Why Did This University Name Their Dining Hall After A Cannibal?

alferd packer
PHOTO: CU-BOULDER

Someone at the University of Colorado Boulder has a real sick sense of humor — and I love it. 

The home to the Colorado Universary Buffs is also home to a dining hall with a memorable name: The Alferd Packer Grill. Who is this said Packer, you ask, and why am I over here laughing about him? The story is a long one, but can be started like this: Packer is the only man in the U.S. to be convicted of cannibalism. And because America is made up of sick people (like me), changing the name of a dining hall at a university to something implying that they're eating people, is only natural.

Colorado University - Boulder

Now for the long version of the story. Back in 1874, a group of prospectors — Israel Swan, Shannon Wilson Bell, George Noon, Frank Miller, and James Humphrey — departed in early winter and headed toward the Los Pinos Indian Reservation. A man named Alferd Packer joined them. When immense snow hit and the temps dropped below freezing, it's said that Packer and his crew were forced to do the unthinkable: Eat each other. But in the end, only Packer was alive, well-fed, and telling the tales of his frost-bitten companions. 

Despite his pleas of innocence, people believed there was no way that Packer was telling the truth. According to 5280 Magazine's coverage of Packer's life (and the annual festival in his honor), a month after returning from the journey, his story changed to something more gruesome than death due to ferocious conditions. Packer spoke of "a series of accidents, murders, and cannibalism for the sake of survival." 

Colorado State Archives
Colorado State Archives

Because no one had ever admitted to eating another person before, naturally, the town erupted in chatter. It was 1883 in Lake City, Colorado, and Packer was about to face trial. According to True West Magazine, the then 34-year-old Packer was originally sentenced to death by hanging, but due to court complications, walked out the courtroom with a new sentence: 40 years in prison. About 20 years later, Packer was released and moved to Littleton, Colorado, where he spent the rest of his life living the legacy that was quickly taught in schools across the state. 

Fast forward to the late 60s. A CU student by the name of Paul Danish, who was student body vice president at the time, was fed up with the foul food that was being served at his campus dining hall. "The old name was the Roaring Fork Grill," said Jimmie Baker, the interim Director of the University's Memorial Center. So what would any right minded student do? Suggest a new name. "[Paul] Danish suggested to Paul Talmey, the student body president, that they name the grill after Alferd Packer, as a joke about the quality of food," Baker said. 

And that was that. After the name went through the newly established Student Assembly, there was no turning back. And apparently, there has yet to be any discussion about changing the name to something less cannibalistic. "I haven't experienced any backlash," said Baker of his 31 years at the school. "We see a lot of alumni who come back and get a kick out of it. They get to show their family members what its called and it brings them back to their college days. And there's still such a history inside the dining hall, that takes you back to the Western 1800s."

CU-Boulder isn't the only place pitching plaques for Packer. Back in 1977, The Washington Post reported that the original $29 plaque made in memory of Packer was being removed from the cafeteria of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. After the media expressed disgust over naming an official dining hall after a cannibal, it was moved to The National Press Club, where it happily resides today. 

And apparently, you can order an Alferd Packer-approved burger there, whatever that means. 

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LAUREN TURNER

Writer of things. Lover of babies. Addicted to food. Potential wino. I do not social meed, but I need more mead. 

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