Handsome Dan, doing it bulldoggy style since 1892

Although it is as much a part of Eli tradition as Mory’s and secret societies, Yale’s Handsome Dan, the first official U.S. university mascot, never gets as much publicity.

The original Handsome Dan came to Yale with rower and football tackle Andrew B. Graves 1892 in 1889. The bulldog had been purchased from a local blacksmith for $5 and soon became Yale’s impromptu mascot, as Princeton already had a real tiger club and Harvard had its “Orange Man.” Neither university, however, officially recognized its mascot.

“In personal appearance, he seemed like a cross between an alligator and a horned frog, and he was called handsome by the metaphysicians under the law of compensation,” the Hartford Courant reported at the time.

The students trained Handsome Dan to bark at Harvard students and it was not long after that he became ingrained in the Yale athletic tradition. Handsome Dan I died in 1898, was stuffed, and to this day sits in a case in one of the trophy rooms of Payne Whitney Gymnasium.

It was not until 1933, when the members of the freshman class put their pennies together, that the next real bulldog was purchased. Since then, from kidnaps by Harvard students, to car accidents, to firecrackers Harvard students have set off near the dog, each of the 15 canines in the long dynasty of mascots has braved the drama of the Yale athletic seasons.

The dogs themselves have ranged from fat to skinny, sociable to irritable. There was even a female version, Handsome Dan XII — informally called Bingo — chosen in 1975 in recognition of the admission of women into Yale College that began in 1969.

Handsome Dan X was in service when the football team finished the season with a 9-0 record, the first time it had been undefeated in 37 years. On August 13, 1960, Handsome Dan X was crowned “Best Bulldog” at the Cape Cod Kennel Club.

Maurice, a.k.a. Handsome Dan XIII, has his picture on much of the printed material put out by the Athletic Department to this day and it graced the front of the Christmas card sent out by the department in 1991.

Maurice was also known for attacking Harvard students, although apparently this propensity to rage was not limited to Cantabs alone.

“Pretty much anything in a costume Maurice attacked — the Princeton Tiger, the UConn Husky, even the [man who dresses like the] Yale Bulldog — he had a great dislike for costumes,” said Maurice’s caretaker Christopher Getman ’64, former first vice president of Merrill Lynch, founder of SoundView Capital, and former Yale football and baseball coach.

Getman is also the caretaker of the current Handsome Dan, known by friends and family as Louis.

“People know me more as the keeper of the bulldog than for who I really am,” Getman said.

Named after Louis Linder of Mory’s, former football coach Carmen Louis Cozza, and the popular New Haven restaurant Louis’ Lunch, Louis the Bulldog is considered to be either Handsome Dan XV or XVI, depending on who you talk to. The confusion stems from the fact that Handsome Dan XIII, Maurice, was called back from retirement in 1996 to serve another year as the mascot following the death of his successor Whizzer, who suffered from heat-related respiratory problems.

Louis, who does not plan to retire soon, has none of the behavioral problems of his predecessors, Getman said.

“[Louis] is a fun sociable animal,” he said. At seven years of age, 49 in dog years, Louis has become famous for the natural Y-shaped design on his fur. He has starred on Animal Planet and been featured in Sports Illustrated, among other national recognitions, and has also provided his caretaker with the opportunity to meet a lot of celebrities, including former President George H. W. Bush ’48.

A member of the Yale Precision Marching Band pets Louis, Handsome Dan XVI, during  the 2003 Game. Handsome Dan was the first officially recognized U.S. collegiate mascot.
Emmanuelle Massicot
A member of the Yale Precision Marching Band pets Louis, Handsome Dan XVI, during the 2003 Game. Handsome Dan was the first officially recognized U.S. collegiate mascot.

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