Archivist's Angle: The Bun
May 24, 2019
Written by: Conor Snow (GSAS ’20)
Nothing says “college” like a class tradition passed on through the generations. Usually, these traditions begin innocently and in good fun, but sometimes they end up causing resentment and over-the-top competition. NYU is no stranger to this, as exemplified in the College of Arts and Science’s “Class Bun,” a comical gift that was bestowed on the school’s favorite undergraduate class beginning over 100 years ago.
The tradition began at the 1885 University Heights campus’ Class Day ceremonies, when the organization Perstare et Praestare of the CAS senior class awarded a hard and crusty roll to the class of 1887, naming them the “most popular class.” Each subsequent Class Day, the same ritual took place and the famous words “you take the bun” became the phrase to express admiration and excellence from the previous year’s winner. A year or two later, the actual bun was encased in a silver casket and each class honored with the bun had their graduation year inscribed on the side of the case.
Seems like an innocent tradition and that everyone respected the class who won the bun, right? Wrong.
According to yearbooks at the time, the class of 1919 had been skipped over by the class of 1918, and the class of 1920 was crowned the owner of the bun. Later accounts claim that the class of 1921 was in fact skipped. Whichever story is true, the bun mysteriously disappeared, and thus a new tradition of stealing the bun was born. In fact, the bun has spent most of its existence in a stolen state.
The first bun was never found again. It was not until 1961 when a second bun appeared after the Student Council scrounged up funds for a new one. In 1971, the Bun was again stolen, this time by Karl Kaplan (’68), and was kept by Kaplan for the next 10 years. During that time, Kaplan had photographed the bun in various parts of Europe, including Stonehenge and the House of Parliament.
Kaplan finally returned the Bun in 1980, and it subsequently found its new home in the University Archives. It did not, however, stay there for long.
Knowing the bun tradition, Archives Director Bayard Still stated that he “could not have anything in the archives that the students would be encouraged to steal.” It was later moved to Dean Jill Claster’s office, only to be stolen again in 1981 by two masked students. The thieves promised to return the bun if their demands were met; Needless to say, the second bun was never recovered.
By 2001, a third bun came into existence, and not surprisingly, was stolen in January of 2002 from CAS Dean Matthew Santirocco’s office. To make matters worse, the person(s) responsible for stealing the bun sent a baguette and notes to the Dean which said “I have the bun.”
Santirocco, intending to never give up, explained, “I am determined to catch the fiendish felon who abducted the bun. I’m confident that we’ll crack the case.” He even promised to build a shrine for the bun on the ninth floor of Bobst Library if it was returned. Unfortunately, the bun never turned up, and the fate of the tradition remains up the in the air to this day.