Redefining the Classroom

Unicorn hunting has a long and storied history at LSSU

Posted: March 14th, 2014

Unicorn Hunter badge
(Download a print version)

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Let the record show that Lake Superior State University unicorn hunting licenses have put Michigan on the world map. LSSU's contribution to global fame was touted in a March 11 Huffington Post feature titled, "The 1 Weirdest Thing You Never Knew About Your Home State." Run a Web search on the headline to see for yourself, and then continue reading this for the rest of the story.

The late W.T. (Bill) Rabe, known for his clever PR stunts from his days as a Detroit-area publicist, created the Unicorn Hunters in 1971, shortly after he was hired as LSSU's director of Public Relations.

Rabe, with the assistance of LSSU professors of English Peter Thomas, John McCabe, John Stevens and others, came up with the Hunters as a way of garnering more publicity for LSSU, which had just established itself as an independent school after being a branch of what is now Michigan Technological University.

The Unicorn Hunters made the news often for activities and events including: the annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness; burning a snowman on the first day of spring, World Sauntering Day, International Stone-Skipping Tournament held annually on Mackinac Island, Unicorn Questing Season, and Teacher Thank You Week.

Bill Rabe, ca. 1975
(Download a print version)

Marketing experts might say Rabe 'leveraged' (banished in 2001) the Unicorn Hunters in a big way. The group's activities, especially 'word banishment,' attracted the attention of news media everywhere. Rabe once had an ABC News crew on campus to film students in their quest for unicorns.

The Unicorn Hunters were behind the establishment of one of LSSU's first literary magazines, The Woods-Runner. The quarterly publication was mailed to thousands of readers around the world. Through the magazine, subscribers were able to keep up on the Hunters' activities, as well as sample writing from LSSU students, alumni, employees and others.

The journal's spirit continues today with Border Crossing, a literary and arts journal published by the Lake Superior State University Creative Writing Program.

The Unicorn Hunters retired when Rabe did in 1987, but the spirit of some of the group's activities lives on. 'Word Banishment' continues to draw hundreds of nominations each year from people throughout the world. The annual snowman burning on the first day of spring – this year at noon on March 20 - is one of the more popular events on the LSSU campus, if not the Eastern Upper Peninsula.

To say that Rabe succeeded in doing what he set out to do with the creation of the Unicorn Hunters is a great understatement. Today, LSSU continues to receive mail addressed to the Unicorn Hunters. Many people write or call to find out if LSSU is still issuing Unicorn Questing licenses, and we are happy to be able to offer the license on our website.

Rabe used to sell the licenses through the university PR office, along with Hunter-related bumper stickers. LSSU's English Club still sells personalized licenses, suitable for framing, with proceeds earmarked to fund club activities.

Peter Thomas, former chief herald of the Unicorn Hunters and editor of The Woods-Runner, once said, "The pursuit of the unicorn is a lonely quest, but many more embark upon that journey than teachers or publishers may recognize."

His words still ring true. While the Hunters do not physically exist on the LSSU campus anymore, it is apparent that many folks are still 'questing,' thanks to Rabe and his colleagues.


CONTACTS: Tom Pink, e-mail, 906/635-2315; John Shibley, e-mail, 635-2314; Prof. Janice Repka, e-mail, 635-2448.