DAVID RAYMOND’S TRAVEL to the happiest pantheon in sports always starts out pretty boring.
After flying from Philadelphia to Chicago’s Midway Airport, drive 40 minutes southeast in a rental car, take the under construction Skyway toll road, cross a bridge over one of the most polluted rivers in the country (the Calumet River), and drive through the sulfurous smells of the industrial border between Illinois and Indiana. The final stretch of road – a stark landscape of liquor stores, tobacco bars and abandoned gravel lots – finally brings him to Whiting, Indiana, a tiny village (population 4,997) on the shores of Lake Michigan.
On the horizon is the BP refinery, the largest in the world. Skyscrapers spew thick clouds of steam and menacing columns of flame into the troposphere. A few hundred metres from the barbed wire fence that borders the refinery, an ornate structure of glass and steel overlooks a site that was once a sawmill. The building seems to shine against the otherwise grey terrain, inviting Raymond’s grandiose folly: The $18 million, 25,000-square-foot Mascot Hall of Fame.
It consists of three floors and is the only shrine in the world dedicated to the immortal realm of great costumes. In front: the huge decorative head of the giant beast of Mascot Hall, Reggie the purple party boy, his fried hair blowing in the breeze from the lake that lies just beyond the stretch of railroad at the back of the building. A colorful decorative bobble hangs from Reggie’s nose. (During construction in 2018, Raymond says, a storm blew the booger into the street, where it was eventually caught by police.)
In 2016, the foundation stone was laid for the sacred hall. Mascot Hall of Fame
Reggie’s motorized eyes seem to stare at the rows of modest houses in Whiting, the quaint corridor of shops, cafes and restaurants on 119th Street, Oil City Stadium, where the oilmen of Northwest Indiana play Midwest Collegiate Baseball. This is the city of Standard Oil, which was put on the map 132 years ago, the city that for decades was best known for its annual Pierogi Festival. And now, incredibly, Raymond is turning the place into a mascot mecca.
In recent years, Raymond had lost count of the number of times he had been to Whiting. He knows there are more than two dozen. At the first spade in the fall of 2016, he stood shoulder to shoulder with nine mascots as they drove shovels into the hard Indian soil. But today, on the first Saturday in April that marks the first opening of Mascot Hall since last spring, Raymond sits at home in West Grove, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, waiting for his second dose of vaccine.
His phone buzzes with updates from a colleague on the site. The first visitors since the arrival of the pandemic: a father and son from the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Both on deck in Bull’s gear. The masks hide their smiles when greeted by a bulbous pear-shaped man with purple fur – Reggie, a ridiculous mask stretched over the mascot’s bulbous nose.
They came for Raymond’s creation, the Hall of Fame, which looks more like Disneyland than Cooperstown. Almost all inner surfaces are coloured, wildly patterned or covered in fur. Ambient sounds, themes from the park organ and jock jams reverberate through the sound system. There are interactive exhibits for kids and enough costumes and props to thrill anyone who has ever admired an anthropomorphic animal doing an acrobatic dunk with a basketball.
First, a pedestal of resistance: giant inflated vinyl heads of the venue’s mascots – Benny the Bull, Mr. Fancy, Mr. Met, Badger Bucky Wisconsin and 21 others – hung in the lobby atrium like decapitated balloons from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Every time he is in the building, Raymond looks at her and smiles like a proud father.
When I first met Raymond at the venue’s preview party in December 2018, he was wearing a badge that identified him as the Emperor of Fun. A green fur tie hung below his neck. This was not an unnecessary quirky embellishment, but a nod to the foundation on which the Mascot Hall of Fame was built: Raymond was the first artist to live in the Philadelphia Phillies’ iconic puppet, the Philadelphia Fanatic Puppet. His bravura appearance placed the character on Mount Rushmore as a mascot. Raymond is a branding expert and helped the Philadelphia Flyers create the team’s first mascot in over 40 years: The sinister, wild-eyed orange menace that became a viral sensation (and unlikely icon of left-wing politicians) shortly after skating in the fall of 2018. Needless to say, Raymond is proud of these achievements. But in his mind, the Hall of Fame mascot is more important than all that. Though it seems silly, even quixotic, this house of fur and frivolity is a deeply personal affair – a project inherited from David Raymond, an uninvolved man.
