The Sacred Owl

by Owlsley Primo

from the Reed College Student Handbook

It's really very simple. There's this three-foot cement Owl that everyone goes apeshit over. Otherwise reserved and intelligent Reedies will risk life and limb to get The Owl all for their very own. Riots break out at its every public appearance. Property is damaged. People are injured. Studying stops.

Skeptical? Sound silly to you? But just wait until you see the Owl. You too will be drawn to its irresistible beauty, its unique charm, and the subtle thrill of the gang fight.

This institutionalized mayhem begins somewhere in the shadows of an Eastmoreland night in 1913. Some House F (now Doyle Dorm) residents slip out and grab a large lawn ornament in the form of an owl. They drag it back to its new home, high atop the old dorm block. A legend is born.

Very soon the Owl becomes an object of contention, for the boys in the next dorm covet the Owl in its glory, and attempt to make it their own by lowering it down with a rope. They are detected, apprehended, and punished (bent over with lowered pants that House F might smite them in their wickedness). The Owl moves inside.

At this point the true nature of the Owl, its true power over Reedie's souls, became clear. It is not enough to simply possess the Owl---the Owl must be shown. Its owner must flaunt its glory before the desirous have-nots, who are in turn driven to violence in their frenzy to get it. All Doyle Owl stories are simply tragedies based upon this profound irony.

At first this phenomenon was associated with the House F formal held every year in the Commons (now the Student Union), where the Owl would be displayed. Efforts to steal the Owl usually intensified in anticipation of this event. One year saw an unusually vigorous effort by House G. First they kidnapped nine residents of House F, demanding the Owl and their G (House F had also stolen their big neon G) as ransom, but without success. Undaunted, several days later they staged an attack on House F which was attended by five carloads of police. The police must have been disappointed, however, for they left shortly, declaring they were not needed. Soon a two hour siege began, featuring water, mud, and ammonia bombs (the last an invention of House G). House F quelled the attack, however, when it brought its fire hose into play, also breaking windows and inflicting water damage on the building's interior.

Another example from the murky past is an Oregonian article in 1954. The Owl has by now assumed its rightful title, the Doyle Owl, and it has been covered with orange paint. Five students placed it on consignment with the downtown Kharouba Art Gallery. Another student arrived with a policeman to demand its repossession, but a call to the college president established that it was common college property, not belonging to any person or dormitory. Thus we see that the Owl had passed its liminal period, in which it was possessed solely by the Doyle residents, and had become a sacred object for the entire campus. Anyhow, the Gallery turned the kid down and asked for police protection. The immediate fate of the Owl is not known.

Vague rumors suggest that sometime during the next twenty years the Owl was dumped off the Ross Island Bridge into the Willamette, where it lay among the fish until winched out by some resourceful Reedies. The reasons for this watery sojourn are, alas, lost to history.

In 1970 a panel discussion in Commons featured members of Nixon's Justice Department. All true Reedies, of course, plotted the embarassment of Tricky Dick's minions, and therefore the Doyle Owl rode a little red wagon into the middle of the sober forum. All hell broke loose in front of the horrified visitors. After a huge melee in which many fire extinguishers were emptied, the Owl was dropped on the pavement and broken into bits. Undaunted, the frenzied mob fought over the pieces. Later, the main base of the Owl appeared intact on President Thompson's doorstep. Alumni Director Florence Lehman had a new head cast and the Owl, somewhat the worse for wear, was returned to circulation.

Lehman's cloning of the new Owl from the pieces of the old was laudable. But some less honorable Reedies took her example as license to create fakes galore, which continue to plague us today. One fake Owl, however, was benign. Its story begins in Lincoln, Nebraska, where a peripatetic Reedie was spending a boring Christmas break. It seems that two three-foot owls adorned the facade of a University of Nebraska building. Their resemblance to the Doyle Owl was profound. To see them was to want them. This was easier said than done since these birds were mounted at the top of the building, three stories up. But when there's an Owl there's a way, and this young Reedie laid careful plans.

Tools were gathered and a strike force was recruited. A ladder was taken from a local fraternity house. In the darkest hours of the new year the Reedie and his friends struck. One of the birds was lifted. The intrepid Reedie and his new owl successfully escaped to Reed, leaving the fraternity house ladder behind to point the finger in the wrong direction. (This proved unnecessary: no one noticed that the bird was gone until mid-February, when the Daily Nebraskan ran a story on the missing bird. When interviewed, one janitor claimed that the bird had been missing for five years.)

