Streakers on the run! A scene on the Main Mall in the spring of 1974.(The author has censored images to avoid unnecessary controversy.)
Famed journalist (and UT alumnus) Walter Cronkite labeled it “a grand spring adventure,” while Tonight Show host Johnny Carson declared it offered a whole new meaning to the term “big man on campus.” In the tradition of student shenanigans, it was worthy of its predecessors: night shirt parades, phone booth pile-ups, car-stuffings, and panty raids. For college students in the spring of 1974, the fad of the moment was streaking.
The University’s first documented “streaker” was seen dashing across the South Mall on the unusually warm afternoon of February of 5th. Wearing nothing more than a grin, a photo of the event was published on the front page of The Daily Texan, which claimed any photographs were “taken by curious onlookers who felt the run might have historical significance.” At a time well before smart phones with cameras were available, just how the bystanders knew to be on the mall at the right time with their cameras loaded and ready remains a mystery. But once begun, the streaking craze quickly became, well, fashionable.
For the next several months, evening “streak-ins” were a regular feature on the campus, most common on the street between Moore-Hill and Jester Center residence halls, or at the corner of 21st and Speedway Streets, in front of the business school. At times, hundreds of spectators gathered and chanted “Streak! Streak!” as daring exhibitionists obliged. Most streakers appeared in small groups of two or three, though occasionally twenty to fifty at a time were reported. Some rode bicycles – or motorcycles – and a few carried bags of candy to toss to the appreciative crowd.
Above: Hundreds of spectators gather on Speedway, between the business school and Gregory Gym, to watch an upcoming “streak-in.” Below: Later the same evening, a streaker with cowboy hat and boots. Only in Austin.
Those more daring streaked in daylight, some from the Main Building, along the West Mall, to Guadalupe Street, but more common was the post-lunch “One O’clock Streak” down the South Mall. Professors who taught in classrooms that faced the mall often had to wait a few minutes before the lecture began, as students were peering out of the windows instead of waiting in their seats.
One notable incident occurred March 1st, in Dr. Michael Spiegler’s psychology class in the main lecture hall of the Business-Economics Building. (It’s now the Kozmetsky Business Center, though the auditorium disappeared after a 1990 renovation.) A lone streaker entered the classroom, ran across the stage behind Dr. Spiegler, then darted up the center aisle and made his getaway. The streaker wore a white mask and was described only as having blond hair and tan lines.
As might be expected, the Dean of Students office took a dim view of college scholars traversing the campus in nothing but good intentions. It promptly outlawed the practice and announced that disciplinary action would be levied against any student caught streaking. At first, UT Police officers set out to simply catch, arrest, and fine individuals for public nudity, but streakers weren’t likely to have their University IDs on hand. Besides, students learned to avoid capture by recruiting several fully-clothed friends to run with them as a moving barricade. Wanting to avoid physical force, the police turned to cameras and photographed faces for later identification.
Fines for streaking were usually $50, but could amount to as much as $200. In response, the Association of Streaking Students – or A.S.S. – was organized and accepted donations to help their fellow streakers financially.
Stores on the Drag weren’t about to be left out of the hijinks, and soon students were sporting t-shirts which announced themselves as “Streaker Peepers,” or members of the “Longhorn Streaking Team.” Weekend Streaker Sales touted prices reduced to the bare minimum.
The fad wasn’t just popular in Austin. Other member schools of what was then the Southwest Athletic Conference eagerly participated. Streakers were reported at Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and in the more conservative hallways of Baylor. Streak-ins became such a regular occurrence at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, onlookers brought dates. The SMU Mustang band sometimes serenaded the crowd with music from “The Stripper,” and, of course, campus security always attended.
By mid-March, streaking had become so common in the United States, the National Safety Council reportedly released a list of safety tips. The council urged everyone to wear sneakers for protection and better traction “for that all important speed.” Wearing reflector tape was also advised for nighttime streaking. Where to place the tape was not specified, though the council’s report mentioned “tail lights.”
In April, students at Texas Tech goaded their fellow Southwest Conference schools to see which could get a streaker to safely cross their own campus first. This was a daunting task to those in Lubbock, as the Tech grounds were quite expansive. The gauntlet, though, was taken up by those in Austin. Less than a week after the challenge had been issued, an unidentified UT student, clad only in his Longhorn spirit, hopped out of a car parked in front of the Littlefield Fountain at 2 a.m. and quickly made his way north to the Kinsolving Dormitory. Verified by witnesses, students at the University of Texas claimed the first and only Southwest Conference Streaking Title.
Unfortunately, the University administration opted not to honor the victory with a floodlit orange Tower.
Another notable streaking incident was at the LBJ Library Auditorium on March 3, 1974. Walter Cronkite was accepting the School of Communication’s Reddick Award for Outstanding Achievement when a streaker entered the room, but didn’t get far before security dragged him away. Lady Bird Johnson was in attendance – and she laughed, as did Cronkite, who later commented “my composure was destroyed…and me without a CBS camera.”
Thank you, Sarah!
Well reported, Sarah Cleary. You must have been in attendance that March 3, 1974. I was a member of UT’s School of Communication’s Advisory Council (BJ ’75) and, as such, had a prime seat location down front and center. My recollection is that Mr. Streaker emerged from a door to Cronkite’s left and made it all the way to center stage, behind Cronkite, before UT’s Gendarmes moved in for the capture. Always a master of timing, Cronkite let the crowd’s laughter subside before he spoke the words you noted above. Surprisingly, although The Daily Texan had a reporter on hand that morning, there was no TDT photographer to chronicle the event. Sad indeed……for Lady Bird certainly seemed to enjoy the humorous moment, as well.
I was there at that time and witnessed several streakers. But my brother was the first streaker at UT and he did it way before the spring of 74. He was at UT from 1965-1969 and he streaked during one of those years. I’m sure alcohol and Fraternity Hi Jinks were involved but unfortunately he got caught and disciplined. But, I still maintain that he was the first streaker on the UT campus!
Robert, Thank you very much for your comment. I hate to disappoint you, but I’ve found references to student streaking at UT all the way back to the 1910s. Some student hi-jinks have been around forever; it’s just that streaking had to wait until the 1970s to become a national fad.