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Old Coaly: The Mule Who Built Penn State

Sure, we’re all about the Nittany Lion here at Penn State. But before the stately Lion, we had Old Coaly, Penn State’s favorite mule, original mascot, and superstar construction worker.

The Lion Ambassador Source Book tells the story of Old Coaly’s journey to Penn State. Way back in 1857, Coaly made the trip from Kentucky to State College with his owner, Piersol Lytle. Lytle’s son, Andy, was a laborer working on Old Main and recruited the mule for help. Coaly spent long days at a stone quarry where Allen Street now is, carrying stones up to the construction site.

When construction ended after six years, the University decided to buy the mule they’d grown to love, paying $198 for its furry friend (the jury’s still out on whether or not that was the common price of mules in the 1800s). From there, Old Coaly became a symbol of Penn State pride. You could catch him around campus, snacking on grass or mowing the lawn. Back then, students were required to do manual labor as part of their tuition. Quickly, they became fast friends with the mule.Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 12.47.37 AM

To the student body’s dismay, Coaly passed away of natural causes in 1893. His bones were immediately preserved and later put on display. When Penn State celebrated its 150th anniversary, Coaly’s bones were moved to the HUB, where they’re on display now. Let’s be honest, some of us (okay, I) thought they were dinosaur bones. But seriously, Old Coaly’s skeleton is there to remind students of his characteristics, ones that all Penn Staters should possess — strength, surefootedness, endurance, long service, and loyalty.

That’s not the only tribute to Coaly on campus — you can also spot a tribute to Coaly at Medlar Field, where a concession stand is called Coaly’s Corner. The College of Agriculture’s honorary society also bears the name of the legendary mule.

Yes, Coaly is in our memory, but some would say he’s even more present than that. A blog called Seeks Ghosts claims that Coaly’s ghost still roams campus. After Coaly’s bones were moved for the first time, students reported seeing a mule wandering around Watts Hall.

So, there you have it. The Nittany Lion is still No. 1 in our hearts, but Old Coaly is by far Penn State’s favorite mule. If Penn State were Pawnee, Old Coaly would be Lil Sebastian.

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