What’s That Smell?

An SCU librarian was in for a historic surprise when she opened a book with a foul stench. 

Fish Martingee

Books have long been favored hiding places of dollar bills, furtive letters from secret pen pals, or flower petals fallen from bouquets gifted by first loves. But at Santa Clara University Library, something a lot smellier was recently found stashed between the pages of a tome in the archives: a fish! Specifically, a sardine with a backstory of rivalry and pranks.

The mysterious, not-quite-yet- fossilized saltwater fish was found wrapped in a yellow-stained packet within a reference book in October 2019. Luckily, humanities librarian Leanna Goodwater knew immediately what the sardine was doing out of its can.

“That fish has been in that book for roughly 35 to 40 years. We thought we had found them all, but obviously we missed one,” Goodwater says. And she knew where it came from: pranksters from longtime SCU rival Saint Mary’s College.

One evening in the late 1970s or early ’80s, some Gaels drove down the hill from Moraga and secreted stinky sardines throughout the Broncos’ card catalog and reference books. “Cataloging staff had to open every drawer in the public card catalog (there were thousands) looking for sardines, remove any fish and the cards on either side, photocopy new cards, and refile,” Goodwater recalls.

And they didn’t stop at fish. Goodwater says the next year, Saint Mary’s students let lab mice loose in the lower-level book stacks of the old Orradre Library. “That was less expensive and disruptive,” she says. Except, you know, for the screaming students and terrified mice.

As far as Goodwater knows, SCU students didn’t retaliate with any book-related pranks of their own.

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