BEACHCOMBING: New Era for Yale's Handsome Dan Bulldog Mascot

Photos by Peter Hvizdak

 

For 31 of the past 33 years, Chris Getman has been “the keeper of Handsome Dan,” a succession of English bulldogs who have served as Yale University’s official mascot.

Maybe you’ve seen Getman strolling the sidelines at Yale Bowl, his leashed canine companion alongside him, as they root for the football team and rebuff aggressive advances by rival mascots. You might also have seen the two of them at charity events because Getman has expanded the mascot’s role through the years, raising large sums of money for Yale and other causes.

But Getman’s days as “the keeper” have ended. After the August death of the 17th “Dan,” named Sherman, Getman, 75, decided it was time to let somebody else train and house the next, unannounced (as of this writing) bulldog.

“It makes sense, going forward,” Getman says as he sits at Mory’s, the legendary club next to campus. “The new mascot will be, as ours were, part of the community. He’ll live with a member of the (Yale) athletic department. They’re looking for existing puppies or puppies [soon] to be born.”

Asked if this is a wistful time for him, Getman replies, “Yes, very much so. There’s no getting around that. They’re great pets.”

Getman is also sad to have lost Sherman after just 9½ years. “We had had a dinner party at our home in Hamden and he was running around, fetching things. The next day he ate his breakfast and dropped dead. It was either a heart attack or possibly a tumor that burst.”

Getman adds, “He was looking forward to the season.”But the team and its supporters have had to deal with a sad absence. “And look what’s happened to the team!” Getman exclaimed. At the time of our interview, Yale had lost its first two games by scores of 55-13 and 27-13. Soon after, the Bulldogs dropped a 63-35 decision to Lehigh before finally getting in the win column with a 21-13 victory over Dartmouth at the Bowl.

Mory’s is a kind of shrine to the Handsome Dan lineage. On a wall sits a portrait of Sherman (shown at right), painted several years ago by President George W. Bush (Yale Class of 1968). “He (Bush) liked it so much, he kept the original,” Getman says. “He had two prints made; this is one of them.”

Another wall at Mory’s outlines the history of the bulldogs, beginning in 1889. They were all named Dan until Woodie surfaced; others have included Oliver, Bull, Bingo, Maurice, Mugsy, Whizzer and Louis, although the “Handsome Dan” moniker has endured.

The original Dan supposedly was found by Yale student Andrew B. Graves at a New Haven blacksmith’s shop. The write-up notes the mascots inspired Cole Porter to write the fight song: “Bulldog.” (“Bulldog! Bulldog! Bow, wow, wow!”)

Well, it’s an endearing story. But Judith Ann Schiff, chief research archivist at the Yale University Library, discovered in 2014 that Handsome Dan actually was not Yale’s first bulldog and thus not the first mascot. She found a reference in the Yale Daily News of Nov. 22, 1890, to “Harper, the champion English bulldog” serving as a mascot to the football team. Schiff wrote in the Yale Alumni Magazine: “It was not until 1892 that there is any record of Dan as mascot. The June 23, 1892, issue of ‘Forest and Stream’ noted that Dan would be ‘the Yale mascot this year in the place of the champion Harper.’”

When Getman is asked about this, he replies, “I don’t have a dog in that fight.”

He speaks with great affection about all the dogs he has raised and cared for, but notes Mugsy remained at his owner’s home and was around for just two years. “It was difficult for Mugsy’s owner to fulfill all the commitments.”

There has been one female bulldog, Bingo. But she was retired prematurely after her owner, Getman’s predecessor, died. “Bingo hated her job,” Getman noted.

Getman was perfect for the “keeper” role, as he is a devoted Yale man. He pitched for the Yale baseball team, graduated in 1964, then returned as an assistant coach in football and baseball. “Something I take a lot of pride in is the fact the university has realized the bulldog is a great ambassador,” he says. “We sent a video of Sherman rolling around on the ground to all Yale alumni older than 70½, with the message: ‘You can now roll over your IRA tax-free to Yale.’ That raised $500,000.”

Getman recalls Maurice’s encounters with student mascots from other colleges who dressed up in costume. “The Princeton tiger came over and Maurice head-butted him. The UConn husky, the Brown bear, all got flattened by Maurice.”

Getman also remembers a tense encounter between Yale and Army at West Point, when the Yale marching band suggested the military school was “infiltrated by communists.” Getman notes, “The Army guys didn’t think that was funny, so they wouldn’t let the band perform and they rescinded my sideline pass. I’d arranged for three kids, ages 8, 11 and 11, to walk my dog on the field. We got these three little kids in cheerleader costumes and they went right in with the dog.”

Later that day, Getman adds, “Maurice took a 20-pounder on the commandant’s lawn!”

It’s clear that finding a new “Dan” will be as challenging as finding a new keeper who is as devoted as Getman. “It’s been a fun run,” he says, “and productive. I’m proud of what the dogs have done and how they’ve been part of the community.”

Randall Beach is the longtime columnist for the New Haven Register, where his column appears Fridays and Sundays. He enjoys his New Haven neighborhood, running through the city’s streets and parks and hanging out in its coffee shops. At home he plays his many 1960s and ’70s rock ‘n’ roll albums and CDs.

Chris Getman of Hamden, 75, Yale Class of 1964, the keeper of the Yale Bulldog mascot Handsome Dan since 1983, at Mory’s in New Haven.

photo by Peter Hvizdak

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