Poor William’s legend lives on

Welcome to NIU. Instead of doing the usual, lame, “welcome new student” column, I am going to tell you a story. A story about an NIU icon.

His name was William, William Goose. The friendliest goose you ever did see. No one was sure where William came from or why he behaved almost like a human being. Some said he was a product of genetic engineering, others claimed he had escaped from a petting zoo in Puxatawnee. Some even said he had a human brain compliments of NIU’s psychology department, but no one knew for sure.

William arrived on campus in the late 1960s and quickly became a campus character known for his friendly and outgoing manner.

He resided in the area around the east lagoon and liked to be petted, often swam alongside canoeing students, and visited Lowden Hall secretaries by pecking on their windows and honking for food. William loved the attention, and he was happy he had a home and was dearly loved. However, he was not loved by everyone.

On March 8, 1975, William was arrested for pooping around Lowden Hall. He was incarcerated in Eco Park (not the apartment complex) on the university’s far west side.

The campus became divided. Some wore “Free William” buttons, others wore buttons stating “Cook Williams Goose.” But the majority of NIU’s students and faculty missed William and favored his return. Even the DeKalb City Council clamored for his freedom, referring to him as “Bill.”

The Northern Star, Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times newspapers were among those reporting about the taking of William, and pressuring for his freedom.

Finally, in April of 1976, William was freed and returned to the lagoon, however he did not return alone.

The terms of his probation prevented him from wandering in the Lowden and Altgeld Hall areas. No matter, William seemed content to stay near the lagoon. William had settled down, he’d married Wilma Goose.

William and Wilma lived happily in the west lagoon for many years, their contentness only briefly interrupted by rampant rumors.

In 1977 there was the “William is dead” craze. Several students claimed he had been crushed by a car. The rumors were erroneous as William and Wilma celebrated there first full year of freedom together.

In 1979 rumors were spread that the two geese had children. This story too was found to be false. Sadly William and Wilma never had children.

In 1980 tragedy again struck William. A dog broke free from his leash, and murdered Wilma. William lived his last year a lonely widower. His death in 1981 would be more tragic than Wilma’s and cause controversy for years—people still wonder “what really happened on that day in April.”

On April 17, 1981, William was found dead on the west side of the lagoon, a shoe lace around his neck. The body had apparently been dragged to its final resting place.

At first strangulation was thought to be the cause of death, but soon it was found that Williams head had been crushed by a blunt instrument.

The campus again exploded in rage. Witch hunts for the killer consumed the campus and the student body called for justice.

A student eventually confessed to the killing, said he was meditating, William startled him, so he bashed his head in with a stick.

The fate of Williams’ killer is still a mystery. Some say he left NIU to avoid retribution. Others say NIU administrators paid him a $1 million and that he is somewhere in Barbados. To this day it is still a mystery.

On that April night, a piece of NIU died. Some say that if you listen real hard you can still hear him, swimming in the lagoon, honking for food and flapping his wings high through the night.