Jack in the Box Head On Top of La Jolla High’s Flagpole

Jack in the Box head perched on the top of La Jolla High School, 1970 - photo by Bruce Thorson

Jack in the Box head perched on top of La Jolla High School in 1970 as a prank by graduating 1970 students - photo by Bruce Thorson

Senior pranks tend to be an unofficial tradition at most high schools, similar to the unofficial senior skip day. It is crucial to find the perfect prank; one must realized the fine line between harmless and mischievous and vandalism or criminal. Some of the typical ones are TPing the school grounds or passing a beach ball (no not Steve Roel) during graduation ceremonies. Or what Mac Meda’s,  Donnie Tomlison, Willie Ronaldson and a few others did by cutting down a tree and got caught, and had to replant and maintain that tree as their punishment. But that is another post.

No doubt the best Meda style high school prank that left many school officials scratching their heads was the Jack in the Box head on top of the flag pole at La Jolla High gradating class of 1970. Even to this day it is still talked about, and many of today’s students claim it was ONLY Urban Legend. Well recently an alumni found a photo and that was posted on Facebook,

and what was legend … has now become fact!

How did we get Jack?  Without naming names, let’s just say, it involved a lot of that liquid courage and the innocent request of Dean Burriston to “someone” and  “her girlfriends”  for a few Jack in a Box burgers at 2am; the only place opened in Bird Rock, which now is some clic strip mall.

Up until Jack’s flagpole  début, he was a great drinking buddy.

Jacks head

It all started with Kip Ives and Bill Pfanner who late evening put together a commando group of 10-12 people. A precision Swat Team plan was placed into play at Kip’s parent’s house, that was right below the Bird Shit sign in Bird Rock. A pointer was used to infiltrate areas on a crayon drawn map of buildings and streets.  The pranksters divided into two groups, one to place the Jack’s head on top of the flag pole, and two, to place two fire hydrants around campus that were conveniently borrowed when city workers were tearing up the streets on Hillside Drive. Again that will be another post.

At 1am, they all gathered a block away from the high school. A briefing was somewhat conducted that could barely be heard underneath the popping and gulping of that yeasted courage. Second later, they all looked  like James Belushi in Animal House, darting from building to building in what was known in Meda lingo, COD, (Cover of Darkness) tactics.

One of the fire hydrants was cemented into the lawn to make it look like it had always been there and well the other was placed on top of the overhang (15 feet off the ground) at the entry to what was then, Social Science Building. Ten people struggled to put this one in place; it is a surprise that no one got hurt, considering these fire hydrants weighed about 600 lbs and was pulled up with a piece of hemp twine.

As for Jack, well it wasn’t for the gutsy move of Bob Noble it probably would have not taken place. To perform this monumental task an extension ladder was also conveniently borrowed from some construction company (it was returned), but the length of it was about 15 feet short of reaching the top. Bob climbed up the ladder with Jack in one hand and the other grabbing the ladder. When he reached the end, he took a deep breath looked down, gave the on-lookers a wink, and with one arm shimmed up the last 15 feet. When he reached the 30 foot top, he tightly wrapped his legs around the pole, and with both hands, quickly put Jack on top.

Those that watched could not believe what has just happened. Bob quickly slid down the pole. He was a bit shaken of something he would have never done sober –  again that yeast tasting stuff was used to calm him down.

Jack twirled slowly round and round as a gentle breeze gave it life. The next morning they all got at school early to watch the expressions of the students and teachers.

Unfortunately the one cemented hydrant  had been removed (there was no quick-dry cement in those days), but many saw the school officials and custodians scratching heads in “How in the fuck did they get Jack’s head up there?” and at this 600lb fire hydrant that rested on top of a overhang bending from its weight.

Jack was quickly removed by the brainstorm of one of the janitors, who tied a broom handle on the rope of the flag pole. All he had to do was run the broom up which knocked poor Jack off. A few watched in tears as Jack hit the ground hard, bounced a few time, and rolled down the embankment and came to a dead stop.

Unfortunately, Jack suffered injuries,  a huge grass stained crack in the head.

As for the hydrant, now that was a chuckling sight to see. A ½ ton San Diego school truck arrived. With a ladder two men climbed to the overhang and push the hydrant into the bed of the truck. When the hydrant hit, it almost blew out the tires and you could hear the echoing “clunk,” even at WindanSea.

Even if Jack’s existence was short lived as Class of 1970 flagpole mascot, his memories will be with us forever.

The other Jack thought it was one of the most “bitchen” stunts he had heard about and congratulated the Meda pranksters.


