Nittany Lion Shrine What the heck is a Nittany Lion, anyway? Read the story of our school symbol and mascot (and hear the lion roar),

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Our Mascot, the Nittany Lion

Nittany Lion Collage

Historical Notes about the Nittany Lion

Penn State is located in the Nittany Valley in the shadow of Mount Nittany. The mascot is a mountain lion, an animal that became extinct in that area about a quarter century after the university was founded in 1855.

The name "Nittany" is said to be derived from Indian words meaning "protective barrier against the elements". The name is also attributed to a mythical Indian princess, "Nita-Nee", who is said to have led her people into the safety of this central Pennsylvania valley. When she died, the story goes, the mountain arose overnight above her grave.

The Penn State Nittany Lions owe their name to Harrison D. "Joe" Mason, a varsity baseball player of the Class of 1907. While at Princeton for a game in 1904, he and his teammates were shown a statue of a Bengal tiger as an indication of the fierce treatment they could expect from the Princeton team. Mason is said to have replied that the Penn State Nittany mountain lion was the "fiercest beast of them all." Penn State won the game that day, and Mason campaigned for adoption of the mascot back home, writing in the student publication The Lemon,

"Every college the world over of any consequence has a college emblem of some kind—all but The Pennsylvania State College…Why not select for ours the king of beasts—the Lion!! Dignified, courageous, magnificent, the Lion allegorically represents all that our College Spirit should be, so why not 'the Nittany Mountain Lion?' Why cannot State have a kingly, all-conquering Lion as the eternal sentinel?"
The student body liked Mason's idea.

No official vote was ever taken on the adoption of the mascot, which was almost universally agreed by students, faculty, and townspeople to be an appropriate symbol. Two alabaster African lion statues, left over from the Pennsylvania exhibit at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, were placed atop the columns at the main campus entrance on College and Allen Streets in 1907. These were the first lion symbols—albeit the wrong species—and students affectionately named them "Ma" and "Pa." In the 1920s, a pair of stuffed mountain lions was placed in the Recreation Building to watch over athletic events. About the same time came the tradition of having a student dressed in a furry lion outfit appear at football games.

About the Nittany Lion Shrine

Nittany Lion Shrine and MascotDuring the 1930s, students launched a campaign for a lion shrine, a place where they could gather to hold pep rallies and celebrate sports victories (and have their picture taken with Mom and Dad). The Class of 1940 voted to give as its gift to their alma mater the sum of $5,430 to pay for the construction of such a shrine. A committee was formed and after much deliberation chose a location between the Recreation Building and Beaver Field, where the lion could be framed against a natural setting of trees, grass, and shrubs. Sculptor Heinze Warnecke was retained to carve the lion at the site, from a thirteen-ton block of limestone. Warnecke worked through the summer of 1942 and finished the statue in time for it to be dedicated at homecoming ceremonies on October 24.

Since then, the Nittany Lion shrine has come to be one of the most visited, photographed, and talked about places on the University Park Campus. Moreover, the image of the Nittany Lion has been etched not only in stone, but also in the memories of tens of thousands of Penn Staters.

Information courtesy of PSU Libraries.