Reed Traditions: The Doyle Owl

I know where the Doyle Owl is. I know I confess this at great risk of personal injury, but how can I resist? Those unfamiliar with this sacred statue, keep reading and let me introduce you to one of Reed’s most iconic traditions. For over a century, Reedies have made a sport of stealing this 300 pound concrete owl and displaying it in the most ludicrous manner possible. Prominent enough to have its own Wikipedia page, Reed’s unofficial mascot (declared so by The New (Olde) Reed Almanac) bears a past that embodies the full extent of Reed’s eccentricity.

Photo Courtesy of Reed Magazine

Formed from rumors and lore, the Doyle Owl’s history is murky. It supposedly first entered Reedies’ hands back in 1913, serving as the inspiration for a dorm war. After a group of Doyle House residents appropriated it from a neighbor’s lawn (this is up for debate as Reed’s 2006-2007 handbook claims otherwise), the sculpture immediately became the subject of hostage negotiations. A rival house kidnapped nine Doyle residents and demanded the Owl in exchange for releasing the captives. Though the prisoners escaped, a two-hour siege featuring water, mud, and ammonia bombs followed, birthing a tradition of violence seemingly uncharacteristic of Reedies. 

The Doyle Owl immediately rose to a symbol of pride. As an old description in the Reed College Handbook puts it, “It is not enough to simply possess the Owl–the Owl must be shown.” Since then, Reedies have strived to one-up previous owners in both their theft and displaying of the statue. From an adventurous helicopter airlift to a dramatic U-Haul getaway, possessors of the owl elevated its theft to a dangerous and daring affair. The flaunting of the Owl, beginning with a display on top of the Old Dorm Block, progressed to pyrotechnics and eventually cross-country travels. Featuring both famous locations and alumni, photographs of the Owl prove its appearances in locations ranging from Disneyland to the New York World Fair. It even managed to score a photo with Reed-dropout Steve Jobs. The Reed Office of Admission further perpetuates lore of the Owl, claiming its appearance overseas in France and Indonesia.

Experts attribute obsession with the Owl to the disease it carries: Owl Fever. This infection is the source of remarkable chaos, and it spares no Reedie. The New (Olde) Reed Almanac describes it as “a disease so virulent that it can turn even the most demure Reedies into a howling mob who will stop at nothing to secure their feathered prize.” Perhaps a scene from 1970 describes Owl Fever best. When representatives from Nixon’s Justice Department partook in a panel discussion in commons, the Owl humiliated these unwelcome guests by spreading a case of Owl Fever so virulent that the fight for the Owl turned into the icon’s destruction. The main body, salvaged from the wreckage, appeared on the College President’s doorstop, and a new head was recast. Thereafter, the Owl returned to circulation.

This was probably not the first, and certainly not the last, incarnation of the Owl. According to The New (Olde) Reed Almanac, “the present avatar is owl number 23, plus or minus 11.” The tradition of a 300 pound concrete statue remains consistent, however. Whether the 2021-22 student body will succumb to Owl Fever like generations of past Reedies is unclear, but I for one would enjoy an all-out brawl on the Great Lawn (please don’t take me hostage though).

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