Bill Pickle

If you’ve ever been to Bill Pickle’s Tap Room in State College, and if you like knowing the stories of the places you visit, there’s a fascinating story recounting Dr. Frank Buchman’s relationship with Bill Pickle starting around 1908. Buchman’s story of the bar’s namesake comes in transcript form, from a talk delivered in 1948 in California. It begins:

This afternoon I want to take you back forty years to the time when the then Chairman of the Democratic National Committee asked me to come to State College, Pennsylvania, and see whether I could do anything to settle the differences between the faculty and the students who did not seem to understand each other. He was on the Board of Trustees and he was worried. And he ought to have been worried. There was a strike on, a students’ strike. The atmosphere was antagonistic and he had an idea that I could find the solution. I had no such idea at all. I frankly told him I didn’t think it was my job. But he kept after me and finally I consented to go.

It was there that I found the laboratory that made what is hap­pening here possible. The life of the students reflected the Godless-ness of the place. The first night I got there, there were nineteen liquor parties. Someone said it was so wet you could float a battle­ship…

There were three men who were the focal points of the life of that university. The first of these was a fellow with the name of Bill Pickle…Bill Pickle was an important factor in the life of that university. He was the illegiti­mate son of a colonel. He had a wife and twelve children and everybody called them the Pickles. His job in the daytime was to be hostler for the local physician. At night he worked for the students to whom he peddled liquor. I used to see his stealthy figure sneak­ing about the spiral staircases leading to the students’ rooms at all hours of dark nights. He was a friend not only of all the under­graduates, but of all the recent graduates and the old Alumni. At football games and college festivals Bill was a busy man. There was a State law against saloons and he had to supply liquor for the whole place.

The student strike that he’s talking about came at the close of Penn State President George Atherton’s time. I believe it’s the same strike that led to the creation of Lion’s Paw and ultimately to student self-governance.

This story includes plenty that’ll be familiar to Penn Staters, and plenty that’ll be foreign. I think it’s in the meeting of the two that new perspectives and a more deeply-rooted affection emerges.

In any event, next time you’re raising a glass at Pickle’s with a close friend, you’ll know a part of Bill Pickle’s story.

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