They tend toward furriness; they’re ceremonially trotted out once a year in fair weather or foul; and they foreshadow the future. (And, no, they’re not in Punxsutawney.) We’re speaking, of course, of the mascots who represent Harvard’s 12 undergraduate Houses and emerge on Housing Day, when first-years discover where they’ll live as upperclassmen.
Tomorrow’s long-honored tradition will occur virtually, rather than in the Yard, with groups of students Zooming into private meetings to be welcomed into their new Houses. The mascots range from a red cod to an oak tree, but all represent, in one way or another, qualities or perceptions of each House. And who are the spirited souls behind the masks? Here’s a look.
Mascot: Lion Student: Kyle Mueller ’22
This mascot is inspired by the lion on the shield of the House named after two John Winthrops: one the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the other was his descendant who became both a Harvard professor and president.
“The lion is a quintessential mascot,” said Kyle Mueller ’22, the House committee member chosen to wear the outfit this year. “I feel like Winthrop is kind of that same way in terms of Harvard.”
Chris Altizer, a junior who’s worn the suit before and a House committee co-chair, agrees. He said that each Housing Day he looks forward to welcoming the next line of students, because he remembers when he was the one being welcomed.
“I felt like I was finally home at Harvard,” he said. “The most amazing feeling now being in the House is being able to give that to others. ... Housing Day means letting the tradition and the community of Winthrop carry on.”
Mascot: Blue Man Student: Christian Tabash '21
The Lowell House “Blue Man” is as old as the Lowell family — or so goes the legend. “As soon as the blue of the crest was chosen, the Blue Man sprung up,” said Ross Simmons, a junior, co-chair of the Lowell House committee, and keeper of Blue Man lore. “He was not chosen. He was not born. He has always been there.”
There are a number of rules to being the Blue Man, who this year is Christian Tabash ’21. One of them is to never break character when the mask and “ill-fitting” suit are on, and that means keeping silent.
“The Blue Man speaks not,” Simmons explained for Tabash. “The Blue Man is an embodiment of Lowell House, and it cannot speak.”
Who becomes the Blue Man, you might ask? Well, according to the lore, “The Blue Man chooses a member of the Lowell community every year to embody him,” Simmons said. “There’s no rigorous selection process. It’s just a feeling one gets inside of you. If you’re the Blue Man, you know.”
Mascot: Hare Student: Haley Benbow '22
The mascot is a hare, but technically the suit is a rabbit. Its inspiration comes from the three hares on the Leverett House shield and the fact that baby hares are called leverets (with one “t”).
Haley Benbow, a sophomore from California, is this year’s hare. She is concentrating in history, volunteers at the Phillips Brooks House, and belongs to the Harvard Undergraduate Beekeepers and the gardening club.
“Housing Day, I think, is something that is very much quintessential Harvard,” Benbow said. “You talk to people who are alumni, and the first thing they always say is, ‘Oh, what House were you in?’ It’s something that I feel contributes to the sense of community on campus and the unifying factor of coming together and having this House spirit and House pride.”
Mascot: Tree Student: Felix Bulwa '22
“Fear the tree.” It’s a simple but effective motto on which Currier House thrives, especially with its tall, sharp-toothed mascot: Woody Evergreen.
Woody is inspired by the golden apple tree on Currier’s shield, which was itself inspired by the Radcliffe apple tree. Any willing “Currierites” can wear the suit as long as they have the proper House spirit and enthusiasm, said Felix Bulwa, a member of the House committee.
The tree perfectly represents Currier residents, he added, because like trees, these students branch out and plant deep roots at Harvard.
Just a sophomore, this will be Bulwa’s second Housing Day and was to be his first dorm storming (in which older students rush in to give first-years their housing assignments). The day is special to Bulwa, who remembers when he and his roommates were on the other side of a dorm storm.
“It was one of the highlights of freshman year,” he said. “We saw all this green coming, and we’re like, ‘Yes, this is it, guys!’ So we’re like telling each other to get hyped and get really excited, and we just lost it because we wanted to. That’s what Housing Day is about, no matter what House storms your dorm.”
Mascot: Polar Bear Student: Frankie Matos '20
North House was renamed Pforzheimer in 1995 in honor of longtime Harvard supporters Carl Jr. and Carol Pforzheimer.
PfoHo, as it’s commonly called, took the polar bear as its mascot sometime in the early 2000s, partly as a nod to its former name and partly for James McCarthy, an environmentalist, former dean, and polar bear fan who died in 2019. Inside the House there are actually a number of murals and photographs of polar bears, many of them taken by McCarthy.
The house has 10 outfits that students apply to wear. Francisco Matos ’20, lieutenant commander of PfoHo’s Polar Bear Army (an actual title), runs the application process. Competition is fierce. Last year, 20 students applied, and he expected a similar number this year.
“We really want to make sure we’re getting people who are enthusiastic about it, who are really emotional about just being able to be in the polar bear suit,” Matos said. “Even though it’s only for a couple hours, it still means the world to them.”
The lieutenant commander position is handed down when the person holding it graduates, so Matos is mulling a succession plan.
Mascot: Acorn Student: Shivani Thakur ’21
You could call them the fighting acorns, even though no one actually dresses up as one. On Housing Day, Adams residents wear boxer shorts adorned with their House crest and sport red-and-yellow striped bow ties and socks, while shouting “Go nuts!” across the Yard.
A nod to the oak leaves on the crest of the Adams family (as in father-and-son presidents John and John Quincy), House committee members, like Shivani Thakur ’21, sell the outfit pieces and can be found wearing them on Housing Day.
The reason for the simple look? Well, the California native explained, “When you get into Adams House, you obviously win the Housing Day lottery, so we don’t need to try that hard. We just keep it classy and fun. That’s what our outfits represent.”
Mascot: Mastodon Student: William Flanagan '20
They call it a mastodon, but, really, it’s an elephant. The crest of the Eliot family coat of arms features a non-prehistoric pachyderm, and visible in the actual architecture of the House are four others. Then there’s the mascot costume itself: clearly an elephant.
So, mastodon? Elephant? It makes no difference to loyal House members — especially those who volunteer to wear it — said William Flanagan ’20, a former House committee co-chair. Both mastodons and elephants are bold, fearless, and big-hearted, he said, and, “That’s how I view the Eliot community as well.”
From Denver, Flanagan has worn the suit a number of times, including on Housing Day.
“It’s really fun,” he said. “The trunk is just so logistically fascinating to get to use as a tool for dancing, posing for pictures, looking intimidating, and when you look somebody straight in the eye wearing the mastodon-elephant suit, they know you represent something large and that the Eliot community is fully invested in that suit with you.”
Mascot: Gorilla Student: Nick Lore-Edwards '21
Welcome to the concrete jungle. They’ve got fun and gorillas. Though technically the official Mather mascot is a lion, residents in the 1970s adopted the gorilla as their own, according to Nick Lore-Edwards, a junior concentrating in economics.
“‘King Kong’ was pretty popular around the time Mather was built, or after its completion, and the Mather tower, kind of, looks like the building that King Kong climbs,” he explained. “Also, Mather is made out of concrete so we call it the concrete jungle.”
There is no formal process for deciding who will get to wear Mather’s two gorilla suits. It’s usually someone on the House committee who is energetic and has the moves to compete in dance battles with the other mascots.
The dancing was Lore-Edward’s favorite part about wearing the suit last year. “When you’re the mascot you just get to do fun things,” said Lore-Edwards, originally from New Jersey. “You just get to have fun and party and dance to the music.”
Mascot: Moose Student: Bella Beckett '21
The family crest of Henry Dunster, the first president of Harvard College, bears three golden elks. So it’s natural that the mascot of the House named after him is a moose with a set of wide, plush antlers.
Wearing the costume for a photoshoot was Isabella Beckett, a junior concentrating in neuroscience who has the dancing chops, the spirit, and the heart needed to embody the moose. Beckett, from North Attleborough, Mass., is one of the House committee co-chairs, a cheerleader, a member of the University’s Red Cross Organization, and a culture and communications consultant at the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning.
Mascot: Boar Student: Robyn Beese '20
If the Kirkland boar bears a striking resemblance to a certain famous warthog, it’s because it is that certain famous warthog.
“The House had a tradition many years ago of carrying a boar’s head on a platter during the holiday dinner in December, so in modern times, we’ve translated that to our mascot being Pumbaa from ‘The Lion King,’” said Kate Cavell, the Kirkland House administrator.
They had a student research whether a warthog could be considered a boar. The conclusion was mostly yes. Kirkland has an eight-year-old custom Pumbaa outfit that gets trotted out for the occasion.
“His hooves have disappeared over the years, and the fan in the head stopped working (yikes) but it’s still loved,” Cavell said.
Last year, senior Robyn Beese donned the suit. “Kirkland House has been one of the best parts of my experience in College, so I wanted to find a way to pay back Kirkland, because it’s not easy [wearing the suit]. It’s kind of lonely and sweaty,” she said, laughing. But it’s a ton of fun.
“Last year I wrestled with the [Pforzheimer] polar bear,” said the Harvard Women’s Rugby player, who would love to say Kirkland won. “But in reality, we hugged in the end, so I think Housing Day spirit won.”
Mascot: Fish Student: Ian Saum '20
The mascot, a giant red cod, is hard to miss, especially when it’s atop the steps of Annenberg or shaking its tail in the Yard. Its inspiration comes from the House shield consisting of three cod fish. Perhaps most importantly, it requires a certain commitment to wear (and not just because of the generational olfactory patina, an occupational complaint among mascots).
“You feel incredibly powerful. It’s a spectacle,” said Ian Saum ’20, who’s worn the outfit in each of Cabot’s past two Housing Day videos. “You sort of have to become the fish because unlike a lot of the other mascot costumes, where it feels like you’re wearing footie pajamas, this is a gigantic four-, five-piece elaborate costume. You have separate arms, separate legs, separate body.”
Mascot: Penguin Student: Matthew Miller '21
In spring of 2005, Quincy residents voted, and the penguin was chosen. Before that the House had no mascot. Since then, happy-footed penguins waddling (and celebrating) around campus has become a Housing Day staple.
One of them is Matthew Miller, a junior concentrating in applied math who says the penguin is a spot-on embodiment of Quincy House.
“Quincy is known as the people’s House,” he said. “I think that penguins are naturally very friendly and welcoming, so it’s a perfect icon to represent what Quincy stands for and the spirit of the House.”
Miller, originally from Deerfield, Ill., said one of his favorite things about being in the suit on Housing Day is that it helps create bonds between students and the House. “When you see the excitement of a first-year getting Quincy House and you’re in the suit, you feel like you’re kind of a really strong link between them and the House and that special moment,” he said.