A Surprise Princess Nittany Sighting

I recently wrote about the presence of Princess Nittany throughout the community for our regular online column with Town & Gown. From downtown murals to student movies, our local hero manifests in numerous forms around the Nittany Valley. Yesterday, I encountered her in a rather unlikely spot: a 1985 football poster issued by Anheuser-Busch.

I had the good fortune to spend the afternoon with George Henning, owner of a truly remarkable collection of historic Penn State artifacts (and author of the Foreword to our first-time publication of Erwin Runkle’s history of the University). When I think about those who have dedicated a portion of their lives to stewarding the heritage of the Nittany Valley, George ranks near the top of the list. Included among his treasury are several items from simpler times, days when no one batted an eye at beer ads oh-so-thinly disguised as college football schedules. As we paged through these, one caught my eye in particular.

In 1985, Budweiser’s Penn State football schedule poster featured original artwork that included both Princess Nittany and the Nittany mountain lion as symbols of Old State’s pride and valor on the gridiron. To see Princess Nittany pop up in a mass-produced commercial item like this was striking, and it certainly speaks to my point about her pervasive influence on the way we think about and tell our local story. I’m filled with questions about the background and origin of the poster. After all, regional folklore isn’t typical fodder for a multinational corporation. For the present, I can only offer some images (excuse the iPhone photography) and the text from the poster, quoted below.

And if something in your modern sensibility is jarred by PSU football appearing alongside a beer logo, it’s nothing compared to ads George told me about from 1930s issues of Froth, the campus humor magazine, that featured a smoking Santa Claus extolling the health benefits of cigarettes!

The Legend of the Nittany Lion

Seated in the Nittany Valley at the foot of Mount Nittany, Penn State ranks as a formidable foe on any field of play.

How much of the school’s success can be attributed to their Nittany Lion mascot is difficult to say. But the mascot is certainly a symbol of stealth and valor.

The lion, in fact, is a mountain lion that was said to have roamed the mountains of central Pennsylvania. Among those mountains is Mount Nittany. Mount Nittany, as legend has it, was named after an Indian princess whose valor was so renowned that the Great Spirit formed the mountain in her honor.

Hence, the Nittany Lion.

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