Last year, Raymond and his colleagues threw a few rounds in the Mascot Room. Eleven months after the venue opened in April 2019, the blockage caused by the coronavirus has halted the laborious growth in visitors, memberships, tours and private events such as birthday parties. The biggest public event on the institution’s calendar, the launch of a new mascot class in June, has been moved to video on Facebook Live. In August, the man Raymond had invited into Whiting, former Mayor Joseph Stahura, left office in disgrace after pleading guilty to fraud and false tax returns. (In a settlement that kept him out of jail, Stahura admitted to dipping into his campaign coffers for personal use, including gambling at local casinos.)
After a year like this, you’d think Raymond would be a little down. Instead, it’s almost a bubble. It comes from something he learned when he was a fanatic: Mascots are best, he says, when your team is losing. And, boy, does it seem like all we’ve been doing lately is losing. The loss of life is a simple pleasure. We’ve lost our sense of belonging. Loss of jobs and loved ones. As we begin to recover from the pandemic, Raymond feels the Mascot Hall of Fame has found more meaning in its mission during this perilous time. When we are at our lowest point and approaching despair, he says, talismans give us a reason to smile, to laugh, to believe. Meanwhile, skeptical Whites residents finally got a convincing answer to a question they had been asking Raymond for years: Why would a man devote his life to building a museum dedicated to glorified cheerleaders in Bigfoot costumes?
David Raymond went undercover as a Philly Fanatic for 16 years in 1978. Mascot Hall of Fame
NOW, when he was years old, Raymond with the energy of a sugar addicted teenager, limited energy. His loose limbs and cheerful clowning indicate that the man has chosen fur. Turns out you can’t walk around gesticulating in a fluffy green suit for a decade and a half without losing your blood in the heat of the moment. Nowadays, Raymond prefers working clothes: Zippered sweaters, dress shirts. He cuts his hair salt and pepper, neat and spiky. The Phillies’ 1980 championship ring shines prominently on his finger. (Yes, even mascots have rings.) Semicircular glasses frame blue eyes that often flare cartoonishly, especially when he recounts how his wild and crazy athletic life led him to the mascot room and eventually to Whiting, Indiana, no less.
Raymond grew up in the college town of Newark, Delaware, where he idolized his father, legendary University of Delaware football coach Harold R. Tubby Raymond, a College Football Hall of Famer who led the Fighting Blue Hens to 300 wins and three NCAA Division II and Division I college football national championships. In the mid to late 1970s, Raymond attended Washington State University and became a Cougar for his father. (The Blue Hens of that era were so dominant that Raymond likes to point out that they rarely punted. In fact, he kicked for about 50 yards a season, averaging 35 yards per punt – which didn’t exactly make him an NFL player). He dreamed of following his father into the college coaching ranks, but Tubby thought it unwise for his son to work in his shadow. So Tubby helped Dave get a summer internship with the Phillies in 1976. The appearance was anything but glamorous. He spent most of his days stuffing envelopes at the post office. But he returned for the summer of ’77 at the team’s invitation.
Suddenly, just before the start of the ’78 season, Raymond got a call from the Phillies. He thought he was going to get fired. Instead, he was given a special opportunity: Would he agree to be the new team mascot? They beat me because they knew I couldn’t say no, says Raymond. Hey, stay for the games – we’ll pay you. OKAY. And that’s it.
He had no experience with costumes. What he had was a supernatural way of non-verbal communication that he had honed from childhood. When Raymond was 3 years old, his mother Susan became deaf due to Meniere’s disease, an inner ear disorder. To get his message across to his mother, young Dave exaggerates his gestures and facial expressions. It was like a dance, he says, a communication dance for me to get my mother’s attention. To this day, he considers her his greatest mascot, ahead of his slapstick heroes Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, the Three Stooges and Daffy Duck.
Shortly after Phyllis offered the talisman to Raymond, the reality of what he was willing to do began to sink in. They hired me to dress up as a 300-pound green, furry doll and entertain the same Philly fans who booed Santa and the Easter Bunny, he says. What was I thinking?
Out of sheer concern, he went to the office of Bill Giles, the team leader who oversaw the budding mascot operation. I said: Sir, I want to thank you for your support. Giles, what do I do? A wide smile appeared on his face and he said: David, I want you to go and have fun. I walked out of his office and he yelled at me: Funny, David! Fun for adults!
