A Field Guide to New Hampshire Mascots

A closer peek behind the fur, feathers and scales of the state’s hardest working costumed characters

Southern New Hampshire University mascot Petey Penman

Courtesy photo

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In addition to its special appeal to leaf peepers, October marks the beginning of Mascot Watching Season. Although branding, public relations and merchandising (not to mention birthday party appearances) have turned costumed characters into a year-round profession, it’s college homecoming weekends and football games when the fur really starts to fly.

A quick flip through your social media feed will confirm that it’s not just kids who seek out mascot selfies. Posing with your head inside an alligator’s jaws and hugging a giant rodent have proven to be irresistible photo ops for people of all ages.

Whether you’re a diehard mascot groupie or a casual fan of anthropomorphism (the practice of assigning human traits to animals, plants or objects), we created this “mascot field guide” to celebrate some of the state’s most photogenic creatures and tell you where to find them.

Our preliminary findings? For some reason, the Granite State has an obsession with birds and wildcats – and mascots sometimes show up in the most unexpected places (yes, we are talking about you, NH Liquor Commission, Division of Enforcement).

Note: This is not a comprehensive encyclopedic listing of New Hampshire mascots, but a starting point. To keep our research manageable, we skipped over the state’s high schools and focused primarily on colleges, businesses, nonprofits, government agencies and entertainment venues. We also did not include nationally known characters such as Smokey the Bear or McGruff the Crime Dog.

The Key to Fame

Want to experience temporary popularity at heights you never imagined possible? Put on a mascot costume. No matter who you are or what your mood may be, hiding underneath a giant smiling foam and fabric head will make you a magnet to strangers. They all want hugs, autographs and selfies. Nearly everyone treats you like their best friend, even if you may never see them again.

“If I walked around in my regular clothes, wearing an embroidered polo shirt with our logo, I wouldn’t be getting all those high-fives,” concedes Greg Gagnon, the secret identity of the New Hampshire Liquor Commission’s “InvestiGATOR” mascot, an alligator with a badge who’s serious about cracking down on underage drinking.

“Kids love to hang their arms in the jaws, which don’t close, or put their heads in there,” he adds. “The kids want the pictures and the hugs and then we have the perfect opportunity to pass out handouts to the parents. Our goal is for families to start talking about alcohol as early as possible and as often as possible.”

A frequent guest at New Hampshire Fisher Cats and Manchester Monarchs games (Max the Lion was one of Gagnon’s first mentors), the InvestiGATOR occasionally gets booed when he is confused for the mascot of the opposite team.

For Milford native Kelly Sareault, who performed as Wild E. Cat at the University of New Hampshire from 2013 to 2015, putting on the suit was a way to bond with students and alumni who felt as passionate about UNH as she does. She says she is the 30th family member to have attended the state’s flagship school, dating back to her grandparents.

“I know this sounds corny, but eventually being Wild E. Cat started to feel natural,” she says. “I’d put the costume on and a different version of me would come out, a different personality. Eventually, I didn’t think about what I should do, I just did it because I was totally in character.”

That state of zen was missing on Sareault’s first night on the job, when she skated underneath a spotlight with fellow feline mascot Gnarlz to get fans pumped up for a hockey game. As the introductory music stirred the crowd into a frenzy, two Velcro straps on the bottom of Wild E. Cat’s feet accidentally got trapped underneath one of her skate blades. She wiped out, landing on her plush-cushioned stomach.

Does being anonymous inside a costume shield you from public embarrassment? Not completely, but it helps.

“With the lights out, thankfully I couldn’t see anybody in the stands,” recalls Sareault, who now works in the university’s admissions office. “But even though I couldn’t see people’s facial reactions, I heard 7,000 people gasp at once!”