Safely back in Portland, our Reedie began devising plans for his new owl. Being made of copper sheet metal, it wasn't really suitable for showing. But the beauty of its form was put to good use through the miracle of modern plastics. A fiberglass mold was made and soon polyurethane foam owls were rolling off the assembly line. April Fool's Day 1977 saw the debut of this new art form, with fake foam owls appearing in such likely locations as the canyon (floating) and the International Studies Committee annual meeting. At the social that night one fake owl was burned atop a huge pile of old Quests while the real Owl, in a carefully coordinated arrangement with its current owner, whizzed past in a white Datsun. The usual high-speed chase around Portland ensued, but possession was retained.

In the last few years, the Owl has taken to visiting distant places and interesting people. It made its way to Hollywood where real-world band Tears for Fears got hold of it and put it in one of their videos. Reedies promptly sent out a commando squad to put an end to this travesty, but the squad grabbed the Owl and took off with it themselves. The 1989 Handbook tried to borrow it from its possessors, on the excuse that they needed it for a cover photo. Its guardians promptly decamped to Seattle, forcing the Handbook people to airbrush in a 1935 photo. They got the scale wrong, making the Owl appear to fill the entire Eliot Hall doorway and convincing an entire generation of freshlings that a two-ton Owl was hidden somewhere on campus.

At the Halloween social in 1990 the Owl, now without its historic base, dangled on a chain beneath the cross-canyon bridge. After two people waded naked into the Canyon to tie on a rope, someone counted off, "One, two, three, heave!" as a hundred Reedies pulled the Owl back up to the bridge, whereupon a few lucky people at the front grabbed it and ran off. The administration insisted that the subsequent replacement of the bridge had nothing to do with the strain placed on it during this incident. The new possessors took time off from redesigning downtown street signs to cart the Owl off to Disneyland, where they had to defend it against a busload of Japanese tourists overcome by Owl Fever.

At a Renn Fayre soon after this incident, the Owl was covered in Crisco and set afire. After the flame went out, a struggle ensued as hundreds of Reedies tried to push the still-heated owl into one of two competing cars. Eventually it was forced into one of them and whisked off to safety. Unfortunately, the winners of this battle cannot have been True Reedies, for the Owl now entered a period of retirement heretofore unknown, and entire classes of Reedies passed through the school without once seeing the sacred bird.

The Owl did not appear again until a 1996 Midnight Theater, where a lucky few got to see it in the back of a U-Haul before greedy alums chased off its still-nervous guardians, who had stolen it themselves only a few days before. It soon emerged that the Owl was in the possession of a group styling itself the Doyle Owl Patrol. The group, having only one tiny car among them, used U-Haul trucks so frequently that Reedies who were merely moving out of the dorms were mobbed by crowds demanding to see the Owl. The DOP was not terrifically successful at showing the Owl, being chased off rapidly by crowds of Owl-starved Reedies at every turn. However, they did succeed in getting the Owl into photo sessions with famous Reed alums Dr. Demento and Steve Jobs (Jobs' reported comment: "The Doyle what?").

After casting a remarkably ugly new base, the DOP announced a collection of the Owl Trading Cards they had distributed at each showing, worth several "time' points" each. At Thesis Parade the Owl was momentarily cornered in an administrator's office but soon emerged, escorted by a Community Safety Officer, to be locked by a chain to a railing outside Eliot. As drunken seniors paraded, the winners of the trading card competition arrived with the key and whisked the Owl away. Where it will appear next is anybody's guess.

The Doyle Owl Commandments

As we go to press, we learn that this summer, as a researching Reedie dug deep into the dusty stacks of the British Museum, she found an illustrated medieval text entitled ASIO FLAMMEUS DOYLEUM, apparently a prophecy whose subject is our very own Doyle Owl! We present her translation below.

In the last days ye shall find the great [stone?] OWL, whose name shall be DOYLE. And he shall pass through the water, yea, and the flame untouched, and the angel of GOD shall be with him in all things. And ye shall obey the COMMANDMENTS of the OWL, [which are:]

  1. Thou shalt know thy OWL by these his three stigmata: the bent screws found in his ears, the steel rod which protudes from his ample bottom, and his enormous weight. Thou shalt accept no fake owls, yea, neither of plaster, nor of bronze, nor of [baser?] things.
  2. Thou shalt show thy OWL, yea, to the entire city. In this thou shalt add to his glory, so long as thou showest him only as he has never been shown before. Fear not that he should be taken from thee, for I have made a covenant that in the end he shall return and be with thee forever.
  3. Thou shalt travel with thy OWL and bring him to the great persons and the sacred places of the world. In each place thou shalt record by picture that thy OWL hast conquered yet another people and city, to make him ever more glorious.
  4. Thou shalt never leave thy OWL in the possession of an unbeliever, yea, neither alum nor [baser?] person. Thou shalt defend him ever, even to the utmost, but without causing harm to any person.

Text version of this page

Main Doyle Owl page

Squirrel's home page