For 16 years, from 1978 to 1993, Raymond was a friend of the Fanatics. His job description: hex pitchers, teasers, pops on quads, gobbles dirt balls in his prominent trunk, and dances like the fictional crazy Galapagos Island bird he embodies.
The job Raymond was offered offered a comfortable salary with all the perks players can afford. (After he turned 65 in February, he began collecting his MLB pension). But as he approached his forties and the work became too physically demanding, he changed careers: He organized mascot christenings and opened a character branding business. And then, one day, a strange idea occurred to Raymond. For the first time in his mind, he saw an institution that would appropriately honor the furry characters he called the true unsung heroes of the sport. After all, it was an idea whose time had come.
Raymond overcame a bevy of notorious fans in Philadelphia and captured the Fanatics’ place in the hearts of fans even after his retirement in 1993. Hunter Martin/Getty Images
EDITORS a random act of violence to put the idea of the Mascot Hall of Fame in Raymond’s head.
Among mascot professionals, overcoming occupational hazards – from drunken fans to accidents – is the main bond that binds them together. The gym houses one of the institution’s most sacred artifacts: a pair in a row of skates worn by the Seattle Mariners player in 1995 when he broke his ankle in an infamous collision with a wall off the field.
The danger of a mascot is that if you get terribly hurt, everyone thinks you’re faking it, says Joby Giacalone, a member of the Mascot Hall’s mascot selection committee. He was the mascot Hugo of the Charlotte Hornets and the mascot Dinger of the Colorado Rockies. I sprained my ankle once, everyone thought it was funny. I literally had to crawl to the local team’s canoe.
The brutal and unusual event that led Raymond to establish the Hall of Mascots occurred during the Pirates-Beers game on the 9th. July 2003. As part of an ongoing promotion at Milwaukee Park, four people dressed in six-foot sausage-foam costumes competed in a foot race across left field. As the participants – frankfurters, Italian sausages, Polish sausages and hot dogs – passed the Pittsburgh bench, Pirates first baseman Randall Simon hit the Italian sausage with a bat. The blow caused Mandy Block, 19, to fall into her costume after she tripped over a hot dog, played by Veronica Peach, 21. Neither woman was seriously injured, but Simon was arrested by Milwaukee County sheriff’s deputies after the game for assault. Prosecutors eventually reduced the public disturbance charge and fined Simon $432 (according to the Washington Post, this is a juvenile fine). The MLB imposed a $2,000 fine and a three-game suspension. In a statement, league commissioner Bud Selig said: Mr. Simon’s behavior is clearly contrary to the family entertainment we strive to provide at our baseball parks and is completely unacceptable.
The incident made national headlines and sparked outrage, but while critics condemned Simon’s behavior as a newly banned athlete, Raymond was less aware of the underlying problem: When mascots are abused, it’s often because the criminals don’t realize that there’s a human being underneath all that wool. In response, he led about 50 costumed characters in a march for mascot rights in downtown Philadelphia and organized a second protest the following year that resulted in the signing of a document he called the Mascot Bill of Rights.
In 2005, Raymond led a digital PR campaign by creating an online mascot hall of fame. He compiled a list of honorees, held online voting campaigns to designate the admission classes, and organized several live induction ceremonies. Gorilla Phoenix Suns, San Diego Chickens (absent) and Fanatic (of course) were the first class to win the Golden Stupid String Award. The second event, held at LOVE Park in Philadelphia, featured all kinds of mascots with a duck float on the red carpet. Raymond’s efforts were popular enough to give him hope that his modest little site might one day become a brick monument to Mascot.
Ted Giannula’s work as a San Diego chicken, which began in 1974, really changed the mascot game. Focus on Sports via Getty Images.
ЧТО УДОВЛЕТВОРИТЕЛЬНЫЙ КАМЕНЬ с холодным звонком. In 2013, a man named Ron Neiss called Raymond to his office. Niss introduced himself as a museum consultant for the city of Whiting, Indiana, which was excited to move a planned entertainment center into a cultural center with a large audience. He recently came across the Mascot Hall website and thought the concept would work well in the physical space. The ultimate goal, he told Raymond, is to make Whiting a year-round tourist destination. After all, downtown Chicago is only 20 miles north, and many highways run through the area. To Raymond, it seemed that the city was working on the principle of Field of Dreams urban development: If you build it, they will come. He hadn’t yet found Whiting on a Google map or he contacted then-Mayor Joseph Stahura by phone, who invited him to visit – with the implicit offer to build a permanent home for the Hall of Fame mascot.
