Mascots cavort outside the Hall of Fame. In the background, the giant booger-schnoz of Reggy Funfurhuggin.
Mascots cavort outside the Hall of Fame. In the background, the giant booger-schnoz of Reggy Funfurhuggin.

Mascot Hall of Fame

Field review by the editors.

Whiting, Indiana

Not many years ago a "mascot" was either a 2-D cartoon character -- usually limited to sweatshirts and, rarely, statues -- or a living, non-human creature. Universities and towns sometimes had weird mascots. So did occasional military units.

Mascot Hall of Fame.
"Strut Your Stuff!" stage encourages visitors to channel their inner mascot.

Then a new breed of mascot appeared and eventually surpassed all the others: a high-energy human being in a funny furry suit, entertaining crowds at professional (or near-professional) sports games. They dance. They wiggle their oversized posteriors. They dump garbage cans of popcorn on delighted fans.

These are the creatures -- and their inhabitant performers -- enshrined in the Mascot Hall of Fame.

In the beginning it was just a website. But in 2014 the mayor of Whiting, Indiana, who was searching for an idea to attract visitors, came upon the digital Hall and decided that a real Mascot Hall of Fame would be a perfect match for his town: quirky, Midwestern, and not too far from an Interstate exit. "It was a great marriage of concept and reality," said Orestes Hernandez, the Hall's executive director. He noted that an under-the-radar community such as Whiting was the ideal spot for "the unsung heroes of sport."

Proto-mascots include Henry VIII's court jester and the U.S. bald eagle.
Proto-mascots include Henry VIII's court jester and the U.S. bald eagle.

How many beheaded mascots can you name?
How many beheaded mascots can you name?

Phone calls were made, deals were struck, designers and contractors went to work. A giant fuchsia mascot, Reggy Funfurhuggin, informally known as "the purple party dude," was created for the Hall and affixed to the front of the building -- which then caused a brief crisis when a storm blew his rainbow-colored booger-ball down Front Street like a psychedelic tumbleweed. The Whiting police snared the snot, it was reattached with extra glue, and the Hall of Fame opened on time, just before New Year's 2019.

It is a Hall of Fame like no other, partly by design, partly out of necessity. Modern mascots are creatures of branding, the property of franchises fearful of relinquishing control of their googly-eyed ambassadors, even to something as affirming as a Hall of Fame. "The power of the mascot isn't taken lightly," said Orestes. As a result, many famous mascots are not in the Mascot Hall of Fame -- at least not yet.

Standing while wearing a beaked head is not easy.
Standing while wearing a beaked head is not easy.

The Hall compensates with playfulness. Instead of a marbled colonnade with bronze busts on pedestals, the Hall has turned its inductees' heads into giant balloons suspended in a three-story atrium, like decapitated floats from a Thanksgiving Day parade. The "Brushes With Greatness" gallery is a serious oak-paneled room with images of mascots and celebrities -- but the flames in the fireplace are made of mascot fur, and over it, in a place of honor, hangs a large framed photo of the Phillie Phanatic and Richard Nixon. There's a historical timeline of mascots and a few showcases filled with oversized sneakers and props, but the actual "Hall" is comically tiny: a single display on the second floor overlooking the railroad tracks behind the building.

The Phillie Phanatic is the Babe Ruth of baseball mascots.
The Phillie Phanatic is the Babe Ruth of baseball mascots.

Rather than emphasize relics and history, the Mascot Hall of Fame screams fun with interactive exhibits in electric purple, neon orange, and lime green. The colors are familiar to any survivor of a kids' museum, but Orestes said that the goal of the Hall is to entertain every age group -- just like a mascot would do. Visitors can fire a t-shirt cannon at virtual fans, or dress-up in outlandish costumes on the "Strut Your Stuff!" stage and cavort in front of a green screen to see how they could look giving their all at "The Show." In the Build-a-Mascot room, the challenge is to assemble life-size body parts from bins labeled "head quarters" and "limb locker" into a creature that's more lovable than frightening.

Sandbags await those who want to try to dance under mascot conditions.
Sandbags await those who want to try to dance under mascot conditions.

A number of exhibits focus on "teaching what it takes," as Orestes put it. "Mascots can get away with anything," he said, "but it's not an easy job." To experience that, visitors can try to stand straight while wearing a heavy, unevenly balanced mascot head, or attempt to pick up everyday objects with giant four-fingered mascot hands. Easily the most challenging exhibit in the Hall is "Lightheartedness is Heavy," which invites visitors to strap on a 40-pound sandbag, dance around, and see what it does to their heart rate.

"We're still in our infancy and figuring things out," said Orestes, although he was confident that the opening of the Hall would ease concerns from formerly fretful mascot owners. Even when it does, he said, admittance is not guaranteed; a mascot has to have at least a ten-year body of work just to qualify, and to be enshrined it must be one of the best. "Not just anybody can get into a mascot outfit and do it right," Orestes said. "This Hall is a place to honor the great ones."

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Mascot Hall of Fame

Address:
1851 Front St., Whiting, IN
Directions:
I-80 exit 2. Drive north on IN-152/Indianapolis Blvd for 7.5 miles. Turn right at the stoplight onto 119th St. Drive until the street ends, then turn right onto Front St. You'll see the Hall.
Hours:
M-W, F-Sa 10-6, Th 10-8, Su 10-5 (Call to verify)
Phone:
219-354-8814
Admission:
Adults $12.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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November 13, 2019

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