Anonymous prank leaves paper trail

Column by Craig Marshall Smith


The neighbors' trees were toilet-papered last night. This is what is known as a prank.

What toilet-papering accomplishes I do not know. And I have never known if it is a malevolent exercise or not. Are the victims disliked or embraced? It could be just a way of letting someone know that you were thinking of them when you walked past the 12-rolls-half-off display.

It's a fairly benign prank, and certainly doesn't carry as much heft as, say, having your home and trees littered with mud or seafood. If you went out some morning and found hundreds of carp on your roof, that might hold much deeper implications.

How did this — toilet papering — get started? It is most commonly associated with Halloween and graduation, which are just about the same thing.

Maybe you know the story of the Frisbee. In 1938 Fred Morrison and his future wife Lucile were offered a quarter for the cake pan they were tossing back and forth on the beach in Santa Monica, Calif.

At the time, cake pans were a nickel, so Fred had an idea. I think you know exactly where this is going, so I will fast-forward to the first Frisbees, which were called Pluto Platters. The name was changed to Frisbee after Wham-O bought the rights, and it was learned that Northeastern college students were calling them Frisbies. The Frisbie Pie Co. was located in Bridgeport, Conn.

What began as a cake pan on the beach became a multimillion-dollar success, and a major American pastime and sport, for people and dogs of all ages.

Even though there is no money to be made in toilet-papering, I assume, it too has endured. It was going on when I was in grade school. Ike was in office.

But it had to start somewhere. I picture one of two things. A workers' riot at Charmin.

My father sold ball bearings, or more exactly, he sold the balls for ball bearings. They came in all sizes, and some of them, used as projectiles in a factory riot, could be mighty dangerous. And that's exactly what happened, and the factory was closed.

But a workers' riot at Charmin would be laughable. And that's what might have happened. It went from a riot to a good time, and the hilarity went off-campus, and employees started to see their homes and trees being toilet-papered by co-workers, perhaps as a symbol of unity.

My other theory is that some of employees got intoxicated, and on their lunch break took some rolls outside and began tossing them back and forth. The employees tried to throw to each other, but half the time the toilet paper landed in the trees and streamed down. Too drunk to clean up their mess, it was left.

It being homecoming weekend, some local high school kids thought it was Charmin's way of saying “Go Mechanicsburg!” and a tradition was born.

Do you have a better idea?

I have never been on either end — he said — of toilet papering, but I am certain that the application is a lot more enjoyable than the removal.

I said that I assumed that there was no money to be made in toilet papering, but there is money to be made in almost anything. There could be TP hit squads for hire. If you are my age and wanted to TP the Waterhavens, you could just hire someone to do it for you.

It's not a lot of fun to read the news today, is it? It's very frustrating, adult-stuff, unfortunately. But I think we all can get a moment's reprieve by seeing something as silly as a home that has been papered. For some reason, it has been passed along, generation to generation, and there is no end in sight.

Forgive me.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment