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Penn State Folklore: The Story Of Princess Nittany

From Joe Paterno to Mike The Mailman, Penn State is chock full of heroes and legends. But have you heard of Princess Nittany?

It all began in Henry W. Shoemaker’s 1916 book, Juniata Memories. This Pennsylvania folklorist published a story regarding a brave warrior princess named Nittany. Shoemaker claimed to have heard this story from an aged Indian named Jake Faddy. This princess led her people through war and famine. She was so beloved, in fact, her burial mound grew up into a mighty mountain overnight upon her death.

“She’s a legendary champion who embodies virtues such as strength, heroism, wisdom, and compassion, and whose story helps define and strengthen a people’s sense of themselves,” Nittany Valley Society President Chris Buchignani wrote for StateCollege.com.

The legacy of Princess Nittany has lived on in the Penn State community for nearly 100 years. The 1914 La Vie yearbook even included an alternative version of the legend. The ending told of the college whose students were inspired with the “Goodness of Nittany.”

Legends of the Valley documentary.

Princess Nittany’s tale is often confused with that of Nita-Nee featured in the story of Malachi Boyer and Penn’s Cave. Three recent Penn State film students — Amy Camacho, Kayla Gibbon, and Lisa Pierce — produced a senior film exploring Nita-Nee’s legend.

Though she may be folklore, the princess has had a huge impact on Penn State’s community. When the Mount Nittany Conservancy needed to raise $120,000 in just one year to save the mountain’s natural form, the true success and donations were not inspired or gained through a plea for natural conservation. Locals donated upon hearing the alluring story of the spirit of the mountain’s legendary princess.

If that isn’t proof enough of her legacy, the princess is featured on the infamous Penn State landmark, the Heister Street mural. The mural aims to celebrate local heritage and depicts individuals who have made major impressions and impacts on the community. The princess is also featured on the Calder Way mural, another classic example of Penn State community art.

According to the Nittany Valley Society, “While we can never travel to the Shire and visit Bag End or call forth a light saber using the power of The Force, we can catch an early morning glimpse of Mount Nittany as the rising Sun burns the mist from its peak.”

Though Penn State’s official website says the story is “invented by the author” and fictitious, the story has inspired the creation of the Lion’s Paw Alumni Association and the Mount Nittany Conservancy — two major organizations within the community. This legend has helped inspire and grow the magic within our Nittany Valley as Nittany Lions, an essential part in binding the Penn State community together.

“Like the proud Pennsylvania mountain lion who represents both Penn State and State High, she symbolizes the enduring spirit of our place. She belongs to us,” Buchignani said.

About the Author

Carolyn Popescu

Current senior studying Advertising and Visual Arts, Carolyn has a passion for entertainment and music. She also loves photography, film, graphic design, social media, and all things in between. She's the current Sony Music Marketing Representative for State College, so be sure to reach out to her with any local music scene questions, ideas, proposals, or if you just need someone to geek out about music with.

(Contact her through [email protected] or [email protected])

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