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First Yale bulldog mascot gets 2nd act as statue

By Stephanie Reitz
Associated Press / November 8, 2011

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HARTFORD, Conn.—Yale University's first "Handsome Dan" bulldog has been dead for more than a century, but the storied mascot is about to return in a new incarnation to intimidate its Ivy League rivals.

A quarter-ton bronzed statue of the original Handsome Dan, whose taxidermied remains are a treasured icon at the school, is set to be permanently erected Wednesday at the Yale Bowl in New Haven.

The Yale faithful say it's not a moment too soon, either: The Bulldogs are set to face archrival Harvard at the Yale Bowl on Nov. 19 in The Game, the annual football matchup that's become legendary for the passions it produces on both sides.

Other than in 2006, Yale hasn't beaten Harvard since 2000 -- and they're hoping the revival of the original Handsome Dan, or at least his bronze doppelganger, might help spur a turnaround. At a minimum, they think it'll make an impression and underscore Yale's school spirit as fans stream into the stadium for that Saturday game and other events.

"He's very noble-looking," said Mark Simon, a founding partner at Essex-based Centerbrook Architects & Planners, which commissioned the statue for Yale as part of its larger project overhauling areas around the stadium and other sports facilities.

Seventeen bulldogs have served as the school's "Handsome Dan" so far over the decades, but the original has always held a special place in the heart of Yalies like Simon, who did graduate work in Yale's architecture program.

The first Handsome Dan arrived on campus with his owner, student Andrew B. Graves, in 1889, and quickly became a beloved mascot whose fervent anti-Harvard proclivities became a requirement for all of his successors.

When he died nine years later, Graves had the dog's remains stuffed, and they are now under glass in a Yale trophy room.

To make a cast for the statue, Centerbrook's architects had to work with other specialists to scan the body with a hand-held wand that recorded its dimensions in a computer and boosted them to one-and-a-half times its size. That created a design that went to other specialists so they could mill a fake dog out of foam.

Because Handsome Dan was old and scrawny when he died, the first mold was not particularly intimidating -- at least until more specialists bulked him up with the kind of muscles he once had in his youth.

Then, through a series of other molds using rubber and wax, the final product was perfected at a sculpture casting company in Long Island City, N.Y., and sent to a foundry, emerging as a larger-than-life Handsome Dan with a semi-transparent black patina glinting with bronze undertones.

In a perfect world, Simon said Tuesday, his firm would have loved to create several Handsome Dans to line the path to the Yale Bowl's western entrance, but the project was so complicated -- and time was so tight to beat the Harvard game deadline -- that they settled on the single imposing dog.

Yale did not disclose the statute's cost, which was part of the larger master planning project budget for the area.

Wednesday's installation isn't just a matter of putting up the statute, affixing a few bolts and leaving. The half-ton dog will be bolted down with threaded rods connecting it to the granite base, which weighs a few tons itself and is connected to another heavy concrete base.

That should ensure that vandals cannot steal it and pranksters cannot take Handsome Dan for an unscheduled walk-- such as a few hours to the northeast to Harvard Stadium, for instance.

"He's going to be very, very secure," Simon said. "We have no doubt that one year or another he'll be adorned with something unsightly, but bronze statutes are very forgiving."

Yale and Harvard fans already are bantering on social media sites and in their alumni groups about the upcoming game, so news about the first Handsome Dan's revival at the historic Yale Bowl added a touch of humor to those discussions.

John Knoebel, a 1979 Harvard graduate who played center and linebacker for the Crimson during his football career there, said it's hard to underestimate how important the game is to each side's supporters -- and that being the case, he said, he could see why the Handsome Dan statue would be important to Yalies.

Not that he thinks it'll give them an edge.

"It's a very intense rivalry, there's no question about it," said Knoebel, now president and chief executive officer at Building Healthier Communities, a nonprofit in Chicago. "It's a game that's steeped in tradition and long-standing greatness that has occurred on the field for so many years."


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