To realize his vision, Raymond worked closely with Jack Rouse Associates, the Cincinnati-based firm responsible for the NCAA Hall of Champions, Motorsports Hall of Fame, Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame and Steelworkers Country at Kennywood Amusement Park in Pennsylvania. The designers asked what it should be. Raymond thought for a moment. Can I start something I don’t want to? It’s not great. It’s not formal. And it’s not static electricity. This is not a bunch of old people talking about people who have died. No! Like the mascots themselves, he is irreverent and silly and makes us laugh even when we don’t feel like laughing. This is the power of fun.
The power of pleasure. This is Raymond’s slogan, his philosophy of life. This sentence also evokes the spirit that animates the Mascot Hall of Fame. In recent years Raymond has presented himself as a kind of playful evangelist, who incorporates his good news into his motivational speeches for companies. In 2018, he presented an abridged version in a TEDx talk called Be a Fanatic, Be Happier Now! The following year, he set out his manifesto in a self-published book entitled… What else? — The Power of Pleasure. Mascots use the power of fun every day. I think what they do is as important as anything else in life, Raymond says. The mascots teach us that it’s good to have fun. That we should laugh a little and relax. Which could always be worse.
A fanatic, Raymond had a legendary feud with famed Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. Focus on Sports/Getty Images
RAYMOND FIRST BECAMA discovered the power of fun in 1974. That year, a San Diego State University student named Ted Giannulas began showing up at Padres games in a chicken suit as part of an advertising campaign for a local radio station, KGB.
He was Babe Ruth’s mascot. Everyone who came before him played small ball. Kip (aka KGB Kip, aka San Diego Kip, aka Celebrity Kip) waves to the fence. He saw the stadium as a stage for improvisation. He went after the heads of the fans. He raised his foot to the judges. He made obscene gestures to players of the opposing team. Gone are the days of mascots just waving and taking pictures. Kip has shown that it can do better, says Raymond.
Four years later, in the Phillies’ 1978 season, Raymond quickly defeated Philadelphia’s boobs and fans with his own kind of fanatical antics – taunting the opposing team’s players by breaking trains on the roof of the Phillies’ dugout. The big green bird quickly became a national phenomenon.
But not all fanatics are fanatics. It’s no secret that the Giannulas always thought Raymond and the other pale faces were losers. Although the chicken was one of the first mascots of the Mascot Hall of Fame, the man behind the feathers has declined all invitations from Raymond to participate in Hall of Fame events. Mr. Giannulas not only provided a picture of the chicken for the hall’s mascot. You’ll have to ask Ted about that, Raymond said, when asked about the hole. Speaking by phone from his home in San Diego, Giannulas says his indifference stems not from a 40-year-old rivalry between chicken fans, but from his belief that he is adequately honored elsewhere. I am already in the greatest of pantheons, he said, and that is the heart of man.
Raymond’s most famous feud, however, was with the late captain of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Tommy Lasorda. Here’s a man Philly fans considered unsafe, he said. He comes from Norristown, Pennsylvania, goes to Los Angeles, and suddenly he’s the one. Los Angeles, and he forgot where he came from. That’s why Phillies fans have always criticized him, and Fanatic has followed that effort.
The lingering hostilities erupted in the August 1988 game at Veterans Stadium. Between innings, a fanatic insulted a rag doll in the form of Lasorda. In a fit of teenage rage, the SlimFast pitcher left his team’s dugout and went after Phanatic. Lasorda swung the scarecrow like a club and broke the strap holding the mascot’s head in place. Crouching on the ground, Raymond desperately braced the Phanatic’s rickety dome. At the time, Lasorda seemed far less frightening than the risk of violating the industry’s most sacred mascot rule: Never lose your head in public.
Raymond is a branding expert and helped the Philadelphia Flyers create the team’s first mascot in over 40 years: Gritty. AP Photo/Tom Michalek
Less than two years after dusting off Lasorda, Raymond faced what he calls the darkest period of his life. In the spring of 1990, eight months after doctors discovered an advanced cancerous tumor in her mother’s brain, Sue Raymond died at the age of 59. Just three weeks after Raymond said goodbye to his mother, his first marriage fell apart. I can’t tell you how incredibly hard this grief has been, he said in his TEDx talk. I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life. I was in my house and thought I wouldn’t survive this. I can’t put one foot in front of the other, let alone do my job. He’s supposed to be a clown!
