As a heat wave spread across campus on one historic University Park night in spring 1977, tensions between the sixth floor boys of Mifflin Hall and girls from a neighboring dorm were on the rise. It was a week before finals, but a power outage kept the Mifflin students from studying. As the tale goes, one of the girls shouted, “Show us some skin.”
And that’s exactly what John Zang did.
Wearing nothing but a raincoat and a Steelers tassel cap that shielded his face from spectators, he stepped out onto Mifflin Road. Dropping the coat, Zang took off down the street stark naked. He ran circles around Pollock Road while his friend, who happened to be a Daily Collegian photographer, snapped pictures.
They weren’t alone. According to Zang, at least 100 people watched his display from the sidewalks surrounding the quad. Spectators stood outside, including about half of Mifflin Hall, but despite the crowd, the tassel cap did its job and for a few weeks he remained anonymous.
It wasn’t until he was sitting in the commons with a group of his friends that he was identified as the man who ran around Pollock naked. A few girls came up to his table and made a clever remark about seeing him on that special night, and soon after that, everybody knew that John Zang was the Mifflin Streaker.
On that one fateful night, John Zang had unintentionally started a new Penn State tradition that still continues today. Each year on the Sunday night before spring finals week, students strip off their clothes and take a breezy run down Mifflin Road, imitating Zang’s original streak done those many years ago. However, creating a legacy was not the aim of his run, but instead, he explains:
“It was spur of the moment,” Zang said, now from his home in Greensburg. “It wasn’t planned; I was just letting off some steam.”
But how did his solitary run become a storied tradition that students continue year after year?
“I don’t know how it became such a tradition,” Zang said. “That original streak started it and I think people just talked and it just became kind of a tradition.”
He does have his suspicions about who decided to keep his legacy alive the next year, although he has never confirmed them. Zang did not participate in the Mifflin Streak again after his original run, but he believes that it was some other boys in Mifflin Hall a couple floors down that chose to follow his lead and make the naked run an annual event.
“It’s hard to believe that it actually happened,” Zang said, with a hint of humbleness. “In one aspect, it’s neat to be known for something that has become such a long-lived tradition, but it’s not necessarily the most flattering thing to be known for.”
Though that night was the first and last time he ever streaked, he appreciates the event he inspired, assuming it’s all in good fun. So long as nobody gets hurt or causes harm, he hopes the tradition will continue.
“But wait,” some of you are probably saying, “we know John Zang! He’s a senior now and was a big player in UPUA for a few years. How long has this guy been here?”
You see, John Zang’s Penn State legacy did not end with his streak. The dapper, clean-cut man you’re thinking of is John Charles Zang II. The creator of the Mifflin Streak is his father, John William Zang III, who passed along a legacy consisting of more than just a name.
Whether or not the younger Zang will carry on the tradition his father started is another story. In 2009 the elder John Zang spoke to The Daily Collegian about the Mifflin Streak saying, “I just hope my son who will be applying doesn’t necessarily keep that alive.”
Four years later, his lack of desire for his son’s participation in the Streak has not changed. “What I don’t know won’t hurt me,” the elder Zang said about his son’s potential participation this year.
“John most likely thinks it’s neat that his father did something so crazy back in his day,” the elder Zang said.
And he wasn’t wrong. When we asked, the younger Zang did agree that it was a cool legacy to have inherited. “I feel happy that I have a stronger connection to Penn State because of the streak,” he said.
Although he has not yet run in the Mifflin Streak, the younger Zang is not opposed to trying it out.
“I just haven’t had that difficult of a finals schedule, so I haven’t felt that pressure,” he explained to us. “I’m still considering it.”
At this point, only time will tell whether or not John will sit on the sidelines again or join some of his more adventurous peers for his final opportunity to run in the Mifflin Streak and be a part of the tradition his father started so long ago.
But one thing is for sure. On April 28, John Charles Zang II will stand on Mifflin Road, anonymous in the crowd of onlookers, and watch as dozens of streakers run down Pollock Rd. as they have done for 36 years.
And maybe, then, he’ll give his dad a call.