In 1939, one of the most famous and certainly most disgusting of the college fads, swallowing live goldfish, started. The first person on record to have done this was a Harvard freshman, Lothrop Withington Jr.. He was the son of a Boston lawyer and Harvard's 1919 football captain. Lothrop boasted about having once eaten a live goldfish during a bull session at Holworthy Hall and was offered $10 by a fellow student to do so again. He agreed and set a time and place while allowing classmates to spread the word.
On March 3, 1939, the dining hall of the Freshmen Union was crowded with spectators waiting to see this unusual sight. People started taking pictures while Lothrop plucked a wiggling three-inch fish from its bowl, bent over backwards, and lowered the fish into his mouth. He chewed the fish and then swallowed hard, earning himself an extra $10. Afterwards, he took a toothbrush out of his pocket to clean his teeth and remarked "the scales caught a bit on my throat as it went down." Then the rest of the freshmen sat down to eat their own meals of cooked fish, fried filet with tartar sauce.
The news of what Withington had done spread to other colleges, including Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Three weeks later an undergraduate by the name of Frank Hope Jr. outdid the Harvard man by swallowing three goldfish and declaring him a sissy. Even though Frank added salt and pepper, he declined to chew the fish and opted just to swallow.
However, Hope's record did not last more than twenty-four hours. Another Franklin and Marshall student swallowed six fish the very next day. George Raab had decided to show Hope who the "sissy" was. Once these Franklin and Marshall students had joined in, the race was on between the two schools. Irving Clark Jr., a Harvard student, made the school's comback by swallowing two dozen goldfish as well as setting prices on any other indelicacies. He promised to eat any bug for a nickel, an angleworm for a dime, and even a beetle for only two bits.
After a week of competition between these two schools, many other colleges decide to enter into it as well. A student from the University of Pennsylvania, Gilbert Hollandersky, downed twenty-five goldfish and then quickly rid the taste from his mouth with a steak dinner. Almost every day a new record was reported. Julius Aisner from the University of Michigan was able to swallow twenty-nine but Michael Bonner, the Albright College football captain, ate thirty-three. Albert Hayes, in his graduation year at MIT, defeated many by gobbling forty-two fish.
Soon, the setting became just as important as the number of fish eaten. Outside Boston's Opera House, Jack Smookler of Northeastern University swallowed thirty-eight in front of a small crowd. A veterinary student at Middlesex University, Gordon Southworth, stomached sixty-seven while standing next to a Soldier's Monument in Waltham Common. In fourteen minutes he was able to pull them one by one from an overflowing pail. A record that seemed it was going to last was made by Clark University's Joseph Deliberato. He digested eighty-nine goldfish at one sitting in early April.
Marie Hansen of the University of Missouri was the first female student to swallow a live goldfish. But a co-ed student of Boston University, Betty Hines, became known that spring because of the goldfish sugar cookies she had created.
Finally, a Massachusetts state legislature introduced a bill that would "preserve the fish from cruel and wanton consumption." The president of the Boston's Animal League made sure that goldfish swallowers would be arrested if campus officials did not stop this behavior. A pathologist at the U.S. Public Health Service said that goldfish may contain tapeworms or harbor a disease that causes the swallower to become anemic.
In the spring of 1939 the rate of goldfish swallowing let up because of boredom more than because of these types of warnings. But once in a while campus revivals produced new champions. Before the 1970's, the record of goldfish gluttony had gone beyond three hundred. Thankfully though, this was one fad that has finally passed.
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