At its lowest, Raymond was scheduled for a two-hour performance as a Fanatic. I still don’t know how I got here, he says. But I went and put on a suit. And all my sorrow and sadness disappeared, just like that. When he took off the suit that day, Raymond realized he hadn’t felt this good since his mother’s cancer diagnosis. The power of pleasure seemed to be at work in his life. He says I have to be someone else for a few hours. I felt good because I was a fanatic.
In the early ’90s, Raymond started thinking about his next act. I’m a professional idiot, but I’m not an idiot, he says. I could see that I would be physically challenged. At some point, I won’t be able to do the job anymore. That’s why I left the Phillies.
He turned to avid designer Bonnie Erickson – the creator of Miss Piggy when she was still working for Jim Henson – and her husband and business partner, Wade Harrison. Since the late 1970s, their company, Harrison/Erickson, has produced such creatures as Youppi! of the Montreal Expos, the short-lived Dandy of the New York Yankees, KC Wolf of the Kansas City Chiefs, Hugo of the Charlotte Hornets and Stuff the Magic of the Orlando Magic. Together they formed a partnership called Acme Mascots.
The company developed a character called Sport, with whom Raymond performed at stadiums across the country. This agreement also gave him the freedom to develop a program he called Dave Raymond’s Mascot Camp. After the dissolution of Acme in 1999, he founded the Raymond Entertainment Group (REG). Today, his company advises teams and institutions on how to care for their mascots – helping them with everything from creating characters to making and repairing costumes to researching, recruiting and training performers. He also designed the REG mascot: Reggie, the purple party girl.
Reggie is an alien who came to Earth in search of a civilization that worships pleasure as much as its people, Raymond says. What they discovered is that fun keeps people young. So he preaches fun all the time. He’s trying to communicate with all the inhabitants of Earth: Have fun and things will get better, especially when you’re sad.
The Mascot Hall of Fame has its own mascot, of course: Reggie the purple party boy (center). Mascot Hall of Fame
In NOOK , on the ground floor of Mascot Hall, bartenders prepare mascot-themed cocktails served by a giant ice slide inspired by Reggie’s smiling face. It’s the evening of the 2018 Sneak Peek event and Raymond, the emperor of fun, guards his domain with an electric choir. Standing before him are about 300 people – corporate sponsors, potential donors, venue designers and contractors, and mascot industry professionals – who paid $250 for a ticket to Raymond’s gala. Many come in brutally formal attire: Ties, bow ties and bows of showy fabric, boas of pink and yellow feathers, evening gowns adorned with elaborate feathers.
As the party decibels rise, Mascot Hall director Al Speier steps behind the podium to introduce the guests of honor: a merry group of mascots, including Purdue Pete with the Boilermakers’ hammer, Chicago’s smiling Sky Rocketeer, Sky Guy, and the Chicago White Sox with a green, as they call it, southpaw.
With a week to go before the official opening of the site on Boxing Day, there are still many unanswered questions: What happens when the show goes… everything? Once the chubby monsters become a fixture, how long can they remain irresistible?
So, Spire Silphons, cross your arms to become the best mascot in the NHL: Tommy Hawk!
Like a Woody Woodpecker on amphetamines, Blackhawks’ Tommy the bird flies across the centerline and plunges into the kicks and syllables of Chelsea Dagger, the goalie of his team, the Scottish rock band Fratellis. He aims his finger cannons at the sky, and just in time a confetti cannon explodes with a thunderous crackle above the heads of the partygoers, glittering paper over them. Tommy, who has donned his Blackhawks tuxedo jacket for the occasion, waves to his fellow mascots, then throws darts at a tray, grabs a piece of cheese and starts throwing it into people’s mouths. It’s that kind of smart performance that will get Tommy into Mascot Hall in 2019.
When you get a bunch of mascots together in one place, it’s a little chaotic, Raymond says, beaming at the scene before him. It’s a mess… but it’s a nice mess.
Raymond plays the role of guide and takes a group of potential donors on a tour of the house. Much of the first floor is taken up by the physical education department, a playground with basketball hoops, hockey and football nets, a soccer goal and other sports equipment. In one corner, a trio of cute bank executives, who have pledged $250,000 for the space, are scoring points in a Duck Hunt-like video game by shooting virtual threesomes into the outstretched arms of fans. I beat you twice! One of them screams. Other responsible person: It’s too easy to lose your inhibitions here.
