gnome mascot.

Early Wednesday morning, the long-standing rivalry between Davenport and Pierson colleges resurfaced when a team of six to eight Piersonites (calling themselves the Gnomatic Travelocity Commission) stole the almost 300-pound gnome statue from the Davenport dining hall around 4:30 a.m., according to one of the bandits, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Pierson students awoke to an e-mail heralding the caper, with a poem and a photo of the gnome standing in the Pierson roof, donning a bright yellow Pierson T-shirt.

“It was very James Bond-like,” the anonymous Piersonite said. While explaining some of the details of the theft, he said members of the group “may have” broken in through the Davenport service entrance on York Street, but he refused to comment further.

The Pierson burglar said his team dodged several obstacles, including fire trucks responding to a 3 a.m. fire alarm in Davenport, students passing through the two colleges and a Bulldog Days event in the Davenport dining hall. He said members of the team distracted passersby who came close to discovering the theft in progress. The group then used an elevator shared by the two colleges to bring the statue to the Pierson seminar room, perching the gnome — clad in a Pierson freshman move-in day T-shirt — on the roof outside the seminar room window.

Once news got out about the burglary, a war of words —or rather, e-mails — ensued. Davenporter Kat Lau ’13 sent a spirited e-mail to the entire Davenport community, giving out the e-mail address Pierson-wide panlist and urging her fellow Davenporters to spam the more than 400 members of the panlist to demand the return of their beloved gnome.

“After a year of relatively civil relations between Pierson and Dport,” Lau wrote, “this is an outrage, and we must act.”

After Pierson students received about a dozen e-mails Wednesday afternoon containing the words “RETURN THE GNOME,” reply-all havoc ensued. Within about 15 minutes, Pierson College Council President Michael Chao ’11 said by e-mail that the Pierson panlist was disabled .

Barbara Munck ’84, a senior administrative assistant in Davenport (and former student in Pierson College), said the Pierson Master’s Office contacted her Wednesday morning to let her know that the gnome was in Pierson. Pierson administrators then hired a moving team to remove the gnome from the roof, Munck said, out of fear that it might fall on a passerby.

The theft was only one in a long history of attempts to steal the Davenport gnome. Munck recalled other successful captures, including one in the late 1990s when the Men of JE, a “fake” a cappella group affiliated with Jonathan Edwards College, stole the statue and engraved their names in the book that the gnome holds. The damage has since been repaired, Munck said.

Davenport alumnus James Schulte ’07 experienced a gnome burglary attempt first-hand. During the Davenport renovations in spring 2005, Schulte said, he entered the Swing Space Master’s Office, the gnome’s temporary home, after normal hours to get a spare key for a student who was locked out of his room. Schulte was surprised to find a stowaway who had infiltrated the office in a big refrigerator box that had been delivered by Piersonites disguised as UPS men. After the interloper fled, Schulte said he chased and caught him, getting him to admit his intention to steal the gnome.

“I saved the gnome, but I didn’t even know what I was saving,” Schulte said.

Perhaps worse for the would-be thief, Munck said she had worked late that night, and so the Piersonite must have been sitting in his box for hours longer than he expected, only to fail in his attempt to steal the gnome. Munck said she had heard noises while working but had been unable to identify the source before leaving the office that day.

After this incident, Schulte said there was some debate about where to place the statue in the newly renovated college. In the end, he said, the gnome was put in the dining hall servery, where it currently resides. He added that the Davenport Master Richard Schottenfeld decided at that time that the risks of theft were worth keeping the gnome in a prominent place, given the statue’s symbolic status.

In a prior life, Davenport’s mascot was a mere statue. Thomas Shaw ’99 originally brought the gnome to college in 1997 to decorate his room, Munck said. Shaw, a resident of Davenport’s party suite, the Cottage, donated the gnome statue when he graduated, at which point it became the college’s mascot.

David Valdez ’01 recalled the first time he saw the statue arrive in the college, in a huge wooden crate. After that point, he said, the gnome became the emblem of Davenport, which explains the moral outrage whenever it gets pilfered, which Munck said has happened about five times.

“It’s like having your little brother stolen,” he quipped. “It’s kidnapping to the highest degree.”

Munck, too, said gnome theft is “kind of tacky” and that there are other ways to display friendly rivalry that do not involved vandalism.

While three Davenporters interviewed Wednesday said the kidnapping added excitement to an otherwise typical day, vengeance is still on the minds of many. Once when members of Ezra Stiles College stole the gnome in 2000, Valdez said, D’porters struck back by stealing the Stiles hammock. Lau, who encouraged her fellow Gnomes via e-mail to “brainstorm” ideas, admitted that what will happen after Wednesday’s theft remains to be determined.

“I don’t know if anything is going to happen. Our dining hall staff is really upset and wants us to do something,” she joked. “If we did anything, it wouldn’t be a big deal. We wouldn’t steal anything from Pierson because there’s nothing to steal there.”

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