Visions of Princess Nittany

Does the Nittany Valley have a genius loci? I think so.

I think we see encounter it through the book The Legends of the Nittany Valley, which features some of Henry Shoemaker’s American Indian legends and folk tales pertaining to our area.

I think we encounter some of that spirit through this community’s intergenerational tradition of honor Indigenous peoples, perhaps most notably by naming our Mountain “Nittany” and by sharing folk stories of “Princess” Nittany.

As I explain in the book’s introduction, taking ownership of a unique and quirky mythology that is necessarily tied to the very real physical spaces around us helps solidify a common identity firmly rooted in sense of place.

The more we incorporate, in small but important ways, these stories and symbols into the daily life of our community, the more fully we manifest the special spirit of the Valley, for residents and visitors alike. With the recent addition of Michael Pilato’s Princess Nittany mural outside Panera Bread on Allen street, I thought it a good time to share some examples of Princess Nittany’s subtle presence throughout State College, as pictured here.

In addition to the new Pilato painting (right) and among other places not pictured, our princess-exemplar can be spotted along Calder Way (center) and on a community mural housed in the old State College high school, now the Delta Program building (this image, on the left, is also featured on the back cover of our Legends book).

Confusion often arises between the Princess Nittany (sometimes spelled Nita-Nee), after whom, the legend has it, our famous Mountain is named, and another Princess Nittany, who features prominently in the story of Malachi Boyer and Penn’s Cave (both stories appear in The Legends of the Nittany Valley). Within the chronology of local fiction, the Princess Nittany who was the object of Boyer’s affections lived long after her (and the Mountain’s) namesake and was so named because the courage and dignity of the original were such that the name “Nittany” had become one of great honor.

These are fun stories with the lasting potential to at once shape and embody the character of our community, all the more so when we make them real and meaningful parts of the places where we work and play.

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