In the Mad Science Lab, visitors can look through the periscope and see footage of the games from the unique and disoriented point of view of a mascot, while a heat lamp over their heads simulates a choking magnetism covered in 40 pounds of faux fur. When you put your hands in a lab glove box with a pair of four-fingered mascot gloves and pitifully try to pick up a baseball (or a marker or a doorknob), you understand the challenge of everyday objects. Try a few mascot heads and you’ll get an idea of the inadequacy of the human spine. Nonsense, says the poster, it’s a tough job.
In the hair arts department, participants built mascots from a supply of life-size plastic parts. The unholy creation of one of the customers: a beast with a shark’s head, lobster claws and a big red bow on its head. At another station, visitors record listening sessions in front of a green screen. Catnip for the kids, kryptonite for any adult who doesn’t take at least a third of the cocktail.
Adults are naturally more attracted to the Mascot Study section, the hall’s most conventional showroom, with designer objects reminiscent of both the chic lounges of Ivy League schools and the decorative galleries of other sports halls of fame. The costumes dominate the glass windows. The size of the objects is impressive: the Cleveland Indians’ slider head the size of a beer keg; the Houston Rockets’ clunky red shoes; a laced bear hug as wide as a human thumb; the Kansas City Royals’ mascot, Sluggerre, a life-size World Series ring. Small photos of the mascots and their famous friends hang on the paneled walls: Benny the Bull plays dodgeball with Chance the Rapper, Mr. B. Mat has fun with Will Smith. The large photograph above the marble fireplace shows Raymond as a bigot, with a devilish hand encircling the icon of a rude Richard Nixon and smiling like a little boy on his birthday.
When you first heard that Whiting was going to build the Mascot Hall of Fame, Mayor Stahura said in his speech, how many of you thought I was crazy? Many hands went up.
When you build a project like this, there are bound to be negative comments – and there have been, Raymond says. Almost nothing you do will get negative feedback. Fun is labeled a waste of time, a waste of budget. Why do you do such foolish things? They ask. That’s where I come in and say: There’s no cheating. It’s very nice.
Shortly after Raymond’s first visit to Whiting in 2013, the city hired the consulting firm Victus Advisors to conduct a feasibility study. To assess the market potential of Mascot Hall, Victus analyzed other large gyms in the United States. The report paints a bleak picture of the facilities, whose attendance and revenue have declined dramatically in recent years. Few gyms are consistently profitable, he concludes. To keep the lights on, most rely on memberships, donations and corporate sponsorships. But unlike Cooperstown, Canton or Springfield, the study notes that Whiting benefits from its proximity to one of the country’s largest cities, Chicago, and the 2.5 million people who live within a 30-minute drive of Mascot Hall. Annual operating costs were expected to exceed $2 million. Although attendance was only a small part of projected revenues, the theater needed to attract 67,000 visitors a year, or nearly 200 a day, to break even.
The study has given us a fantastically realistic picture, says Raymond. We learned that sustainability is about winning. That making a profit should not be the main objective. These halls of fame aren’t necessarily a stable thing, but they’re still a great public good if done right.
Yet a balanced and modest goal still seems far from reality. This is all the more true in an economy disrupted by a global pandemic. In this plague year, Raymond says, the venue was able to survive closure by relying on donations from businesses. Owner groups from the Bulls and White Sox, Blackhawks, Indians, Mets and Phillies have donated money. In the coming months, he plans to extend his offer to any team whose mascot has been added to the Hall of Fame but has not yet contributed. He says the hardest part was convincing people that Hall was doing more than just making humor, although we did a good job of raising money.
But today, when asked to justify the existence of the Mascot Hall of Fame, especially in a world trying to recover from deep loss and grief, Raymond tells the story of his performance as a Fanatic at a funeral 40 years ago. The request was written in the will of the late and devoted Nonagenarian Phillis. I was going to say: What? Really? Now, wait a minute. Are you crazy? Raymond remembers. I don’t know what I expected, but I walked into the room in my suit and people were talking: Yes! They put on some music and everyone started dancing. And at that moment, I realized: Oh, it’s a celebration of life. For me, it was a great realization and a perfect illustration of the power of fun that is so deeply embedded in the Mascot Hall of Fame. I realized that talismans go with everything. They give us permission to dance, to celebrate, to cry tears of joy – especially when we are struck by the cruelty of life.
