Bananas The Bear

It all started in the spring of 1914 when no ordinary black bear was born. He would soon become known as Jeff and start a tradition that would last for 70 years establishing his speacies as a permanent characteristic of the University of Maine. As result he was the University of Maine Black Bear.

Before all that though, a student by the name of Seldon from the class of 1903 “borrowed” an elephant from a company in Bangor and brought it back to campus. With the help of two of his friends, they built an encasement under the football bleachers to store the elephant so that authorities wouldn’t find it. In hopes that it would bring good luck, Seldon and his friends unveiled the elephant at the next football game and thus the University had its first mascot.

But in 1914 on the northeast slop of Mt. Katahdin, a tiny bear cub was born. Taken while his mother was way by an Old Town Indian guide and given to a former Old Town Police Chief, Jeff was loaned to the University’s ailing football team in hopes that it would bring them good luck.

Jeff was first introduced at a football rally in preparation for the Colby game. As they tiny black bear entered the auditorium, the surprised crowd applauded enthusiastically. Thinking it the only proper thing to do, Jeff gratefully stood on his head; the crowd went “Bananas!”

Jeff traveled with the football team to Waterville and led the parade in the pre- and post-game shows. As a result of his performance, Maine thoroghly overwhelmed Colby in the football game and UMaine athletic teams have been known as the Maine Black Bears ever since.

It is not know what happened to Jeff during the summer of 1915, but in the fall, the university was presented with a new black bear. This new bear’s trained, Lloyd E. Haughton (Class of 12'), brought him everywhere and the coach at the time, Art Smith, recommended the name “Bananas” because of the crowd’s reaction to the earlier bear, Jeff.

In the fall of 1920, after Bananas was sold to a man in Texas and Bananas II departed to make way for Bananas III, Brother George K. Stackpole (Class of ’25) became the bear’s gaurdian and keeper. Brother Stackpole and the other house members started a long tradition where the members of Beta Theta Pi became known as the “bear caretakers”

One of the Beta Brothers feeding Bananas. The Beta House can be seen in the background

Bananas II and many future bears found a warm den at the University across from the Beta house by the Stillwater River. Every winter, the brothers would throw a few bales of hay into an old abandoned pump house by the river and locked the door where the bears would hibernate until they were ready to wake up in the spring. About once a month some of the brothers would hibernate until they were ready to wake up in the spring. About once a month some of the brothers would go to the den and check to make sure was steam coming from the bear’s mouth.

Sometimes Brother Stackpole would take Bananas III into town on a trolley with other students to either “tip a few” to celebrate a win or drown the sorrow of the game. It is said that Bananas III is one of the few bears to experience the sorrow of a hangover. But after a night on the town, Brother Stackpole would chain her up to a tree, let her sober up, “and she’d be ready to go the next day.”

In the spring of 1922, after coming out of hibernation Bananas III became violently ill and despite all efforts died of ptomaine poisoning. Soon after, a trapper in Southern Aroostook County informed the University of his latest, cutest catch and thus Bananas IV was born.

Bananas roams along the front lawn of campus along the stillwater river. In the upper left corner is the former Sigma Nu House and in the upper right corner is the original Theta Chi House (where to Beta Parking Lot is today).

During the summer months, Brother Stackpole took care of the bear cub at the Atlantis Hotel at Kennebunk Beach. It was here the Bananas IV met pedigreed bulldog named Jiggs. They spent many hours that summer together, wrestling on the beach and becoming the best of friends. When they had to part, Jiggs’ owner sent the dog panicking to Orono to meet up with his old friend the bear and once reunited, the two spent many long, happy hours together.

Bananas V was not a long fixture at the University due to a severe case of Ulcers. Soon after its death, Bananas VI was donated to the University by Verne Beverly (Class of 21') and has the distinction for setting the stage for one of the most impressive come from behind victories of the Maine football team to this date. Brother Stackpole was in charge of the bear and traveled all around with the bear in his For Model T.

Bananas VII began her stay with the brothers of the Beta House, but after a few days was given to the tender care of Mrs. Junkins, who raised her from a cub. After passing away in Febraury 1927, the University went through a string of bad luck with their mascots, having four black bear cubs between 1927 and 1929. Finally, in the fall of 1929, the needs of Bananas XII was addressed by Dean Corbett who outlined a plan by which the Student Senate could raise money for the care and feeding of the bear.

Bananas XII was a major factor in motivating the football team during her tenure at the University. But her fate is not clearly known and a long time employee of the University recalls that a bear was seen on campus until 1939. In 1943, a Bananas showed up at the homecoming game against Bates College and is said to be the key figure as Maine beats Bates.