Late one night in March 1961, four Manhattan College sophomores snuck quietly onto Fordham’s Rose Hill campus. They came with a rented trailer, a set of bolt cutters and a very specific mission: to steal the Fordham ram.
From 1925 to 1969, Fordham kept a series of live rams, all named Ramses, on campus as mascots. Housed in a small brick building behind Queen’s Court, next to the Metro-North tracks, the rams were a Fordham staple for over four decades.
By 1961, Fordham University was on its 19th mascot, Ramses XIX. It was also in the midst of an intense basketball rivalry with Manhattan College.
Edward Hannan, Manhattan College ’63, and three of his friends were sophomores in ’61. Motivated by the rivalry, they decided that they needed to defend their school’s honor. They would capture the Fordham ram.
Fordham’s ram is retrieved from the Madison Square Garden Circus, where it was dyed green and chained to a fence. (Courtesy of Edward Hannan)
“I’m not sure where the idea came from,” Hannan said. “But the four of us decided over beers that we were going to abduct the little critter.”
And abduct him they did. As Hannan recalls, they pulled up to the Fordham campus around midnight with their trailer and made their way to the ram’s paddock. The four of them quickly snipped the lock, carried the ram across the fence and loaded him into the waiting trailer.
Originally, the plan was to keep the animal at Hannan’s house in North Tarrytown (now Sleepy Hollow), but his father squashed that idea, refusing to put up with a ram in his garage for more than one night. Luckily for Ramses and his new handlers, however, they were able to come up with an alternate plan: Hannan’s girlfriend at the time had a horse stable in nearby Pocantico Hills, and she gave him permission to keep the ram there for a while.
Once at the stable, the four Manhattan students proceeded to decorate their newly acquired pet in kelly green and white, the colors of Manhattan College.
“We shampooed him, as he was too dirty for the dye to take, dyed him with food coloring and put white shoe polish on his hooves and horns,” Hannan said. “We had to buy almost all of the food coloring in Tarrytown to get the proper green hue.”
Hannan made sure to note that throughout the whole process, the ram was always well cared for.
“I’d had pets all my life, and I wasn’t about to see anything happen to [the ram],” he said.
He remembered that throughout his makeover, the ram actually seemed to be having a great time and was “very playful.”
After the dye job was finished, one problem still remained: what to do with a stolen, bright green ram.
“We considered many options but could not get him to the top of the Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty,” Hannan said.
Again, Hannan’s girlfriend was able to help them out. Her father was, Hannan recalled, a “Madison Avenue advertising guy,” and one of his areas of expertise was with publicity stunts. With his help, Hannan and his friends were able to make a deal with the Madison Square Garden Circus so that they could display the ram for Fordham and the world to see.
“We were afraid that a Fordham alum might work for the circus, so we simultaneously locked him to the fence and dropped the key off at the office,” Hannan said. “This allowed us to get away and made sure the ram could not escape and get hurt or stolen.”
As an added bonus, Hannan was given 10 free circus passes. He used them to take his nine younger brothers and sisters to the circus as a treat.
Thanks to Hannan’s girlfriend’s father, the stunt got a lot of coverage.
“We did send some anonymous press releases, which were published, and the circus made up a story about an ‘Irish dog act,’” Hannan said. “We were told that a stunt that got that much ink would have been worth $30K if an advertising firm did it.”
The New York Mirror even ran an entire center spread devoted to the ram, according to Hannan. An old clipping of the paper carries the headline, “Fordham’s Mascot Found — Shorn, Dyed,” and says that “Rameses [sic.], reported missing last Wednesday from its quarters on the Fordham campus, didn’t seem unhappy about the alterations to its fleece, but there was a lot of to-do when Frank Morrissey, the circus press agent, found a note on his desk, along with a key to the padlock on the animal’s chain.” The paper goes on to say that “two Fordham seniors claimed Rameses.” They coaxed him with a handful of oats, and he apparently cooperated, allowing himself to be “taken away for a bubble bath.”
Hannan chalked the whole escapade up as a definite victory.
“We all had a good time, including the ram, who was very playful. The only exception being students at some Jesuit school across the Bronx from Manhattan College,” he said.
Despite their success and the press generated by their prank, Hannan and his three friends chose to remain anonymous, mainly out of self-preservation.
“We didn’t want to get ambushed…wind up painted maroon or something,” he said with a laugh.
Though the perpetrators themselves flew under the radar, the story of the ram’s abduction became hugely popular at both Fordham and Manhattan College, eventually becoming something of a legend. As years passed, however, certain details became warped.
Michael Barclay, CBA ’84, heard a doctored version of the story during his time as a Fordham student. He claims that he was eating dinner with his roommates one night when a group of Manhattan students, recognizing Barclay and his roommates as Fordham students, bragged to them about the abduction. In their story, however, the ram was not only stolen and painted green, but hung off the George Washington Bridge.
As far as Hannan is concerned, however, no bridges were ever involved.
“Unless somebody else stole it, I don’t think that happened,” he said.
Barclay, who contacted The Fordham Ram after coincidentally meeting Hannan at work, said that he wanted to finally let people know what really happened in 1961.
“That story has been twisted,” he said. “[It’s time to] set the record straight.”
I recall the Fordham ram making an appearance in the Dining Hall at the College of New Rochelle, c. 1965-66.