Location: Lincoln, Nebraska
Date: April 16, 1992
Eric Lunde and Dan Potter were students at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. As a project for an art class they were taking, they wanted to make plaster masks of their faces. They had seen other students make face casts and thought the masks would be fun things to have. They liked the idea of having their faces permanently captured in the stone-like plaster of Paris. They approached their teacher, Professor Jim McClelland, with the idea, and he agreed to help them. He had helped many students before this with the same sort of project, and anticipated no problems with Eric and Dan's request. They agreed that they would meet in the campus art room around 1pm on April 16, 1992.
When they met, Professor McClelland first showed the two young men how to mix the plaster of Paris, which would then be applied to their faces, one at the time. They all agreed that Eric's face would be the first one "molded," so they prepared him for the procedure. They began by coating his face with petroleum jelly. This is an essential first step, because the petroleum jelly acts as an agent to keep the plaster of Paris from sticking to hair or skin. Once Eric's face was completely covered with the slippery substance, two specially adapted straws were inserted into his nostrils, to give him a clear airway during the procedure. The plaster would need approximately fifteen minutes to set, at which time the mask could be pulled from Eric's face. The resulting image would be a clear likeness of his face, cast in plaster.
With their initial preparations complete, Eric lay down on a worktable and Professor McClelland and Dan placed a special wooden frame around his head. The frame would hold any excess plaster. When he was comfortable, they began to pour wet plaster over his face. Eric remembers this as being a very strange sensation. He notes that he had a brief moment of panic, but then--realizing that he could breathe easily--he relaxed. When his face was completely covered with plaster, Professor McClelland and Dan sat down to wait the required fifteen minutes to allow the plaster to dry and set completely.
At the end of the allotted time, they tested the plaster mask, felt that was hard, and had Eric sit up. When they tried to gently pull the mask away from his face, however, they were shocked to hear his cries of discomfort. Evidently the mask wasn't slipping easily; it appeared to be stuck to his face! They continued to tug gently, but Eric's muffled moans stopped them. Eric noted later that it felt as though his "whole scalp was going to be pulled off!"
High school student Kathy Long happened to walk by the art room at this time. Although she was still in high school, Kathy was taking a few courses at the college. She was also training to become an EMT. She remembers thinking about her training, trying to recall if anything she had already learned could be applied to this situation. She could think of nothing specific to help the professor and his students. A small crowd had gathered at this point, in part to help Eric and in part to watch the comic situation unfolding. Eric was concerned that he not be injured, but he was also embarrassed by his predicament. Dan began to kid him, noting that maybe the young women at the college would "like his new look!"
Music teacher Lisette Deemer heard the commotion and came to offer Professor McClelland her help. Taking suggestions from the onlookers, the group tried pouring different substances over the mask, in an effort to loosen it from Eric's face. They poured water, cooking oil, and liquid soap on the mask, but nothing helped. Nothing would budge the mask. The suggestion was made to simply break the plaster, but Eric refused. He wasn't about getting hurt, but he felt that he had already suffered for this project--and he needed the credit for his art class! Professor McClelland offered to excuse him from the project, but Eric was adament. He wanted the intact mask for a grade, and as a souvenir of his ordeal!
Now, unbeknownst to Eric, a call was placed to 911. Captain Gary Kuehn and two other firefighters quickly responded. Upon arrival they evaluated Eric's physical condition. When they had assured themselves that he was breathing easily and that his color was fine, they realized that they didn't have any equipment that could help free Eric's face. They suggested bringing Eric to the local hospital's emergency room, but Eric--fearing more laughter and embarrassment--declined their suggestion. Finally, someone suggested a dentist's office. Eric agreed to this solution; he knew that there would be fewer people at a dentist's office, and thus a smaller chance that anyone he knew would be there.
Eric and Dan carefully made their way to Professor McClelland's car, and he drove them to the offices of Lisette Deemer's dentist, Dr. Reinmuth. After looking over the situation, Dr. Reinmuth asked his office mate, orthodontist Dr. Dwornik, to help him. This made Eric nervous, because he had just broken up with Dr. Dwornik's daughter! Eric could only hope that Dr. Dwornik would behave professionally at all times!
The two doctors worked over Eric carefully, using their dental tools. They gently chipped away at the mask, beginning at Eric's hairline, where the mask seemed to be stuck. They tried to loosen the mask from his face, while at the same time leaving it as intact as possible, so that Eric could have his souvenir. It took them about forty-five minutes, but they were finally able to remove the mask from Eric's face. He had a patch of red, inflamed skin on his forehead, where the plaster had been stuck, and some hair had been pulled from his scalp, but other than that he was fine. He suffered no permanent scars or damage.
However, he has had to put up with the teasing of his friends, and his legendary status on campus. Professor McClelland is relieved that no one was hurt. Eric says that one lesson he has learned is that an artist must carefully research the materials he is to use. Because they had not applied enough petroleum jelly to his forehead and hairline, the plaster stuck to his skin there. Dan notes that "all artists must suffer for their craft; Eric just suffered a little earlier and a little longer than most!"