Whiting, long known as the “Little City by the Lake,” on Friday proved that little does not mean insignificant, as they threw a major celebration for an ambitious facility which will no doubt bring the little town some big attention, as local residents and officials celebrated the groundbreaking ceremony for Whiting’s Mascot Hall of Fame.
On hand to oversee the ceremony was David Raymond, former professional mascot and the original Philly Phanatic from 1978 until 1993, and one of the founders of the Mascot Hall of Fame.
“We started the virtual Mascot Hall of Fame in 2005, in response to mascot violence which was going on at that time, and this was shortly after we established the Mascot Bill of Rights in 2003-04,” said Raymond.
Though he had always dreamed that the virtual Hall of Fame might take physical reality, Raymond admits he was hesitant when he was first contacted by Whiting officials. Raymond says he soon changed his mind, after speaking with Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura and visiting to learn more about the city.
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“Once I met with Mayor Stahura, and saw what Whiting was all about, we really felt that they just ‘got it,’ that they would be stewards of what we were already doing, and that the city was a good fit for our brand. This is just incredible to see this dream become reality,” said Raymond.
Located in the heart of the city at the east end of 119th street - Whiting’s main downtown thoroughfare - the museum will be situated just blocks from Oil City Stadium and also within walking distance of Whiting’s famous, recently renovated lakefront gem, Whihala Beach Park.
The museum - a 25,000 square foot, multi-million dollar facility - is scheduled to open in early 2018 and will feature numerous mascot-themed exhibits as well as activities for children and families.
“We have a conservative estimate of 50,000 visitors,” said Raymond. “Whiting is already a strong draw to local residents and brings in people from all over the region with its famous Pierogi Fest and Fourth of July Festival. This is just one more reason for people to come and spend the day here.”
Following an introductory ceremony within the friendly confines of Oil City Stadium, Stahura was joined by a gang of a half-dozen sports mascots, as well as numerous local VIPs for a ceremonial ground-breaking at the site of the new museum. Mascots in attendance included the famous Philly Phanatic, Mr. Met, Chicago White Sox Mascot Southpaw and Clark the Cub.
“This is a great concept for the city to be able to add to our tourism," said Stahura. "This is our signature project. Our goal here is to design and build a high-quality, interactive, family-oriented facility right here in the heart of our city."
“All the rooms and exhibits will have mascot themes. There will be sports memorabilia. The kids will be able to come here, try on a costume, get a feel for what it’s like to be a mascot. They’ll be able to shoot a t-shirt cannon, kick field goals, and play some games right here. We’re even working with Build-A-Bear, to create an opportunity for the kids to be able to design their own mascot. It’s going to be a wonderful, fun place for parents to bring the whole family and have a good time.”
Hundreds of balloons were released when the shovels hit the ground, rising steadily in the cool autumn air as the crowd of hundreds of people – including many students from local elementary schools - cheered the new addition to their beloved Little City by the Lake.
Following the groundbreaking, the most recent inductees for the Mascot Hall of Fame were announced to include Chicago’s own Benny the Bull and Tommy Hawk, and the Kansas City Royals’ Sluggerrr, as well as Penn State's Nittany Lion and the University of Georgia's Hairy Dawg.
Caitlim McEnery, an eighth grader at St. John the Baptist School, could barely hide her excitement.
“I’ve seen the billboards for this every day for weeks now,” McEmery said as she hugged Chicago Cubs’ mascot Clark. “It looks like it’s really going to be a lot of fun.”