Late in the evening on April 26, 1933, a call came into the State House press room - the Sacred Cod was gone. The reporter who took the call at first thought it was just a joke, but he alerted security guards, who checked the House of Representatives. And sure enough, the 4'11 pine carving of a cod, which had overseen legislative affairs since 1784, was missing. As the Globe reported at the time:
State detectives, Boston police and State House guards combined in a frenzied but fruitless search for the emblem. Where the emblem hung were two wires, but no replica of the cod.
Th next morning, anxious representatives, bereft of their guiding fins, poured over lawbooks looking for the harshest possible sentences for the ne'er-do-wells.
After some initial red herrings, suspicion soon centered across the river, on Harvard, in part because witnesses recalled seeing a couple of suspicious, well dressed young men wandering around the State House with a very long box not long before the Cod went missing. A Harvard Lampoon writer was briefly detained at Newark Airport on suspicion he knew something about the heist - police concluded he didn't. Lampoon editors never cracked, but they remain the best suspects in which officials concluded was part of its interminable wars with the staff of the Harvard Crimson.
A couple of nights later, Charles Apted, superintendent of caretakers at Harvard, got a call advising him there'd be something interesting for him by Chestnut Hill Reservoir. He got in his car and quickly drove over - where he spotted a car with no license plates on Lake Street that took off as soon as he arrived. He gave chase and somewhere on the West Roxbury Parkway, managed to overtake the car. Two guys got out, gave him the Cod, then sped away.
He delivered the Cod to State Police detectives, who, after assessing the fish for damage (and three of its six fins were nicked), brought it back to the State House - where workers re-installed it, but six inches higher up, in the hopes that if anybody tried taking it again, they'd be more noticeable because they'd need a stepladder.
The theft was actually the second cod-related event to embroil the commonwealth in five years. In 1928, the Registry of Motor Vehicles released new license plates that, for the first time, featured a symbol: The cod, of course (it beat out a beanpot and, for some reason, a boot -- Update: See the comments on why a boot). The registry was forced to take the fish off plates the very next year, however. Today, the Registry admits:
The image, which resembled an oversized guppy more than a codfish, sparked controversy among local fishermen. After suffering one of the worst years in fishing history, the fishermen blamed the RMV for representing the cod swimming away from the word "Massachusetts" which was printed on the plates. The controversial image was removed from passenger plates in 1929 and a more realistic and detailed codfish shown swimming toward Massachusetts appeared on truck plates in that same year.