Provan Enterprises

The Nittany Lion

Mountain lions had roamed on nearby Mount Nittany until the 1880s. The origin of the name "Mount Nittany" is obscure, the most commonly accepted explanation being that it is derived of Native American words (loosely pronounced as "neet-a-nee") or "single mountain." The Nittany Lion’s were named after the cougars that roamed the mountain. The name was readily accepted without a vote of the student body. In 1907, the first tangible lion symbols appeared with the placing of two alabaster African lion statues, left over from the Pennsylvania exhibit at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, atop the columns at the main campus entrance on College and Allen streets. They were affectionately dubbed by the student body as "Pa" and "Ma." In the 1920s, a pair of stuffed mountain lions were placed in the Recreation Building to watch over athletic events. One of these original lions is now located in Pattee Library on the Penn State campus. About that same time, the tradition was established of having a student dressed in furry-lion outfits appear at football games.

During the 1940s, seeking a place to hold pep rallies and victory celebrations, students launched a campaign for a lion shrine. As its gift to the university, the Class of 1940 voted to give the sum of $5,430 to pay for the construction of such a shrine, which was to be constructed between the Recreation Building and Beaver Stadium, with the lion framed against a natural setting of trees, grass, and shrubs. The sculptor Heinz Warnecke was retained to carve the lion at the site from a thirteen-ton block of Indiana limestone. The sculpture was formally unveiled on October 24, 1942. The shrine has come to be one of the most visited and photographed sites, not just on campus, but also in the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Guarding the Shrine

This is a Homecoming weekend tradition at Penn State, started in 1966 when Sue Paterno (wife of football coach Joe Paterno) and a friend covered the lion in orange latex-based paint as a way of stoking interest in that year's game against PSU rival Syracuse. While that paint washed off easily, a later dousing by actual Syracuse fans with oil-based paint proved much harder to remove, requiring sand blasting. The shrine is guarded for the duration of Homecoming weekend by Penn State's ROTC detachment, Blue Band, alumni, current students, faculty, and by the Lion Ambassadors. The latter group brings food, music, games, and (starting in 2004) an event called "Last Guard Standing", attracting students from all over campus. Originally, the guard was manned by freshmen.

(Courtesy of Wikipedia Encyclopedia)