FINAL Edit Card teeth.wav
7:11PM May 17, 2019
big red blob
Usually mascots are something like a bear, or a lion or something that's ferocious a little bit and the cardinal bird in its natural state is not particularly ferocious.
That's Carrie Daniels. She's the director of the University of Louisville archives and she's responding to our latest Curious Louisville question, which comes from Rachel Peterson.
Why does the U of L Cardinal have teeth? Because birds don't have teeth. I get that, you know, it's trying to look fierce but it's just biologically inaccurate.
I'm Ashlie Stevens. WFPL's Liz Schlemmer and I looked into the answer, and Liz started where most research nowadays begins.
I googled U of L Cardinal bird and one of the first things that came up on my Google search was the University of Louisville athletics website. It said the cardinal mascot named Louie was chosen to give you about statewide identification. Louie was originally designed and built by for former U of L student, Ralph Carey, class of 1980, U of L graduate. I thought, great. I right off the bat, I have a name that I can go pursue. So I started looking up Ralph Carey. Again, googling, looked around and found that he was the designer of the Big Red mascot at WKU.
Big Red is a pretty unique mascot. While people in Louisville may wonder why our mascot has teeth, tere's been a lot of discussion about what exactly Big Red is.
My best description is a big red blob.
Liz had a ton of information tying Ralph Carey to Big Red, and to other mascots as well. He had worked in the costume department at Kings Island in Ohio, where he learned about mascot design. But there's nothing to be found - no articles and interviews, no photos - tying him to the U of L Cardinal, which seemed a little weird, but...
Maybe it's totally possible if he designed this other mascot for WKU maybe he also designed U of L's mascot.
So Liz went forward with that information. Realizing that while everyone seemed to have opinions on the Cardinal's teeth, only one person, the creator, could answer why they designed the mascot to have them in the first place.
So you can look through any of any of this information here. So we have photographs, we have clippings, newspaper clippings...
So down in the basement of the library at U of L, they have archives of information about the university and about Louisville in general, just a lot of local history. And I went and I talked to them there.
I don't know that we have a real definitive, I don't think we have a document that says, oh, the cardinal bird has to have teeth because x. But I think our shared understanding is that probably it's to make the cardinal bird look a little bit more aggressive, a little bit more frightening.
That's archive director Carrie Daniels again.
He started out just being called the cardinal bird. He started out as really a cloth costume that was kind of put together because our group of cheerleaders thought we needed we need a mascot to help. And this was in the early 50s. In the 60s, there was also a Lady Bird. So there was a pair, um, and then we evolved sometime in the 70s. At that point there, they did not have teeth. The paper mache birds, as far as I can tell, did not have teeth. Sometime in the 70s the bird grew teeth.
But we didn't find out anything about Ralph Carey there. So that was still kind of this burning question that I had going forward. So I made some calls and I got Ralph carry cell phone number. And I called him up.
Wow, that is... boy talk about things twisting around. So you say it is the U of L University site?
And he was very surprised to get my call because he did NOT design U of L's Cardinal bird.
I will not take credit where credit is not due.
For what it's worth, Ralph Carey said he would have given Louie the cardinal teeth too, to make him look more intimidating. But he didn't have any leads on who the original designer who made that choice would be.
So where should I go next?
(Laughs) I don't know!
We asked our curious louisville question asked her Rachel Peterson how she feels about that answer.
Well, yeah, I guess we'll have to remain curious about it.
The question for this curious Louisville came from Rachel Peterson. It was reported by Liz Schlemmer and produced by me, Ashlie Stevens. And if you or someone you know is the designer of the University of Louisville Cardinal mascot, you can let us know at curiouslouisville.org which is also where you can ask your own question.