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The Secret Lives of Lions

As campus becomes populated again, the tail tale of the Lion mascot who got a DUI will surely spread. It’s a safe bet that this story will be in the Collegian on Monday.

But is this the first time that we’ve had a flighty feline? A quick search of the archives says no. In the process, we also found out the true origin of the Lion.

In this front page story from April 12, 1979, a Collegian reporter named Bob Carville did some “gonzo” journalism to understand the path one must take to become the Lion. In the article, the reporter uses the story of Dave Lacey to illustrate why the old method of Lion succession– when the current lion was allowed to choose his replacement– was a flawed method.

What did Dave Lacey do? And to whom? Find out after the jump.

Carville, the author, cites,

Dave Lacey, the mascot in 1969, who instigated a riot when he staged a fight with the Pitt Panther mascot. His costume was destroyed when the Pitt fans ripped it from his back. It was a legendary moment for lion mascots.

A quick search here tell us that Lacey was the Lion until 1971, so the repercussions of the incident must have been minimal.

There are some other cool facts in the story. For instance, I didn’t know how the Lion became our mascot.

Contrary to popular belief, the Nittany Lion we all know and love has not been with the University since its founding in 1855. It was the big idea of Harrison D. “Joe” Mason (’07), who, during a Penn State-Princeton baseball game (not a football game) became engaged in a verbal volleyball match with a few students from Princeton. The Princeton boys had brought with them to the game a pair of Bengal tigers, the Princeton symbol of power, to illustrate, I presume, what the Princeton nine was going to do to the Penn State team.

Whoa… so Princeton brought actual Bengal tigers to the game? Really? Ok… so what happened next?

Mason, the editor of the Lemon, Penn State’s magazine at the time, was not so easily intimidated. Not to have his school so easily outdone, he fabricated a story about “the Nittany Lion– the true King of Beasts” and he saw his fable take new significance with his friends following Penn State’s victory that day.

In his senior year, Mason saw the Lion officially adopted as the University’s symbol, but the first mascot didn’t come until 1919

There’s a lot of information out there. This is just the beginning.

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About the Author


Creator of @OnwardState. Big fan of sweaters.

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