  1. One of the best pranks! Cheers to the boys! Question: What in the HELL do young people do now?? The young mind-set has changed – for the worst I believe. Probably too focused on some little ‘device’ to interact with others and to have some good ole fashioned fun. So sorry to see so many pass from cancer. I am a survivor, but I do believe the poisoning of America started decades ago and our age group was its first victims. Good luck to you all. I escaped to New Zealand in 1976. Want to bug out with us? See “Radiation Respite”: http://youtu.be/agUx1YjC-6Y

    • All LJHS Jack Fans,

      I am in Dubai, at 4:20 AM, still on San Diego time, lying awake for hours checking emails on my iPhone. Just now, my dear friend Judy Helmuth Bernstein just sent me a link to this item on Macmedadestruction, and the photo by Bruce Thorson. This makes my day/month/year. I love the comments and am so glad that people remember this glorious whacky team effort of that one dark evening in1970. It has crossed my mind so often through the years.
      That may have been a misdemeanor crime, but hopefully the stature of limitations has run out on this, because I will now confess to it, the FINAL ACT.
      For the record, here is my story, hopefully not too far from what is actually in the akashic records:
      But first, I will, with deepest respect and fondest memories, dedicate this affidavit I’ll write over the next few minutes, and my memory of that night, to my dear first cousin, and a companion since my birth, Bill Pfanner. The truth is that, only Bill and I were standing at the base of the flagpole, with only a (“oh shit, we’re fucked, it’s too short!”) ladder and a roped up JackHead under our arms. So for Bill…

      From the beginning: I remember a few times with Bill, previously trying to rip Jack’s head off the box on Garnet, but I do not clearly remember succeeding in the act (it was not vandalism…it was actually a very natural and justifiable exercise I thought at the time). I will absolutely defer to Annie’s superior memory (hi Annie!) regarding the facts of the case in the matter of who violently ripped his head off and who held it in secret safe keeping. Annie probably has a much better memory than I regarding the “acquisition and storage phase”. And I don’t remember the planning session(s), or who was the main author of the idea itself.
      The first part of the evening I clearly remember was sitting in Kent’s VW microbus, either in his driveway or on the campus. Someone slid the ladder in from the back (it might have been me, but for some reason, many of my memories of the evening are not super-clear. If no one fesses up, I will blame it on Bill, as I was prone to doing often) and it went through Kent’s windshield, and he was very upset and pissed, and whisper-ranting. Every time I see Animal House where they smash up Flounder’s Lincoln Continental, I fondly recall Kent (“Kent you fucked up…you trusted us!)…and laugh. We had the fire hydrants, maybe in another car or truck..they were very heavy (others perfectly executed that mission)… and Jack’s head, and the ladder…and some nylon rope.
      It was about midnight, and Bill and I, I guess, volunteered us to do the placement. Of course, we were not trained in the planning of this type of exercise, so we didn’t. We took the ladder, rope and Jack up the “lawn slope” to the flagpole, and assessed the situation. It was a really dark night and very few cars would pass on Nautilus, but a few did. We would, each time, scurry into the bushes against the admin building, leaving rope, Jack and ladder laying out on the lawn.
      When the coast cleared, Bill wrapped the rope around Jack’s curly-fry hair: big, fat, thermo-formed plastic sort-of ribbons. I thought that he was being a bit over-cautious because he entangled the rope in the hair – several loops, i guess to be safe. Then he slowly turned to me and whispered,”you do it.” I called him either a dick or a douche, our most common names for each other over the years. Bill never admitted to fear of any kind…but he was always just plain smarter than I was. Those of you who knew him well know what I mean (Sparks, remember he wouldn’t study for Skelly’s math tests and he would ace them often, which pissed you off).
      I was known amongst the Pfanner/Nobles, as a kid, as a very good “shimmyer” up trees, and I was pretty proud of that fact, even in 1970. So I couldn’t pass this one up, just for the challenge.
      So we extended the extension ladder to full length, and managed to jimmy it up the flagpole, I don’t recall how. We hadn’t considered length as an issue for the evening. It, of course, was way way too short. So we cursed each other, and I asked why was he cursing me, I’m the one who has to suffer that. We didn’t have a lot of time for discussing things so he handed me the rope with Jack securely attached – so I started my journey.
      Bill held the ladder, but when a car came by, he went for the bushes, and left me dangling. As I shimmied up past the end of the ladder, I learned a number of new things: flagpoles are fat, very dirty, the flagpole rope was problematic, and they are difficult to get a grip on, and they sway with the weight of a person attached high up. In fact, the higher up, the more sway. It swayed so much as I approached the top that it felt as if it might break. But I was too busy dealing with the Bill-tangle-job to worry too much. My state of mind: I was more worried about getting caught by a cop than falling to my death. Engrained paranoia of the time I guess.
      So, at the top, there was a round plate and a vertical post with a ball on it. Fortunately, I was able, with my left hand, to hold onto the plate, as I swung this very heavy Jack’s head over the ball with my right hand, It was really heavy and I used every ounce of strength I had. You know…you look back and you just cant believe some things you did…just nuts…
      Fortunately, for all of us I guess, Jack’s neck hole diameter was bigger than the flagpole top-ball diameter. History turns on such things I guess…
      Well, then, the tough parts. Cars would come by…Bill would hide…I would sway…and I had to get the rope untangled with only one available hand. That took a very long time. And did I mention that the flagpole top-plate was a bird dropping platter? There is no other way to put it…and I have I believe since that night had a very strong immune system…
      When I got the last hook of rope untangled and dropped down to the ground, as an understatement, I was relieved. But it appeared in the almost dark that Jack’s head was a little “cocked”, so I had to lift-n-jimmy it a bit to get it properly centered and balanced on the ball. A final touch.
      Well, the rest as they say, is history. We got out of there, the few, the proud…and Bill’s mom, my aunt “Dadums” as we called her, praised me the next day, and took a picture of Jack. And since she was always one of my favorite people, I remember that fondly still.
      Friends later were a bit displeased that Coach Edwards (great guy) gave out the Jack in the Box award at some school sports award event to some sports hero they thought had done it, but hadn’t, and the recipient accepted the award. I didn’t really care because I knew the truth. Just a thought but, if that is true, I think the honorable thing would be to get this award to me, Anne, Kent, all the others, and to Bill, posthumously. I could present it to Bill’s sister Laurie, and brother, Johnny, who I see often. Just a thought.

