May 1, 2006

Wild Cornell Mascot Wreaks Havoc

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Recently cuddled by several bunnies as the Playboy Mascot of the Month, the Cornell Bear Mascot is only mildly living up to the “wild” ways of his predecessors – four bear cubs named Touchdown who came to Cornell in the early 1900s. During their time, the bears helped raise spirits to cheer on some of Cornell’s most successful football teams, but also managed to cause a lot of trouble. The mischievous bears ogled numerous women, terrorized saltwater taffy stores, managed to get abducted by Harvard, did some jail time in Ohio and caused constant havoc for the Cornell administration.

After reading an article entitled “Spirit” in the Athletics Department Newsletter about the animal mascots, John Foote ’74, an active alum, started sifting through The Sun archives with the goal to write a definitive history of the Cornell mascot. Foote told The Sun he has always held a lasting fondness for the bear because his best friend played the mascot during his undergraduate years. Foote’s goal by the end of this year is to have all the information on the four bears footnoted. “So once and for all we have the definitive history of the Bear,” he said.

The first bear, Touchdown I, led the 1915 football team to Cornell’s first undefeated season and a national title. Cuddly and playful, the bear would delight spectators by climbing the goalposts before the game and at halftime. TD I was bought for $25 plus shipping with money raised by the football team, housed in Bacon Baseball Cage and feasted on honeycomb from the Agriculture College. The bear even traveled with the team, taking up a normal passenger seat and staring out the window to admire the view. Although popular at Cornell, TD I was a troublemaker.

At the Tuller Hotel in Detroit, Touchdown I got lose from his keeper, Sandy Brown ’17, and ran through the dining room, sending the patrons scrambling. Supposedly, the diners did not return to pay their bill.

When the football team visited to practice before the Thanksgiving game against the University of Pennsylvania, TD I hit Atlantic City hard. When TD I was awoken to have his picture taken in front of the hotel, the bear broke loose, ran onto the boardwalk and broke into a saltwater taffy shop, terrifying the owners. TD I then left the store and ran into the ocean. The keepers found a lifeboat under the boardwalk. With no oars, they hand-paddled to finally catch the bear and walk him back to his cage.

In Boston, the manager of the Lenox Hotel promised room service and strained honey if TD I was left in the lobby overnight. Sometime that Friday night, Harvard men stole the bear. Fortunately, TD I was retrieved from a Harvard squash court in time for the game.

In another scrape, TD I “leveled” the UPenn mascot, a husky dog, with a right cross. After the successful season closed, TD I became a main attraction at a zoo in Rome, N.Y. started by an alumni.

Touchdown II arrived for the 1916 season and was described as “too ugly to be safe.” TD II was a black bear cub from Maine, but Foote did discovery any additional about the bear.

Touchdown III was the 1919 mascot but was also not as popular as TD I. A picture taken in 1920 depicts the team managers and head coach standing “just as close as they dare to their leashed mascot,” according to UPenn archives. TD III also became the poster child for a movement among the student body to raise faculty salaries. The politically active TD III was shipped off in a straight jacket to a zoo at Akron, Ohio.

After a two decade break, in 1939 the live mascot returned when Bob Storandt ’40, former editor in chief of The Sun and his housemate Bill Page ’39 purchased Touchdown IV from a New Hampshire animal farm for $50. TD IV was a female black bear and just six months old at the time of purchase. TD IV lived at Forest Home.

Although all Cornellians are “Lynah Faithful” today, the student body ran into contention with Athletics Director Jim Lynah when he forbade the bear from entering Schoellkopf Field.

Foote uncovered The Sun editorials asking Lynah to let TD IV come to the game. The Oct. 5, 1939 editorial stated, “Now TD isn’t a great big ferocious grizzly bear. He’s just a little fellow and all he asks is a chance to help … So of course he’s insured. That will cover all damaged or eaten Orange gridmen and the rest … please good sirs, mayn’t we keep our TD?”

On Oct. 6, 1939, The Sun printed an open letter written to “Dear Mr. Lynah” from TD IV:

“Anyway, a while ago some Cornell fellows invited me to come down here for the football season. They said they thought I’d be good to arouse “spirit,” whatever that is. Now I didn’t come right away on account I’d heard about the three other bears who had been here in past years, and who, I guess, didn’t make out so well. But I came and here I am. Now I’m told that you won’t let me stay. But why, please, sir?”

The letter went on to describe TD IV as comparable to Winne the Pooh, only with thick leather boots on all four paws, a wire muzzle and escorted by two “good strong men” each holding a leash. The letter ended with “Aw gee, I was afraid you wouldn’t like me. But please, Mr. Lynah, won’t you reconsider. I know Cornell wants me and I’m very so enthusiastic about Cornell. Respectfully yours, TD IV.”

But Lynah held stern and issued a final ultimatum that there would be no bears admitted to the field. The Sun reported on Oct. 7 that Touchdown IV was under guard to prevent seizure from”secret agents of the Athletic Association.”

On Oct. 10, TD IV led a pep rally in front of Willard Straight Hall for his supporters to prove to skeptics that the bear existed and to push harder for his acceptance into Schoellkopf. By the end of the rally, TD IV had climbed a tree and refused to budge until William Paige ’40 brought a ladder and affected a “heroic” rescue.

The Cornell Club of Cleveland led by J. Bentley Forker ’26, invited TD IV to the Ohio State-Cornell game. With approval from the Ohio State Athletic Association, who said they had already had goats, geese, lion cubs, wildcats, turkeys, wolves and a snake in their stadium, TD IV made her first official appearance as mascot of the Big Red team in Columbus, Ohio on Oct. 28, 1939. Cornell won with a come-from-behind victory – 23-14 – over Ohio State.

In celebration, the Cleveland alums took TD IV to a nightclub where, according to The Sun front page article written Oct. 31, 1939, “[TD IV] ogled the pretty girls, ate popcorn from their hands, danced to the music and upset things at will, including the nerves of certain guests. They summoned the Animal Protective League. When its agents arrived TD was enroute to the top of a potted palm. He came down and was incarcerated after a brief chase.”

After the nightclub incident, TD IV was sent to the mountains of Pennsylvania to resume a normal bear life. The Sun editorial written on Oct. 31, 1939 stated, “We sincerely hope TD manages to get along and make a comfortable living. Goodbye TD and Good Luck!”

Foote said that he plans to write a small informational pamphlet on the four bears for general use, but his main focus is to write a children’s book about the adventures of Touchdown. He plans to combine the four bears into one character and base the stories off the actual events. Foote stated that he has no intention to make this a cute cuddly bear. He said, “This is a mischievous bear and like all Cornellians he likes his fun … he would have loved Slope Day.”

Archived article by Casey Holmes
Sun Staff Writer