Demon Deacon wields plunger. What’s up with that?

Deacon Blog

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The Demon Deacon and his plunger scored a question in today’s Winston-Salem Journal in the “Ask SAM” column. I was glad to see it, because my Homecoming guests on Saturday wondered why our Wake Forest mascot waved around a bathroom plunger. I had no idea. I couldn’t remember seeing the prop in my time at Wake Forest. As we gathered back at the Sues’ tailgate party, I forgot about the unanswered question.

Hands free of plunger for the full-on “Go Deacs!” shout-out

A newspaper reader didn’t forget, however, and decided to ask the answer man at the local newspaper. Here’s what the Journal had to say: “The origin of the plunger seen in some illustrations of the Demon Deacon dates to Bill Shepherd, a 1960 Wake Forest graduate who performed as the Deacon for three years while he was a student.

‘He was known at the University and throughout Winston-Salem for his plunger twirling atop the goal posts in the late 1950s,’ according to The Little Black Book, the Tradition Council’s reference book compiled by students for students to educate them about the University’s history and ‘to embolden the evolution of their own Demon Deacon spirits.’

‘According to newspaper clippings in the University archives, the plunger was the crowd’s favorite Deacon antic. The mascot would twirl the ‘plumber’s friend’ like a baton and swing it to the chants of the crowd.’

Dressed in a scissor-tail coat and a high silk hat, Shepherd would use the plunger as a weapon — especially against the Duke Blue Devil and his pitchfork — and do various stunts, including sticking it to things such as a Carolina license plate. Some of his predecessors had carried walking sticks, umbrellas or canes.”

I looked a bit deeper into our our Wake Forest history and discovered “probably no Deacon ever contributed more than Shepherd (of Linville, N.C.). From answering the Auburn fans’ cry of  ‘War Eagle’ with his own of ‘Turkey Buzzard’ to hitting ‘the shot heard around the state,’ Shepherd was a genius at eliciting crowd support for the Wake Forest cause.” The “most notorious plunger event” occurred during a Clemson game. At half-time when the national baton twirling champion was performing, the Demon Deacon mocked her by twirling two plungers. Distracted, the champ dropped her batons. As “The Little Black Book” says, “The crowd went crazy and the plunger tradition was born!”

So in the spirit of Shepherd’s skill with that special baton, it’s time to bring out the plunger again on Saturday to joust with the dreaded pitchfork. Twirl on, Deacs!

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About the Author

Maria Henson (’82), a Pulitzer Prize winner and a 1994 Nieman Fellow at Harvard, worked at newspapers until 2009. After living in Botswana, she returned to the Reynolda Campus to oversee the Wake Forest Magazine, teach and share the notable tales of Demon Deacons.


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