Students working on The Octopus

Through the Eyes of The Octopus

The Octopus’s demise

In 1959, after 40 years of poking fun at the campus and its inhabitants, the life of the Octopus was coming to a close. “At any point along the way, the magazine could have folded,” says Hamlet. “There was never any money.”  The task of putting out the magazine, which received no funding whatsoever from the university, took a huge toll on the editors.

“The way you got to be an editor was being picked by the last editor,” says Hamlet. Because no one would take the reins from him, the Octopus folded. The magazine’s last edition was a retrospective overseen by Hamlet in 1959.

Luckily, humor publications did not die with the Wisconsin Octopus. From its ashes rose other humor magazines on and around the campus. The Badger Herald had a short-lived humor magazine called Bite and, as mentioned, tried to resurrect the Octopus in 1972–73. The Onion, founded in 1988 by former Daily Cardinal staffers, went on to have a print run of 500,000 distributed in cities throughout the country.

Few copies of the Octopus exist outside of the UW Archives. It’s quite possible that many of the earliest editions of the magazine can be found only there. “We have many rare publications in the archives,” says UW Archives director David Null. “And the earliest copies of the Octopus are some of the rarest.”

If you’re interested in seeing for yourself the multifarious splendor that is the Octopus (or if you want to delve into the treasure trove known as the Sphinx), visit the UW Archives, located on the fourth floor of the Steenbock Library on the west end of campus. Those interested in campus humor in general should head to Memorial Library’s Special Collections and check out the Dobbertin College Humor Magazine Collection of hundreds of magazines from everywhere from Stanford to Penn State.

Even though the Octopus is long gone, the spirit of humor that was embodied in the magazine is echoed in the inspired goofiness that pervades many campus traditions, from the flamingos on Bascom Hill to the annual parade of creatively hilarious Halloween costumes on State Street. And who knows? Even now there might be another funny creature swimming in the depths of campus culture just waiting for the right time to reveal itself.

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