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The Great Toothbrush Caper

It was Valentine’s Day, 1952. Antioch students emerged from their common rooms and dorms to find the blazing headline “Grab Toothbrushes Worth $130” in the Daily Record. Of course, most students already knew something was going on because their toothbrushes had been purloined.

It was reported that some 325 toothbrushes and a $50 dental bridge had been stolen on campus the day before, from all the dorms except Marshall. They had been removed from out-of-the-way places like drawers and top closet shelves. Later, 26 brushes were found on a bed in Anchors and more turned up on a table in Mann Hall.

The Feb. 14th issue of the Record (no. 134) had a fiery editorial calling it “a stupid impractical joke by mental midgets,” two long letters of outrage from groups of students, and a short letter of a punny response saying the incident “left a bad taste in my mouth.”

Then issue no. 134 1/2 came out with the headline “Nab Jokesters.” Three people, the article said, had been found in Mann Hall at 3:30 AM by Pete Signell ’52 and George Stoertz ’53, who were in an ambush off the main hall. George waited until two of the culprits started festooning the pilfered brushes around and between two large posts and then popped out and took a flash photo of Dan Gruender ’52 and Marty Ostrander ’52. Cy Tebbetts ’52 was discovered a short time later distributing copies of a bogus “toothbrush survey.”

Members of the Record staff working on the paper were summoned, followed by Cy Worby ’52 and assistant securities coordinator Bill Finefrock ’53. Gruender and Tebbetts said they set up the stunt because the campus was too serious and thought this would liven it up. They refused to name others involved and took full responsibility, but said their barracks coordinator denied that the missing denture from Casbah had been taken by their group. To accomplish this grand theft required at least one agent in each hall and a pyramid organization structured in such a way that no one knew who was involved beyond one level lower or higher.

The campus was in an uproar. One group thought it was a good joke and had been well organized; some students upon hearing of the heist even ran to their rooms to make sure they had not been left out. However, another group was concerned about students with limited funds having to buy a new 50¢ toothbrush (about the hourly wage in 1952), and many were concerned that outsiders would realize how easy it might be to enter and take things from the dorm rooms.

Two petitions were posted on the official bulletin board, one condemning the prank and the other supporting the effort to lighten up the campus. Lillian Pillard, Director of Student Aid, signed the first and Mort Rauh, Business Manager, the second. Betty Corcoran, the Bookstore manager, called their supplier and was able to obtain a quick delivery of toothbrushes.

The Record of Feb. 15 (no. 135) had this information: a total of 36 students requested $21.27 reimbursement for their toothbrushes with three times that number of students volunteering to ante up the repayments, the report that a $50 dental plate had been taken proved false, a flood of letters had come in about the missing toothbrushes and the Record had room to print only a representative sample. One letter stated that each of the culprits held “high places” in the community: Ostrander a graduate and junior faculty member, Gruender a hall adviser, and Tebbetts a member of Community Council.

In the middle of all the furor was the Community Manager, Ted Fritsch ’53. Months later Carl Haag ’52 drove up to northern Ohio with Ted Fritsch as a passenger and commiserated with Ted in having to deal with the toothbrush tumult. Ted turned and said: “I was behind the caper.”

 
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