Travels With Boxer
Pacific’s curious dragon-dog mascot, missing since 1969, may have been found while the replica takes a road trip.
By Steve Dodge
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College lore and tradition is full of epic pranks, heists and missing mascots. Take the 1961 Rose Bowl when California Institute of Technology students secretly modified flash cards in the Washington Huskies rooting section so they would spell out “CalTech.” Or the famed 1933 theft of The Sacred Cod of Massachusetts from the statehouse by the Harvard Lampoon staff.
Perhaps the most famous college pranksters of all, MIT’s “hacks,” devise an ingenious prank each year, which has included a weather balloon popping from the 50-yard line during the Harvard-Yale football game, and more recently, depositing the shell of a campus police car atop the school’s Great Dome.
Pacific University’s mascot, a bronze Chinese dragon-dog/gargoyle, has to be one of the strangest in a strange group that includes the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs and the North Carolina School of the Arts Fighting Pickles. Pacific’s mascot also has a history of pranks to go with it.
According to University records, Boxer was cast during China’s Ming Dynasty, making it at least 300 years old. A druggist in Shauwu, Fukien (Fujian) province had it on display on the counter of his store when it was spotted by missionary and 1867 Pacific graduate Joseph Elkanah Walker. In a 1921 letter to professor Henry Bates, Walker said the “figurine” was commonly used in drug stores to “ward off the imps of disease.” He purchased the statue for $5 and sent it home to Forest Grove. The Walker family gave it to the University in 1896. A 1908 article in the Index coined the term “Boxer” after the 1899-1901 Boxer Rebellion in China.
The “Campus Spirit,” as it was originally known, sat peacefully on display in Marsh Hall’s old Brighton Chapel until a visiting lecturer told a campus audience in 1899 of an eastern school that had a foreign mascot with a history of disappearances. In the audience: Richard Faulkner, class of 1902, the first one to spirit Boxer away.
Over the years, the University’s fraternities took the lead in stealing Boxer from each other. The groups eventually devised a system where Boxer would be “flashed” or shown at a gathering, and by tradition, soon after “tossed” or thrown out on the campus lawn. A toss often brought out the entire campus to witness or participate in the part rugby scrum, part brawl. Some of these tosses, which later included non-fraternity clubs and athletic groups like wrestlers and football players, went on overnight, moving across campus and through town until someone was able to get the statue to a waiting car. In between tosses, Boxer would occasionally be brought out for photos but was mostly kept hidden, in Forest Grove attics or freezers, in the trunks of cars or even one time tied to a rope and submerged in the Willamette River. He’s traveled to Montana, California and Europe. Creative tosses have included throwing out the statue in a block of ice and chaining him to a tree. One flash had him dangling from a helicopter over the football field at half time.
Then came the 1960s. Although the University mascot had been the Badger since 1921, students in 1967 voted in Boxer as the official mascot of the University. However, according to alumnus Dean Croshere’s 2007 movie “Boxer: The Evolution of a Mascot,” some African-American students resented all the attention paid to Boxer in a time of rising social tension over civil rights and the Vietnam War.
During a toss that lasted several hours in 1969, African-American students were able to wrest Boxer from the crowd and speed away in a car. One member of the Black Student Union, citing Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” told the Index at the time, “You don’t see us, but you sure see that dog – and you won’t see it any more.” The original has not been seen since. Recently, though, tantalizing evidence that the original Boxer may have been located has been received. (See “Boxer Found?”)
Flash forward to 1982. Students Kim Smith, Linda Parker and Janet Leashen arranged to have a new statue cast, in hopes of giving school spirit a boost. Then, in 1992, the serious injury of football player Eric Ross (who later died of the injury) contributed to the end of the football program. In addition, a head injury suffered by a student during the Boxer toss that year resulted in the practice being banned upon pain of criminal prosecution.
School spirit — and enthusiasm for Boxer — has waxed and waned in the meantime. Billy Merck ’98 told Croshere ’07 that he and his roommate had Boxer at home on top of a water heater for at least a year in 1997-98, and no one seemed concerned about its whereabouts.
They seem to care now. After Croshere completed his movie last year — his senior project — he decided to take Boxer on an extended U.S. road trip and write a blog along the way. He took photos of the campus mascot in Las Vegas, Detroit, Washington D.C. and many other places during his 41-state, 16,000-mile journey. (See Dean Croshere's Blog) Some students were upset that he took Boxer II out of town. Letters to the Index and a petition called for the icon’s return.
Croshere, a member of the Gamma Sigma fraternity, which flashed Boxer at the opening of fall term, is back in Forest Grove and said that his whole reason for taking the mascot was to spark more school spirit. “[Some students] called me selfish, and I suppose it was, but it got people talking.”
Croshere had planned a big event in March to include a peaceful toss in the form of a trivia contest. He said he had lined up business sponsorship and had Boxer out for photos to give to sponsors when two young men ran up, grabbed the statue and took off with it. The tradition continues. Boxer is on the road again.
Steve Dodge is editor of Pacific Magazine.