Way back in the second week of Wesleying’s existence, Xue posted about the long-forgotten legend of Boon Tan, the most infamous pre-Internet meme Wesleyan had yet known back in the ’70s. Boon Tan languished in the subconscious of alumni of decades past until it was dredged up in April 2006 by blogging Wes grad Plain(s)feminist from an archived Argus article:
“Boon Tan was a Malaysian student who failed to show up in 1972 and again the next year though his face was in the face book. Shortly thereafter ‘the Boon began to appear on the University walls; not a representation of the missing student, but a symbol of evil incarnate. Midnight ceremonies were held. Mass gatherings cried out the word of Boon…’ Boon Tan had the largest following on campus.”
Apparently the whole thing started out as a practical joke on Tan’s ertswhile roommate in WestCo Down 4, with hallmates pulling pranks on him and blaming them on the absent Boon Tan. The spirit of Boon Tan became a WestCo in-joke and was eventually drawn as an “evil” version of the Smiley Face, which became the central character in a series of comics drawn by the head of WestCo for his residents as a sort of a vessel for the decidedly un-PC darkly humorous side of the “peace and love West College environment”.
The drawings were passed around campus and caught like wildfire, with spontaneous Boon graffiti soon going up all over Wes in all sorts of contexts. The phenomenon culminated in a giant Day-Glo Boon being painted on the roof of the former power plant building (which stood where Usdan is now) in the spring of 1977, and kept going strong through the ’80s as a manifestation of Wesleyan weirdness, though by then students were probably unaware of the intentionally offensive origins of the legend.
Incidentally, Boon Tan the human being apparently ended up going to school in Malaysia and becoming a successful doctor, unaware of his inadvertent cult status at Wes.
This brief history is paraphrased from Wes alum Oppyman’s firsthand account of the origins of Boon Tan on the Plain(s)feminist blog, which is kind of fascinating as a window into what Wes was like in the late ’70s.
I bring all this up because the one thing Xue’s post lacked was an actual picture of the infamous Boon – which Wes alum Tod Norman ’79 very belatedly emailed us earlier this week after idly Googling “Boon Tan”, finding Wesleying’s old request for a drawing, and realizing he had one lying around:
A little underwhelming, after all that? I guess you definitely had to be there. Norman reminisces about the heyday of the Boon:
It was ’75. I was a freshman that year… But I was also in West College, and a participant in the very first Zonker Harris day, so I don’t remember much more.
By the way, on the original ZH day, we had over 100 West College residents on a very special batch of…well…. Something. It had been cooked up in the chemistry lab – which, of course, had been noted in the 1974 ‘Underground Guide to Universities’ as producing the best acid on the East coast and Timothy Leary’s favoured supplier.
I do know that about 1979, on a brief return to the states, I saw Boon Tan all over the New York subway (in those days it was covered in graffiti – I understand it’s clean now). It even appeared on two sides of a lift door in a building down in the village, which closed to reveal evil in all its glory.
Well there you have it, an icon of Wesleyan past thoroughly exhumed. Keep Wesleyan Weird advocates, if you’re still around and looking for a vaguely offensive former symbol of weird Wesleyan glory to rally behind, look no further!
Wesleying: Where is Boon Tan?
Plain(s)feminist: The Legend of Boon Tan
Plain(s)feminist: Behind the Wesleyan Legend: Boon Tan, Part Two