Rarely does the distinguished guest at a Master’s Tea dole out kisses to audience members before the talk. Particularly big, slobbery bulldog kisses.
Yale’s mascot, Handsome Dan, joined his owner Chris Getman ’64 at a Trumbull College Master’s Tea Wednesday afternoon, where Getman recounted the history of Yale’s iconic dog. Getman, also the president of the Mory’s board of governors, told anecdotes about and showed photos of the many predecessors of the current Dan, who is also known as Sherman. For his part, Sherman spoke little, opting instead to stick his head into a plastic bag in search of treats.
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The two-and-a-half-year-old Sherman hails from Tennessee. Unlike the dog Maurice, who served as Dan XVIII and XV — whom Getman said could never have won any beauty contests — Sherman is “so cute,” multiple audience members squealed. But according to Getman, Sherman is lacking in other departments.
“He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer,” Getman said of Sherman. When the crowd asked to see a trick near the end of the talk, it took the bulldog three tries to “speak.” When he finally got it, the audience reacted with enthusiastic applause.
Yale’s bulldog mascot has a long history: The first one arrived on campus in 1889, bought from a local blacksmith for $5, Getman said. The original Dan — now stuffed — resides in the Yale trophy room in Payne Whitney Gymnasium. But when he walked Yale’s campus, the dog was reportedly ferocious, Getman said.
“If he hadn’t been on a very strong rope,” he joked, “there would be no Harvard football team.”
But Dans II, III and IV, in contrast, were afraid of crowds, Getman said.
Maurice — who served a second term when his successor, Bob, died of breathing problems — learned to flop down and play dead when asked, “Would you rather go to Harvard or die?” Maurice also once gave the Princeton tiger mascot a literal run for his money when he chased after the orange-and-black-costumed student.
After one Harvard-Yale football game, Getman said, The New York Times wrote that the only highlight of the match was Dan’s performance. The marching band had Dan “sing” for the crowd as a response to the Harvard Glee Club’s performance.
Yale pioneered the concept of a mascot, Getman said, referring to a calendar published last year that featured storied New Haven “firsts”: pizza, hamburgers and the mascot. Few other colleges and universities have live mascots, he added.
“Our dogs do a lot more than go to games,” Getman said. Dan frequently attends dedications and charity events, Getman explained, and some alumni pay thousands of dollars to walk Dan at football games.
Outside Yale, Dan is also a national celebrity, Getman said: The dog has posed on the cover of Sports Illustrated and has been featured on ESPN. Getman showed the crowd photos of various Dans meeting President George H.W. Bush ’48 — which multiple Dans have done, though only after passing through metal detectors, Getman said. And at last year’s graduation parade, Dan rubbed elbows with the likes of Sir Paul McCartney.
The best-selling Yale postcards are the ones featuring bulldogs — such as Louis, the Dan of 1998, who had a white Y-shaped splotch on his coat and whom Getman called a “very good-looking dog.”
After the talk, students flocked to Sherman’s side to take pictures with cell phones, digital cameras and computers. The bone-shaped gingerbread cookies baked by Christine Levy ’10 were also popular, though baffling to some.
“Are those for us or him?” Sudie James Simmons ’13 asked, looking in Sherman’s direction.
Sherman refrained from eating the cookies. (Bulldogs have very sensitive stomachs, Getman had said earlier in the talk.)
“You don’t want to be in a car with a bulldog after it’s eaten,” he added.
Matthew Dernbach ’13, who is in Trumbull College, said he was the one who suggested inviting Handsome Dan to give a Master’s Tea. He said he wanted to encourage school spirit and allow students to meet the mascot.
“It’s a face only Yale could love,” Dernbach said.