Courtesy photo

What to expect from your mascot audition

Kelly Sareault, who played UNH’s Wild E. Cat from 2013 to 2015, says she and her fellow applicants were first asked to strut with the Wildcat flag and then dance out of costume. The premise is that, if candidates can show swagger without the costume, their personalities will be even more magnified in the suit. “Before you go to your tryout, think about how you would walk through a crowd, what kind of persona you’d want to have and what kind of posture,” she advises.

Becoming the Brand

At least at the college level, mascot performers are clearly not motivated by the money. The UNH mascots earn a flat $400 stipend per semester regardless of how many events they attend (these include gymnastic meets and even weddings). A recent job listing to recruit the next Hootie the Owl at Keene State College was seeking applicants to work 2-4 hours per week at $7.25/hour.

The cost of creating a mascot from scratch can vary widely. The Amherst Recreation Department bought its Amherst Bear costume online for $450. On the high end of the spectrum, you can hire mascot consultant David Raymond, the original Phillie Phanatic, for $20,000 to $75,000 — which also includes training and advisory services on marketing and promotion. Raymond runs an annual Mascot Boot Camp, sharing his personal expertise on how to entertain a crowd without uttering a single word. A similar training camp is run by Jerome Bartlett, the former mascot for the San Antonio Spurs.

Whatever their level of investment, many companies and organizations are enjoying instant dividends. Mascots serve as brand ambassadors in the community and the focal point for merchandising.

“Fungo and Slider are by far our best marketing assets,” says Tyler Murray, media relations manager for the NH Fisher Cats. “They’re the face of our team and help us out year-round. One of the best things I think we do is our Reading Challenge program. If kids read five books, they get two free tickets to a game. Part of my off-season job is going to 30 to 40 schools in New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts and reading to kids while Fungo acts out the scenes. He’s more popular than any baseball player would be.”

Visit any of the four Red Arrow Diners (Manchester, Concord, Milford and Londonderry), and you’ll immediately be inundated with images of Moe Java, a cheery coffee cup. Inspired by a customer drawing a face on a coffee cup years ago, Moe’s mug appears on coloring contest sheets wallpapering the restaurants, on clocks, menus and even on bathroom signs warning would-be vandals of prosecution. The Red Arrow sells souvenir cups featuring Moe and his girlfriend Dinah (think Boston accent pronunciation of “diner”) for $6.50.

“You wouldn’t believe how many of those mugs we sell,” says Tyler Isabelle, front house manager for the Concord Red Arrow. “Our mascots are huge. I once had someone come up to me at an airport in California and point at my T-shirt and say, ‘Hey, is that Moe?’ It was a proud moment.”

The life-size Moe mascot, who made his public debut at the 2006 “Best of New Hampshire” party, often appears at private parties catered by Red Arrow. Isabelle expects he will play a major role when the Red Arrow food truck is introduced next spring, and says that a costumed Dinah (essentially Moe with lipstick and longer lashes) may join him.

Moe is also unwittingly serving as the ultimate symbol of brand loyalty, with the Red Arrow offering a lifetime 20 percent discount to any customer who gets branded with a mascot tattoo.

According to Isabelle, there are 17 confirmed people who now have Moe or Dinah tattoos — including five employees and 12 customers.

Courtesy photos

An eye for an eye

Fans of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats mascots have witnessed dramatic ocular changes over the years. The original Fungo (top left) used to have brown eyes on brown fur, offering no contrast in photographs. The original Slider, Fungo’s cousin, used to have turquoise eyes, a pigmentation that doesn’t occur in the wild (top right).

Honoring History 

At UNH, the wildcat mascots used to be live animals instead of costumes — a tradition still practiced today with Yale University’s bulldog, Handsome Dan. According to the university archives, the first live mascot in 1927 was Maizie, a wildcat captured by a farmer in Meredith. For public safety, the cat was displayed in a cage at all football home games and was later donated to Benson’s Wild Animal Farm in Hudson, where she died in the winter of 1929. Thanks to the magic of taxidermy, you can still visit Maizie at UNH’s Dimond Library.