      I think the main reason I have recalled this, repeatedly over the years, is because of Bill. We had so many memorable experiences together in so many places over his entire life, and I always remember him fondly.

      And frankly, I would love to hear others’ vignettes of that evening…if anyone remembers…

      Its now six AM, and the Imams are chanting from the Koran throughout the city, and I need some more sleep…thanks for taking the time to read this account…take care all…

      Bob Noble

  2. Annie Burriston Powell says:

    My friend and I decided to fetch jack one night when my parents were out of town and my brother etc. wanted some burgers. Of course there was a party going on, but after most of the people left Dean goes “Just bring back Jack” well, that is exactly what we did. We got the burgers at Mr. Boltons and of all cars to pull in it was a cop car. Never looked in our car thank God. I had Jack in my bedroom for a long time. My parents never even asked, don’t think they wanted to know! Our senior year, we all decided what a great prank it would be and the rest is history. Susan, do you really still have Jack????? I miss him! Fun to see a picture of him. And no, Whale had nothing to do with it. Just two drunk girls, the place was closed and that is it.

  3. Michael Sparks says:

    At least one person got a broken windshield out of that event when the ladder that was used as part of the escapade flew forward and hit the glass. Thought of that night often.

  4. Ryan Dotson says:

    Hey guys and surfbunnies, this is amazing. Even by standards followed in my 1963 class, this is a click above bitchen!I surfed @ Windansea back then and I following up in the spring 2011 to see if the tradition continues…surfing too. Geez I’m glad no one really got it upside the head in this one. A lot o weight was hoisted around to do such a feat.Ryan Dotson ’63

  5. I will never forget that Jack in the box!

  6. Dan Dameron says:

    Snatching a Jack in the box head was like counting coup. It was easy once you got the courage. One simply smacked the round head under it’s chin and in the back to break the plexiglas sphere loose from the mooring. I had one off in less than a minute and kept it as a trophy when living in “The Little Green Fort” on Eads. One night the cops came by to investigate a neighbors complaint that there were 7 to 8 guys and 1 girl in the LGF. Ray Townsend would bring Debbie with him to watch the fights on TV and other occasions, she was the lone girl and this neighbor thought there was going to be “Trouble”…anyway the cops showed up, everyone went on the roof but me and pulled up the ladder. The cops looked everywhere for the too many guys and only one girl. They could hear the giggling from the roof but since there was no visible access they did not look on the roof. As they interrogated me I noticed the Jack Head in the corner, clearly in view. As they started to get into that area of questioning Dick Rauth walked in the front door. He knew one of the cops thru his older brother. They bullshitted a few moments and then the cops left. That was one time I was glad that Rauth showed up.

  7. This is hilarious. Mac Meda and His Merry Men of Creative Pranks! What an era!

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