Raymond, who designed Reggie as a mascot for his consultant, explains that the fuzzy alien serves to convey a unique message: Have fun and things will get better, especially when you’re sad. Alan See/ SMI Icon/Corbis/Sportswire Icon via Getty Images
ONE OF THE WINTERS, as an ice storm ravages northwestern Indiana, Raymond finds himself on the third floor of the gym with two young men organizing a two-day boot camp, Harvard’s training mascot.
Since the lead actor in Reggie’s role, Christopher Bruce, lives hundreds of miles away from Whiting, local replacements are needed to quickly don a purple Dude costume for birthday parties or public appearances around town. Like Raymond during his time with the Philadelphia Phanatic, Dylan Linkiewicz and Dylan White have no experience. But Raymond sees in them the ineffable he has noticed in other potential artists, that unbroken glint of comic gold that says to him: Get that guy with the big swollen head, quick!
So White checks Reggie’s costume while Linkiewicz takes videos on his iPad and Raymond yells from the side like a drill sergeant.
Reggie, I want you to look me straight in the eye, he said, using the character’s name. (Raymond doesn’t just want them to play Reggie, he wants them to be Reggie). Look a little further down. A little more. That’s it. Reggie looks me in the eye. So, Dylan, what are you looking at?
I can see your shoes, White said.
All right, fine! It’s a matter of life and death: Know where your character’s eyes are. Mostly, unfortunately, you are looking in the direction of the stage in question.
Raymond told Reggie to close his eyes. White takes a punch to the cheek from Mascot. Give me your hands, Raymond said. He lifts his purple legs higher. Can you feel your eyeballs? It blinds you. Now cover your ears. Itching under the ears. Scratch your ass. Can you feel your hair? You don’t? Reggie can’t reach the hair. This is something you should know.
Raymond asks for a series of striking steps. White responds with a Travolt gait, an eccentric limp, a horse’s gallop – some harder to evoke than others. The exercise shows Raymond how well he is able to think on his feet. It also makes the lesson clear: The mascot should have a large and varied range of motion. Observe children’s behavior, watch silent movies, physical comedy and pay attention to nonverbal movements, he advises. Think about it: I wonder what Reggie would look like if he made that move.
Raymond then alternates songs from the playlist – a snippet of Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop Feeling!, the intro to YMCA Village People, a snippet of the instrumental The Stripper featuring David Rose’s trombone, while White combines dance moves on each song.
When White rips Reggie’s head off, he’s sweating profusely and having trouble breathing.
When you’re done playing, hang up the suit and spray it with one part vodka and two parts water, says Raymond Dylans. The solution kills the bacteria.
Raymond and his students sit and watch their videos while the athletes watch the game footage.
Raymond tells them that you’re both a little crazy about Reggie. What you don’t have is an understanding of who Reggie is. I can see how you think when you dance more than anything. A good performance is one where you block out your own thoughts. It just takes time in the suit.
Before leaving the classroom for the night, Raymond left the Dylans with a few last words of wisdom. Every time I ask the actors: What do you do for work? They say to entertain, be larger than life, move, dance and make people happy. That is absolutely true. But you’re not just some stupid, crazy, wild artist. You represent this institution. And that’s very important, he says. After all, the Mascot Hall of Fame won’t exist if Reggie doesn’t support it.
Behind the building, Raymond – a boy who used to talk to his mother while playing the clown, a former athlete who has worked his way to fame, a man who has learned that his antics in a suit can ease his pain – is greeted by a winter that throws him off guard. A freezing rain fell on all surfaces. Crying more. Burning mud balls crush the statues of Reggie, Benny the Bull, Mr. Fry, and others. With, Slider, and Southpaw. In the immediate vicinity of the refinery, burps and fumes are released into the cold night air.
Raymond returns to the rental car and finds it buried under the ice. Instead of sulking, he goes to the back seat and grabs a scraper. In his hands, it becomes a prop stick for Chaplin’s character, The Little Tramp. As he pirouettes around the car and theatrically cleans up the frozen frosting, David Raymond becomes fanatical again, as if to tell everyone: Whiting, smile a little and relax. It could always be worse.
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