In 1939, the reigning mascot “Butch II” was kidnapped by a mystery rival school. Missing for three days, the wildcat resurfaced in an insurance salesman’s garage in Woburn, Massachusetts, where he had been abandoned in a small pet carrier.

Although students at Tufts University and Harvard University were the most likely suspects, there was no conclusive evidence and the guilty party was never caught. UNH introduced its first costumed wildcat in 1968.

At some universities, the mascot contains subtle visual tributes to their institution’s humble origins. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), for example, was founded as the New Hampshire School of Accounting and Commerce in 1932 — and its sports teams were nicknamed “The Accountants.” Subsequently, when the Penmen (Revolutionary War soldiers) were introduced in 1970, the logo and later the mascots, always included a quill pen. The current incarnation, “Petey Penman,” was redesigned in 2008 with his quill doubling as a flagpole to wave the Stars and Stripes.

A rarity in academia, Dartmouth College has never had an official mascot. From the 1920s to the 1970s, however, its sports teams were called the Indians, a nickname that began with local sportswriters and spilled over to the school uniforms. In 1974, out of sensitivity to Native Americans, the Dartmouth Board of Trustees banned the use of Indian symbols “in any form” to promote sports. Over the past few decades, there have been periodic student efforts to adopt a new team name and mascot, but none of the proposals ever gained momentum.

In that void, the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, a campus humor magazine, created a new unofficial school mascot, “Keggy the Keg,” in 2003. Students put metallic paint and googly eyes on a discarded chlorine barrel and started making appearances at games and winter carnivals. Although the administration was annoyed by constant references to the movie “Animal House” (based on a Dartmouth fraternity house), the national media loved the character. Keggy was covered by ESPN, Sports Illustrated and even  Playboy, but fizzled out around 2014. The character reportedly stopped making public appearances because of some structural issues with the costume.

Courtesy photo

How does a steak costume impact one's athleticism?

In a 2014 assignment for New Hampshire Magazine, writer Darren Garnick slipped inside a sirloin costume for the popular steak vs. cactus mascot race sponsored by sister restaurants T-BONES and Cactus Jack’s. During the race across the Fisher Cats outfield, Garnick had to keep pulling the sides of the costume down to keep the mesh screen lined up with his eyes. Garnick ultimately won, thanks to some timely interference from Fungo the Fisher Cat. By the way, the racers zoomed past current Red Sox third baseman Eduardo Núñez (then on rehab assignment for the Twins).

Advice for Aspiring Mascots

If there is such a thing as a farm system for local college and professional sports mascots, it lies in the state’s high school gymnasiums.  Recent Bishop Guertin High School (Nashua) graduate Aidan Sullivan was “forced” by a friend to put on the BG Cardinal suit in his junior year and he never looked back, serving as the bird for the past two years at football, hockey and volleyball games.

“Don’t be afraid to put the head on,” he advises. “You can dance like there is no tomorrow and you can do virtually anything you want because no one knows it’s you. Some of the students would lift me up and down in the stands and put me on their shoulders.”

“I hope my mascot days aren’t over,” adds Sullivan, who will be competing on the UNH cross-country and track teams in his freshman year.” Watching someone else play the Cardinal was like an out-of-body experience. I felt like I was watching another me.”

Merrimack’s Brian Stankiewicz, who occasionally filled in as the St. Anselm College Hawk from 2016 to 2017, advises would-be mascots to be prepared to sweat like they’ve never sweat before: “I remember one basketball game, when my shirt was so drenched that I gulped down a bottle of Gatorade in five seconds — even though it was a color I didn’t like.”

“Don’t be afraid to go out there and be a crazy person,” adds Stankiewicz. “When people see you in that costume, they want to see you having a good time. If the crowd gets revved up, feed off their energy and just see where the game takes you.”

Page Two: 5 Mascots We'd Love to See and 6 Mascot Tips

Page Three: A New Hampshire Mascot Encyclopedia

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