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Engineering freshman Conor Walsh unzips his pants on Locust Walk, and everyone looks.

In fact, they stare.

A small audience has gathered at 2:15 on a recent Sunday morning as Walsh, returning from a night of drinking at off-campus parties, urinates all over the statue of Penn's beloved founder.

"Moments are made at the Ben Franklin statue, and I think I contributed to that," he says.

Minutes later, a College sophomore who wished to remain anonymous, jumps atop "Ben on the Bench." Urine splashes from the top of Franklin's head, then trickles down the side of his bronze body.

The sophomore jumps down and raises his arms triumphantly in the air.

They're not the first, and they certainly won't be the last.

Though University officials say they are unaware of the late-night lewdness, it's common knowledge among most students.

Some even say the statue, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this month, is now the center of an unofficial tradition.

"The lore is such that, when you walk down Locust Walk, if you step on the compass, you fail your first midterm; you shouldn't sit next to Ben Franklin because people urinate on him; and what happens under the button stays under the button," Senior Class President Puneet Singh said, referring to other unsanctioned Penn traditions. "You hear all those things freshman year."

Junior Class President Brett Perlmutter said he knows at least six people who have done it, though he has no plans to.

"When I was a freshman, it was like bragging rights marching back to the Quad," Perlmutter said. "I've heard it described as something you have to do before you graduate."

The practice isn't a recent phenomenon - before "Ben on the Bench," there was Ben on the Green.

College alumnus Dan Wolf, who went to Penn from 1965 to 1968, said he remembers his peers urinating on the Franklin statue in front of College Hall.

"If you have a choice between peeing on a tree and peeing on Ben Franklin, is there a choice?" Wolf asked.

It was "more of a humorous type of thing" that only a handful of people were aware of, he said.

And when "Ben on the Bench" was installed in 1987 as a 25th reunion gift from the Class of 1962, the practice was unheard of at the now-popular peeing location.

College '89 alumnus Jon Aranoff lived in the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house with a window overlooking the statue shortly after its installation, but he never once heard of or witnessed anyone urinating on it.

Peeing on either Franklin statue continued to be little known and practiced, if at all, until this decade, alumni from the 1980s and 90s said.

How this activity grew into the modern phenomenon it has become is a mystery, but it's certainly become more than just a late-night prank by a couple students.

On any given weekend, five people urinate on the statue, estimated Colin, a College sophomore who wished not to use his last name. He said he's done it twice. One night, he and five friends took turns.

So, why are students so eager to mark their territory?

"There's a fascination with leaving your urine on different objects that represent power," Singh said.

"It's more symbolic," added the anonymous sophomore shortly after he urinated on Ben's head. "You're peeing on two hundred years of history."

Another part of the appeal, the perpetrators say, is that students know, but outsiders don't - and they often take a seat next to Ben, or on his lap.

In fact, Desmond Tutu, Bill Cosby, Hillary Clinton and Vanna White have all sat next to Ben for photo ops while on campus.

All lewdness aside, urinating on statues once was an artistic technique.

Until the invention of ammonia, artists would urinate on bronze statues to create the same green antique look that marks many historical artifacts and monuments, including the Statue of Liberty.

But there's nothing artistic about what's going on at Penn, says George Lundeen, the Colorado sculptor commissioned to create "Ben on the Bench."

"It's embarrassing to me as an artist to have that happen, and it should be embarrassing to anyone at the University of Pennsylvania to have that happen," he said.

It's illegal too. Public urination is a "code violation notice," punishable with a $300 fine that can be reduced to $50 if paid within eight days.

But since the statue is University property, the act could be considered "institutional vandalism," a third-degree felony, Philadelphia Police spokesman Ray Evers said.

Penn students are not the only delinquents in the Ivy League.

At Harvard University, urinating on the statue of John Harvard, the university's first benefactor, is something "everyone has to do before they graduate," according to Harvard sophomore Brett Thomas, a university tour guide who says he has peed on the statue himself.

Yale students also acknowledge that it is popular to make a late-night stop to pee on the statue of Theodore Dwight Woolsey, the university's president from 1846 to 1871.

But by day, visitors at any of the schools often don't know any better.

The morning after the exploits of Walsh and others, two young women cuddled up next to Ben for a photo.

One girl puts her arm around his neck, smiles, turns her head, and kisses Franklin on the cheek.

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