He did not put the guano in a bag
on a doorstep, light it on fire and ring
the doorbell. No, he used science.
In the late 1790s, William Buckland, who later became a well-known geologist, pulled a prank on the school he was attending, the University of Oxford.
He took bat poop and spread it across his Oxford College lawn, but not evenly. Instead he used the guano to spell, first a giant letter, G. Then a U. Then an A. Then an N. Then an O.
One imagines the Oxford authorities were aghast, wanted the poop removed immediately, so the lawn was scrubbed and order restored. But fertilizer is fertilizer. Once applied, it seeps into the soil and does what it’s meant to do. The lawn must have looked normal for a while, but as the weather improved and the sun came out and the grass began to grow, a distinct pattern emerged. The college could mow and mow, but some tufts of grass stubbornly kept growing higher and thicker than the rest. And from a distance say from a classroom window anywhere around the quad, you could see all spring, all summer like a graffito that can’t be erased, the word GUANO, spelled out in grass. Oxford couldn’t make it go away.
So the next time you have access to buckets of bat guano, you too can perform this historical reenactment.
The Best College Prank Of The 1790s (With Bats, Poop & Grass), NPR>>
Illustration by Benjamin Arthur