Decorating, not vandalizing
Organized toilet-papering: Tim Koss, a senior at Green Bay East High School, gets into the spirit of homecoming by decorating the school grounds with toilet paper Thursday night. East High encourages students to toilet-paper the school instead of homes.
from Green Bay Press-Gazette (Green Bay, Wisconsin) of 29th September 1995
The American-English verb toilet-paper, or T.P., means to cover a tree, a building, etc., with toilet paper as a prank.
The earliest mention of the practice that I have found associates it with Halloween; Kids to ‘Roll Out White Carpet’ Halloween was published in the Lincoln Evening Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska) of 28th October 1961:
Halloween pranks have changed now, says Stan Miller of University High School, but the devilish intentions haven’t.
“T.P.-ing” has replaced tipping over outhouses as a major Halloween prank, he commented to correspondent Ramona Brakhage.
When rolls of long white toilet paper sail through the sky, and are draped over trees and houses — that’s T.P.-ing.
Times have changed, said Kathy Weber of Lincoln Southeast High School to correspondent Carl Norden. “While our parents once put wagons on barns, we resort to T.P. and confetti.”
Asked what her Halloween plans are, Kay Marris of Southeast replied:
“We’ll T.P. Carl Norden’s house.”
“Halloween’s the time when a few trees are decorated with a type of white ribbon,” noted Larry Johnston of Lincoln Northeast High School.
Ted Jackson of University High believes one major difference between current pranks and those played by parents in their youth is that more time and planning went into the execution of them, and they were usually group projects.
“Our pranks are usually spontaneous,” he said, “and are performed by individuals or small groups. If we were to attempt such large scale pranks, we most certainly would be accused of vandalism.”
Most of the Lincoln high school students polled felt that the Halloween pranks of yesterday are considered “juvenile delinquency” today.
Bob Byers, Jo Ellen Williams and Jim Cook, all of Lincoln Southeast, agreed that former generations could commit more Halloween pranks and get away with them.
“Because pranksters are more publicized today, they are termed juvenile delinquents,” said Kay McGoogan of Southeast to correspondent Joanne Stohlman.
The pranks parents once pulled would receive such a label today, said Dave Pavelka and Virginia Spinar of Northeast to correspondent Diana Goldenstein.
“Our heads would roll if we did one-half what adults once did,” noted Marcia Goeschel of University High, echoed by Bonnie Steinhauer.
“The pranks actually are no worse today than a long time ago,” said Bill Welch of Pius X High School, “but the offenders are dealt with more severely now, because there are more kids pulling them.”
Bill Harding and Virginia Thomas, both of Pius, agreed with Bill’s statement.
Dolores Eskey of Pius noted, however, that more damage is done now on Halloween than in parents’ days.
One reason for this, suggests Bill Bears of Southeast, is that more youths today have cars, as well as different interests.
In some pranks, kids are more vicious today, says Jo Finley of Southeast.
A majority of the students polled considered pranks a necessary part of Halloween, though only one expressed a knowledge of the real reason for Halloween.
“It isn’t really Halloween unless you get into some mischief,” said Roger Morgan.
“I just like to soap windows a little,” said Eileen Shortt of Northeast to correspondent Philip Lyon.
Youths today soap windows but don’t terrorize children and smash jack-o-lanterns so much, said Larry Webster of Southeast.
Other students believed it would be best not to pull Halloween pranks.
However, the earliest occurrence of the verb toilet-paper that I have found does not associate the practice with Halloween. The Ottawa Herald (Ottawa, Kansas) of 14th May 1963 published a letter from a certain Raymond J. Jennings; he writes that he is the father of
one of the six boys involved in the “toilet-papering” of a local Junior High School teacher’s home last week. […]
The six started out on what might normally be called a prank. What red-blooded American male has not taken part in some similar antics—especially those of us of the generation for whom Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were heroes? Then the prank got out of hand. One boy (not by prearrangement) showed up in a pick-up truck and, instead of just toilet paper, one dozen eggs and three tomatoes were thrown.
Mr Jennings writes that, while he is more than happy with the manner in which the “local police, school authorities and Juvenile Court handled this matter” so that from now on the “community has six young men who will make better citizens”, he deplores that the newspaper published a note saying that the printing of the pranksters’ names “might have served as a most effective lesson”; he adds:
The function of a paper is to publish news, not to make judgement or teach lessons!—Judgement is the function of the court and teaching the role of the home and school.
The following was published in the column Helen Help Us! of The Xenia Daily Gazette (Xenia, Ohio) of 4th June 1968:
Fun’s fun, but this is getting ridiculous. Four times in the past month my house has been “T-P’ed.” I’m tired of pulling strung out streamers from trees, the roof, my car; raking it up from the lawn, and even out of the swimming pool. When it rains during the night, the clean-up job is murder.
My Dad came home last evening and really blew his top. The front yard looked like a snow storm, with bathroom tissue over every inch. The gang outdid themselves this time.
Sure, I know it’s a compliment, getting “T-P’ed.” In our town, you’re not really with it, unless your house has been hit. Some of the kids look at me in awe: “Migosh, T-P’ed FOUR TIMES: How popular can you GET?” they sigh.
Too popular! Without making like a wet blanket, how do I throw cold water on this sport?
—TIRED OF WHITE LAWNS
You might voice it around that your Dad is on the warpath, and HE just may throw cold water, via the garden hose.
Better yet, why don’t all you kids figure out a new way to show your affection? The T.P. bit is getting pretty old hat. Isn’t it about due to go down the drain? — H.