BruKnow-It-All: Bear in Mind — How did Butch Bruno become Brown’s mascot?

Finally, Brown’s most pressing mysteries and “bruin” controversies solved and settled. Ever wondered about the origins of our mascot or the exact physics of the SciLi wind tunnel? Well, dear reader, BruKnow-It-All is here to answer your questions and satisfy your inquiring minds with all the Brunonian trivia, timely campus news explanations, and silly speculations seriously researched investigations with which to impress and/or annoy your friends. Sure, curiosity killed the cat — but who likes cats anyway?

Have you seen CPax’s new paws-worthy scarf? (Weak pun? Bear with me.) It features a sleuth of bears, of course. But why not a parliament of owls or an array of hedgehogs? How did we end up with the largest land-based predator as our beloved, chromatically appropriate, and very alliterative mascot?

Every superhero has an origin story, and Bruno's no exception.

When Theodore Francis Green 1887 chose to put a real brown bear’s head above the trophy room’s arch in what would later become Faunce, he chose well: one hundred and eight years later, we have a baller mascot. “While it may be somewhat unsociable and uncouth, it is good natured and clean. While courageous and ready to fight, it does not look for trouble for its own sake, nor is it bloodthirsty. It is not one of a herd, but acts independently” — how illustrative of the Brown spirit. Our beloved bear tolerates our sartorial impositions, is way more legit than Cornell’s unofficial Touchdown the Big Red Bear, and allows us to make silly puns for student initiatives. And it’s not a giant penis.

But did you know that the University mascot wasn’t always the Ursus arctos? The first attempt at a mascot was made in 1902, when a live burro was brought to the Harvard game. Embarrassingly, the shy cousin of the donkey was mad distressed by all the hullabaloo and laughter at its awkwardness. We might not be represented by a dick like the RISD Nads’ Scrotie, but we once were by an ass.

In 1905, “Dinks” the bear was rented from Roger Williams Park for the Dartmouth game. Pulling a Socially Lazy Sloth move, he staged a one-bear OccupyCage movement when it came time to play, so it was his ferocious mate “Helen” who gave a beastly show of intimidation, receiving a standing ovation. #genderequality #sobrown

The growl of Helen launched a long, storied succession of “Butch Bruno”s starting in 1921. The first Bruno lived in the biology building but was fatally poisoned after unwisely imbibing some chemicals (let that be a lesson to you, kids). Bruno II, “Cuddles,” went on to appear in a 1922 play after retirement, and the day after the feisty Bruno V in 1939 up and died due to indigestion on the football field (talk about a Kodiak moment), hundreds of students attended the bear’s funeral. Bruno X and Bruno XIV were both briefly bearnapped by URI boys who apparently were bored with Rhody the Ram.

Yet the massive street cred attained by bringing a live bear to football games waned by the late 1960s as animal rights became more of a concern, and President Keeney officially discontinued the practice in 1967. Instead of a fear-inspiring, half-ton creature, students — usually six to eight employed by the University — now take turns to don a hot, visibility-restricting Bruno costume to silently cheer us on at sports events along with furry sidekick (son?) Cubby. But at least Bruno can now high-five and hug us or celebrate his bear mitzvah at the Hillel. Or friend us on Facebook!

Bonus: What’s up with the Maddock Alumni Center bear statue?

Everyone’s seen the Bronze Bruno on the Main Green, and some have noticed the Breslau Bear fountain, but if you ever stumble across the “frumpy,” 5’6” bear statue outside the Maddock Alumni Center, take a moment to peer into its mouth and discover its inner child. Literally. You’ll see a hidden pair of eyes staring back at you. Creator Nick Swearer, son of 15th president Howard Swearer (namesake of the Swearer Center), sculpted the piece as a hollow mascot suit — it grins, but it’s not a real bear!


  1. Max Rosero

    Kath Nguyen: Pun Master Flex

  2. Kathy Nguyen (Author)

    I prefer “The Punisher”

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