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Nittany Lion Mascot
The Nittany Lion Mascot is an essential part of Penn State's tradition and pride, which originated in 1904 during a baseball game against Princeton. A Penn State baseball player came up with the "Nittany Lion" mascot at the game as a response to taunts from fans of another team.
As I have detailed in a number of legends over the years (like this tale of the Georgetown mascot that was a war hero), college fans and players have always taken a great deal of pride from their school mascots. What do you do, then, when your school does not have a mascot? That was the situation that a Penn State baseball player found himself in in 1904 when he managed to invent the Nittany Lion out of whole cloth as an answer to taunts from Princeton baseball supporters.
Penn St. is located in the Nittany Valley, which is appropriately enough nearby Mount Nittany. The mountains in the area were once patrolled by mountain lions but by the turn of the 20th Century, these lions were more or less extinct.
One of the killed lions was stuffed and put on display in a "Brush Lion" exhibit at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago (celebrating the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage) as part of the Pennsylvania exhibit (right near the Liberty Bell!). This lion ended up being displayed at Penn State in various departments for many years before being lent temporarily to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.
This temporary loan lasted four decades. During its time displayed at Penn State, it was seen by a young man named Harrison D. "Joe" Mason in 1903. The following year, Mason began study at Penn State. He also joined the Penn State baseball team. On an April road trip to the Eastern colleges, the final trip was to Princeton. On a morning tour of the campus, one of the tour guides chose to taunt the Penn State team by showing them the Princeton Tiger at the Princeton Auditorium and noting that the Princeton Tiger was the fiercest mascot there was. Young Mason, an accomplished writer, quickly retorted that they came from Penn State, which is by Mount Nittany, home of the Nittany Mountain Lion, which had never been beaten in a fair fight!
Penn State, did, indeed, defeat Princeton that day, the first of three straight defeats of Princeton. Mason played well at third base and scored one run during the game. It was a nice piece of on his feet thinking by Mason, but it was mostly forgotten about after the game.