A look back: Streaking craze hits Ottawa in the 1970s

By Don Lambert

(Editors Note: Don Lambert, former Ottawa Herald reporter and photojournalist from 1973-78, chronicles the some of his most memorable stories. Don Lambert now lives in Kansas City, Missouri.)

Streakers at OU?  Oh, No! Oh, yes.  There were streakers at Ottawa University on Thursday, March 7, 1974.

Of course, the Ottawa Herald (that would be me) was there to cover them: a dozen pale, scrawny, naked Baptist boys. Little did I know that this streaking incident would create a feud between Ottawa University and The Ottawa Herald. 

Let's back up. For all you millennials and Gen X'ers, streaking was a brief craze mostly on college campuses in which mostly students with good, hard bodies would strip to the bone and run someplace, like through a college football game or the Academy Awards.  It was all done in fun-mostly.

Now to begin. Here's a Herald story a week before the streaking incident, headlined "Ottawa Streakers, Beware!"  Ottawa Police Chief C.O. Johnson issued a press release which the Herald printed, "People wishing to try the new fad of streaking better do it someplace where they won't be seen by members of the Ottawa Police Department. . .streakers could be arrested for indecent exposure which forbids appearing in a public place in a state of nudity. A person convicted of the city ordinance could be fined no less than $5, no more than $100, and-or 30 days in Franklin County Jail. He said he has heard no rumors of any local streaking attempts, and hopes he doesn't, either."

Those of you with children know what can happen when you forbid them from doing something, they might do it anyway and, maybe, just for spite. So it may have been with the police chief and the streakers.

The Herald story was headlined, "OU Students Flit About in Streaking Debut."  Thursday afternoon, the word was circulated, "Streak-in tonight." Sure enough, around 7 p.m., one made the first recorded streak.  Then the student bodies began emerging. It's as if these students, besides shedding their clothes, shed their inhibitions. They dashed to the chapel, the student union, the library, and the administration building.   

Around 11:30 p.m., a college administrator arrived on the scene — fully clothed.  The crowd hushed momentarily but soon went about its business. The event was called "UPS-University Public Streaking." But it wasn't very public because, all-in-all, there were only about 15 streakers.  There were several semi-streakers, guys who thought enough about the idea to remove their shirts but wouldn't drop their drawers and go "all the way." Both the University of Kansas and Kansas State University reported streaking incidents early this week, a week behind colleges on the East and West coasts, as usual. And OU students a few days behind the big Kansas colleges, as usual, proclaiming "We're No. 3."

There were no major catastrophes, though one streaker reported he had lost his wallet while carrying his jeans. 

"I've got to find my wallet," he said, "It has my meal ticket in it." 

Another streaker said he was worried that the OU Board of Trustees might spank his bare bottom.  No students spent time in jail, at least not that was reported to The Herald. Many of the students and townspeople attending were a bit disappointed. There was, however, some moonlight. 

Bright and early the next morning, the President of Ottawa University Peter Armacost was on a mission. He barged into the Herald office.  He and the editor, Bob Wellington, exchanged pleasantries.  

"I understand that Lambert was on campus last night. We don't like that kind of story in the news, our alums get upset."

Peter, answer this one question. “Did it happen?" the boss asked.

"Yes, it did,” Armacost said. “But, Bob, I don't think I need to remind you that this is a Baptist college and this is a Baptist town.

"No, Peter, you do not need to remind me," said the Boss, an Episcopalian.

"Still, I hope you will leave that streaking incident out of the paper,” Armacost pleaded.

"Peter, don't tell me how to run my newspaper and I won't tell you how to run your college,” Wellington said. “Good day."

   From my nearby desk, I could hear the Boss muttering about "those Baptists" and "freedom of the press."

”You got that streaking story," he asked me. I told him I was finishing it.  He asked whether I had a photo we could run in our family newspaper.  "Yes," I told him, "waist up, from the back.  However, it might be better for our readers not to run the photo."

   "Good point," the boss said, "let our readers use their imaginations."  

   The Boss, with more resolve than I'd ever seen him muster, issued his verdict: "Page 1!"

Don Lambert was a reporter at The Ottawa Herald from 1973-1978. He now lives in Kansas City.