Pio past: Ducklings down the drain

For almost 120 years, The Pioneer has reported on news from the Whitman campus and surrounding community. Pio Past pulls old articles from past decades from the Penrose Library archives to give modern readers a glimpse of campus history.

Tragic accident strikes Whitman duck population

Originally printed April 22nd, 1999

by Elizabeth Johnson, staff writer

Students leaving Prentiss Dining Hall were met with a unique situation Saturday night. Two ducklings had fallen down an open sewer hole, and for more than an hour, dozens of students attempted to rescue them.

First-year student Jimmy Maize was the first student on the scene. According to Maize, two students were chasing the baby ducks and trying to pick them up.

“I saw a guy on his knees trying to pick up a baby duck right by the hole and then I heard him exclaim and they were both looking down the hole. At that point, I knew they had fallen down. Two sets of chirping sounds were heard down the hole, so a rescue mission attempted to save them.”

Maize said that someone ran to get a coat hanger, but he didn’t think that was a smart or useful idea. He attempted to make a pulley out of cardboard and hemp with some bread on the platform to pull the ducks up. Unfortunately, the pulley wasn’t long enough to reach the bottom of the hole.

Students who gathered around the hole tried to invent new strategies for saving the ducks. Sophomore Dustin Benham’s knowledge of sewer systems aided the group. “Basically, the sewer inlet pipe which was left uncapped leads to a bigger sewer line which I think that the ducks got trapped in and which was too deep for us to get to,’” Benham said.

Benham, Maize, and numerous other students used a wet vacuum to try and suck the ducks up to safety. They feared though that the ducks would be beheaded in the process so they tried using nylons and cloths to protect the ducks.

The sound of the vacuum was either too loud or the ducks were out of reach. Near the music building, a sewage manhole was opened, and Maize suggested sending somebody down to personally retrieve the ducks. This idea was quickly abandoned. Another idea was to flood the pipe so that the ducks would rise to the top, but Benham rejected the idea saying it would only flush the ducks further down the system.

Maize insisted they kept trying, even after Anderson Senior Resident Matt Carter told them to give up. Carter remarked during the incident, “This is stupid.” Comparisons were made to the baby Jessica incident when a young girl fell down a well and took days to rescue.

Unfortunately, the ducks were never saved. Animal control was called but never showed up. Whitman security was also present to assist.

“I think that the lesson to be learned here is that open sewer pipes need to be capped off–especially around small ducks. I would like to see an internal investigation about why this was left uncapped,” Benham said.

Maize said, “I am deeply saddened by this event.”

Ironically enough, the pipe now is covered with duct tape and a small cross and bouquet of flowers mark the spot. The bodies of the ducks were never recovered.

Maize said, “It all has to do with natural selection and Darwin. They’ll grow submarine abilities and be able to swim in sewage, and the a new breed of ducks will emerge.”