Bragging about pranks had its consequences

Published 5:43 pm Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Teenage pranks, back in the 1960s at least, were generally centered on homecoming and Halloween, both of which fell in October and usually pretty close to one another.

Actually, October always seemed to be a good time for pranks, and it may have had as much to do with the weather as the events. Cool nights, clear skies and young blood combined to make mischief enticing.

It was that way long before us, mind you. Surry County residents of an earlier generation, most of whom have passed and thus can’t confirm or deny their culpability, educated me as to the things they did.

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The classic, apparently repeated in communities far and wide, was to hoist a buggy to some flat roof, be it a business or schoolhouse, and leave it there for the owner to discover the next day.

And for as long as peanuts were dried in shocks, there was always a group of kids willing to burn one. That, I never participated in. I was too sensitive to the money it cost a farmer during those tight times.

At old Smithfield High School, an athletic prankster climbed to the top of the steel flagpole. Co-conspirators then hoisted old tires up to him and he gingerly lifted them over the top of the pole and dropped them to the bottom. The next morning, a stack of rubber tires had to be cut with lopping shears (this was long before reciprocating saws) so they could be removed.

Another year found another group of pranksters across Cary Street climbing the roof of an old bar that faced the high school. There they painted a large 64 — their graduating year — on the tin roof. Each year after that the roof or barn siding got a new graduating class’ year applied until the high school was relocated in 1980.

In a bolder move, some of the same bunch climbed to the top of the new high school wing that now houses Paul D. Camp and the Smithfield Library and hung bed sheets over the side. They were tied to old tires that had been hauled up to the rooftop as anchors. Printed on the sheets were “Go Packers” and other school spirited slogans. They even nailed boards across the bottom of the sheets to hold them flat against the building.

What seemed like a great prank at the time, one that wouldn’t hurt a soul, was just that until later that night when the wind began to blow furiously. Those bed sheets began flailing, and the boards nailed to the bottom broke a couple of windows.

School workers and police had to go to the rooftop and cut loose the signs.

Pranksters just can’t stand not letting their friends know who did the prank, so these rocket scientists painted their initials on one of the sheets. The next day in government class, assistant principal and teacher Dick Saunders walked into class with the sheet and named every person on it. Red faces told the rest.


Night rider

I told this on myself many years ago, but it’s worth repeating on Halloween. One of my best childhood friends, Connie Yeoman, owned horses, including a light gray hunter named Keyboard.

Connie and her family lived next door to the St. Luke’s Memorial Park cemetery, where she was forbidden to ride horseback.

One Halloween, we quietly went to the barn and saddled Keyboard, then took turns donning a sheet cape and riding along the inside of the cemetery fence that bordered Route 10. To our delight, more than one motorist braked at the site of this white apparition galloping along.

It was great fun until one of the ladies of Benn’s Methodist Church, of which we were both members, told her parents a few days later what they had seen. The fun, for Connie at least, ended when her father hung up the phone.

She never ratted me out and I’ve always felt just a tad guilty that she took all the heat. We joke about it still.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is